VIDEO: A Whale’s Unforgettable “Thank You”

As featured in The Ocean Doctor Radio Show, we’re pleased to present an amazing, inspirational video documenting the “rescue of a nearly-dead humpback whale, hopelessly entangled in fishing gear in the Sea of Cortez.” Michael Fishbach, co-founder of Earth Island Institute’s, Great Whale Conservancy, and his family and friends came to the whale’s rescue and were awestruck by what the whale had to give them in return. A hearty Ocean Doctor salute to Michael and the Great Whale Conservancy!

An Expedition Dedicated to Alonso, Whom We Lost Tragically Yesterday

Eduardo Alonso Ramos, 1970-2011

Eduardo Alonso Ramos, 1970-2011

His name is Eduardo Alonso Ramos, but everyone calls him “Alonso.” He and Lachi, also a colleague from the University of Havana’s Center for Marine Research (Centro de Investigaciones Marinas, CIM) were supposed to join me for a final meeting at Havana’s Marina Hemingway yesterday in final preparations for our expedition, which they were planning to be part of.

They never arrived. That’s not unusual here in Cuba. Transportation is often a nightmare. Perhaps his motorcycle broke down. Perhaps he couldn’t get gas. Who knows? I wasn’t worried. Though it was a bit unusual that they never called, even last night.

This morning I learned the tragic truth, and it’s still sinking in. Alonso was filling a SCUBA tank at CIM yesterday afternoon when it exploded, killing him instantly. He was only 41. He leaves a wife, 36, who is pregnant. They buried him this morning. [Read more...]

A Fragile Empire: National Geographic Examines Threats to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef

"A Fragile Empire" can be found in the May 2011 issue of National Geographic magazine on newstands April 26

“A Fragile Empire” can be found in the May 2011 issue of National Geographic magazine on newsstands April 26 (Photo: National Geographic)

Earlier this year, World Resources Institute released its “Reefs at Risk Revisited Report” (featured on The Ocean Doctor Radio Show) which spelled out a rather grim future for coral reefs due to both local and global threats, should we fail to take action. One of the bright spots in its report was Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, which has fared better than many other reefs around the world and has in place strong protections and management practices. But even this massive and remote reef system isn’t immune from the impacts affecting coral reefs worldwide. In “A Fragile Empire” National Geographic Magazine (May 2011) writer Jennifer S. Holland explores the various factors that are threatening Australia’s monumental reef. From rising water temperatures, to bleaching, massive flooding and high levels of acidity, the reef is in danger of collapsing and the prospect for recovery is uncertain.

A warming climate is pushing corals against the upper limit of their thermal tolerance, evidenced by mass bleachings like the one in 1997-98. A 60-year decline in ocean phytoplankton — microscopic organisms that form the base of the food chain — may also be playing a role. Recent flooding in Australia washed enormous plumes of sediments and toxins far offshore to the reef tract. And now, thanks to increasing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, the oceans are becoming more and more acidic as more of this atmospheric carbon dioxide dissolves in seawater. As the oceans become more acid, limiting the ability of organisms, like corals and shellfish, to build their limestone shells and skeletons.

[Read more...]

A Statistically Impossible Plea for Help

 

Vessel "Oliva" breaking apart and spilling oil at Nightingale Island (Photo: D. Guggenheim)

Vessel “Oliva” breaking apart and spilling oil at Nightingale Island (Photo: D. Guggenheim)

EARTH DAY 2011: This isn’t what I had planned to write for Earth Day. But it’s the most important thing I can write today. I write these words with a single, challenging purpose: I need you to care deeply about something. I need you to care about something that wasn’t supposed to be possible. I need you to care so deeply that you choose to help. And to make things even more challenging, what I need you to care about is a place you’ve never heard of and are very unlikely to see in your lifetime, a place that’s such an infinitesimally tiny speck lying quite literally in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean, it appears on few maps (and even befuddles Google maps). And unless you’re one of the fewer than 300 people that call Tristan da Cunha home, it will take you at best 5-7 days to get to this airstrip-lacking place even if you dash out the door before finishing this paragraph. Tristan da Cunha is, quite literally, the most remote inhabited island in the world. A sign on the island boasts this factoid, alongside a marker pointing east toward the nearest civilization: 1,511 miles to Cape Town, South Africa. [Read more...]

