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

Ship Breaks Apart: Oil Spill Threatens Penguins, Other Wildlife at Remote Nightingale Island

Freighter MS Oliva aground at Nightingale Island. The ship has broken in half and oil now threatens penguins and other wildlife. All crew was rescued.

Freighter MS Oliva aground at Nightingale Island. The ship has broken in half and oil now threatens penguins and other wildlife. All crew was rescued. (Photo by D. Guggenheim)

ABOARD PRINCE ALBERT II: On Wednesday March 16, the Prince Albert II received word that a Greek freighter, the MS Oliva, ran aground at 430am that day on the far northwest promontory of Nightingale Island, part of the Tristan group of islands. Tristan de Cunha is the most remote inhabited island in the world, more than 1,500 km from the nearest continent in South Africa. Its population is less than 300. The Oliva was enroute from Santos, Brazil to Singapore with a cargo of soya beans. The vessel is a 75,300 tonne bulk carrier (225 meters long, 32m beam) commissioned in 2009, registered in Malta. The circumstances of its grounding are still under investigation. Read more

Is the Next Generation Ready for the Next Generation of Challenges?

A wonderful visit to Golden Gate Elementary School, Naples, Florida

A wonderful visit to Golden Gate Elementary School, Naples, Florida

A decade or so ago, an article appeared in the Palm Beach Post quoting me as saying, “The leaders we have to reach are in diapers today.” I was referring to the largest environmental restoration project in history — the Everglades — and the fact it would take unwavering dedication and stewardship over decades to ensure its success. (I was speaking in my former role as president of The Conservancy of Southwest Florida and co-chair of the Everglades Coalition.) I suppose those once-diapered kids I was referring to are now in elementary school, which is why I was intrigued to hear explorer Scott W. Hamilton, speaking at the Explorers Club Annual Dinner last year, state that “the next commander of a manned mission to Mars is in elementary school today.” The daunting challenges ahead of humanity — whether restoring ecosystems, saving coral reefs, battling climate change or holding the first handful of red sand on Mars — are decades-long efforts that can’t rest on the shoulders of a single generation. So is the