VIDEO: Dramatic Rescue of Freighter Crew by Prince Albert II Expedition Team, Penguin Rescue (CNN)

Dramatic video shot by Kristine Hannon details the rescue of 12 crew members aboard the bulk carrier, “Oliva,” on March 17, 2011, where it grounded the prior day. Within hours of the successful rescue, the ship broke in two and sunk, unleashing a massive oil spill, threatening millions of seabirds including the endangered Northern Rockhopper penguins. [Read more...]

VIDEO: Oil Slick Threatens Endangered Penguins (CNN International)

Dr. David E. Guggenheim, the “Ocean Doctor,” is interviewed about the tragic oil spill at Nightingale Island and rescue operations to save the endangered Northern Rockhopper penguins. [Read more...]

Desperate Penguin Rescue Efforts Continue: Nearly 3,000 Penguins Relocated from Nightingale

Tristan da Cunha's community swimming pool converted for penguin rehabilitation

Tristan da Cunha's community swimming pool converted for penguin rehabilitation

During a briefing by The Ocean Foundation to the conservation NGO community in Washington, DC, Katrine Herian, a project officer of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) stationed at Tristan da Cunha, informed us by telephone that the desperate effort to rescue endangered Northern Rockhopper penguins from neighboring Nightingale and Inaccessible Islands (the latter a World Heritage Site) continues, with roughly 2,300 penguins already relocated for rehabilitation on Tristan da Cunha and another 600 birds expected last evening. [Read more...]

Oil Now Surrounds World Heritage Site, Inaccessible Island. Thousands of Endangered Penguins, Seabirds at Risk

Inaccessible Island, a World Heritage Site

Inaccessible Island, a World Heritage Site

ABOARD PRINCE ALBERT II: I spoke today with Katrine Herrion, a project officer of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) stationed at Tristan da Cunha.

Katrine was camped on Inaccessible Island last weekend and reports that as of Sunday, oil completely surrounded the island. She and her team observed nearly 100 oiled penguins just before they departed. Clearly many more are being impacted.

Trevor Glass, Director of the Tristan da Cunha Department of Conservation was planning to return to Tristan da Cunha from Nightingale Island with around 750 penguins for rehabilitation. This represents a small percentage of the number of birds estimated to be impacted at this point, conservatively estimated at more than 10,000.

Because penguins cannot fly, it is impossible for them to avoid the oil when entering and exiting the water. Oil impacts the waterproof properties of their feathers and makes them vulnerable to hypothermia by reducing their feather’s insulation abilities. Oil can seriously impact the birds’ eyes and other tissues and can poison them if they ingest the oil while attempting to clean their feathers. A number of oiled seals have also been observed on Nightingale Island. [Read more...]

Oil Spill Has Reached Inaccessible Island, a World Heritage Site

The oil spill from the wreck of the "Oliva" has now reached Inaccessible Island, a World Heritage Site and home to one of the world's most important concentrations of seabirds

The oil spill from the wreck of the “Oliva” has now reached Inaccessible Island, a World Heritage Site and home to one of the world’s most important concentrations of seabirds (Photo: D. Guggenheim)

ABOARD PRINCE ALBERT II: Expedition staff environmental scientist, Claudia Holgate received an email from Tristan da Cunha Department of Conservation director, Trevor Glass indicating that oil from the wrecked freighter “Oliva” had now reached Inaccessible Island, a World Heritage Site.

Like Nightingale Island, the site of the shipwreck, Inaccessible Island is home to an enormous concentration of seabirds, including the Spectacled petrel found nowhere else in the world (approximately 10,000 nesting pairs). It is also the only home of flightless Inaccessible rail which forages along the shoreline and is therefore vulnerable to the impacts of an oil spill. Other seabirds on Inaccessible Island include the endangered Northern Rockhopper penguin, and the Great shearwater. Of a worldwide total of five million nesting pairs of Great shearwaters, four million are concentrated on Nightingale and Inaccessible Islands. The highly endangered Tristan bunting, with only 50 nesting pairs remaining in the world, live exclusively on Nightingale and Inaccessible Islands.

f you had to pick one of the most unlikely places for a ship to run aground, it would be the Tristan da Cunha island group. Tristan da Cunha is known as the most remote populated island in the world, 1,500 miles from Cape Town, South Africa, a distant speck in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean, far from any shipping lanes, which is to say, it’s not on the way to anywhere. If you had to pick one of the worst places for a ship to run aground, it would be the Tristan da Cunha island group — especially Nightingale Island, which harbors one of the most spectacular and significant populations of sea birds in the world, including endangered species and birds not found anywhere else in the world, including the Northern Rockhopper Penguin. Neighboring Inaccessible Island is a World Heritage Site nine miles from Nightingale island.


Yet for reasons still under investigation, the 75,300 ton Greek freighter “Oliva” enroute from Santos, Brazil to Singapore with a cargo of soya beans found itself hopelessly off course and its captain now has the distinction of having run aground on the world’s most remote inhabited island. At?430am on March 16th,?”Oliva” smashed into the rocks on Nightengale Islands northwestern corner and began to leak its 300,000 gallons of heavy marine oil. Ten crew members were rescued by the fishing vessel “Edinburgh,” but high winds and heavy swell prevented the rescue of the remaining 12 crew. By sheer chance, our expedition ship, Silversea’s “Prince Albert II,” arrived on scene early the next morning, and the ship’s expedition team — specially trained in the operation of Zodiacs in heavy weather — rescued the remaining 12 crew. ?Less than 12 hours later, “Oliva” broke apart on the rocks. (See: Ship Breaks Apart: Oil Spill Threatens Penguins, Other Wildlife at Remote Nightingale Island)?http://oceandoctor.org/ship-breaks-apart-oil-spill-threatens-penguins-other-wildlife-at-remote-nightingale-island/

By the following day (Friday, March 18th), oil completely encircled Nightengale Island and was approaching nearby Middle Island, with an oil slick nine miles long, according to Tristan da Cunha Conservation Department Director, Trevor Glass. I met him at his home yesterday where he showed me heartbreaking photos of oiled penguins on the island he had taken the day before and with deep sadness and concern, he explained how ill-equipped this remote island group is to deal with a disaster of this magnitude. Tristan da Cunha has no landing strip and is a 4.5 day steam to Cape Town for our ship, a 6 or 7 day steam by a fishing vessel. Trevor also informed me about the incredible wildlife on the island. You can see in his eyes just how special Nightingale island is and how much it means to him.

Trevor explained that Nightingale has the second largest sea bird population in the world, including the largest concentration of Great Shearwaters in the world — three million pairs in the island group. Nightingale holds more than 100,000 pairs of Northern Rockhopper Penguins, a species found only here and 20,000 pairs of albatrosses including the yellow nose albatross, and 2,000,000 pairs of Broadbill prions. “If we lose Nightingale, we’ll lose 99 percent of the shearwater population.” he told me. The island is also home to the highly-endangered Broadbill Bunting. Only 50 pairs remain in the world, all of which are found on Nightingale Island.

The economic lifeblood of Tristan da Cunha is crayfish (lobster), its primary export. Trevor estimates that 75 tons crayfish (lobster) per year will be lost from Nightingale Island alone.

His team of nine on the island reports that half the penguins returning from the water are completely covered in oil, as are seals which are “acting strangely.” Our team observed several oiled albatross. Trevor’s “Darwin Team” has been specially-trained for rope access to the steep slopes of the island and are in the process of implementing their emergency plan to deal with the invasion of rats from a shipwreck onto the island. This involves laying of rat poison and traps throughout the island. The plan was developed with support with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). Nightingale is a rat-free island and rats can cause tremendous harm to nesting birds. The captain of the “Oliva” assured Trevor that there were no rats aboard, but with a payload of soya beans, Trevor isn’t taking any chances. Fortunately, no rats had been reported as of yesterday.
I have been working with others aboard ship to coordinate assistance for Trevor and his team, including making contact with the?SANCCOB (The Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds), an internationally recognized leader in seabird rehabilitation.?http://sanccob.co.za/ The biggest challenge is time. With so many birds already suffering, time is of the essence. The salvage tug, “Smit Amandla” left Cape Town on Thursday, March 17th and and is due to reach Nightingale Island on Monday, March 21st. On board is a salvage team, a naval architect, divers and an environmental adviser who was in contact with SANCCOB which was able to send equipment and supplies to support basic stabilization for about 500 birds for about 3-5 days. This will help, but Trevor estimates that they need supplies for at least 20,000 birds at this point.
We sat down and made of list of supplies needed by his team. At the top of the list, a boat and motor to shuttle equipment and oiled birds between islands. One of their two boats was damaged and its engine malfunctioned after oil entered the cooling system. Also on the list: Foul weather gear, gum boots, flashlights, sleeping bags, tents, detergents for cleaning birds, basins in which to wash the birds, water tanks for fresh water storage, gloves for handling birds, gasoline for vehicles, etc.
Before our imminent departure for Cape Town yesterday afternoon, I returned to the ship, worked with the incredibly thoughtful and helpful crew of the “Prince Albert II” to gather what we could in less than the hour remaining from the ship. We were able to provide gum boots and parkas for his team, along with a few pairs of gloves.
Silversea has set up a fund to assist as has the Vienna, Austria Zoo (as one of its directors is aboard as my fellow guest lecturer). I am exploring the possibility of establishing a fund with The Ocean Foundation to direct funds to help Trevor’s team and SANCCOB in local efforts, so please stay tuned.
Oiled Northern Rockhopper penguins on Nightingale Island (Photo: Trevor Glass, Tristan de Cunha Conservation Department)
Vessel “Oliva” breaking apart and spilling oil at Nightingale Island (Photo: D. Guggenheim)
Yellow Nosed Albatross on Nightingale Island?(Photo: Trevor Glass, Tristan de Cunha Conservation Department)
View from the top of Nightingale Island?(Photo: Trevor Glass, Tristan de Cunha Conservation Department)
Delivery of parkas and gum boots from Silversea “Prince Albert II.” Pictured: Kirsty Green, Tristan de Cunha Conservation Department (TCD) ; Trevor Glass, TCD; David E. Guggenheim, The Ocean Foundation. (Photo: Robin West)

Environmental Disaster Worsens After Shipwreck at Nightingale Island

Oiled Northern Rockhopper penguins on Nightingale Island (Photo: Trevor Glass, Tristan de Cunha Conservation Department)

Oiled Northern Rockhopper penguins on Nightingale Island (Photo: Trevor Glass, Tristan da Cunha Conservation Department)

ABOARD PRINCE ALBERT II: If you had to pick one of the most unlikely places for a ship to run aground, it would be the Tristan da Cunha island group. Tristan da Cunha is known as the most remote populated island in the world, 1,500 miles from Cape Town, South Africa, a distant speck in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean, far from any shipping lanes, which is to say, it’s not on the way to anywhere. If you had to pick one of the worst places for a ship to run aground, it would be the Tristan da Cunha island group — especially Nightingale Island, which harbors one of the most spectacular and significant populations of sea birds in the world, including endangered species and birds not found anywhere else in the world, including the Northern Rockhopper Penguin. Neighboring Inaccessible Island is a World Heritage Site nine miles from Nightingale island. [Read more...]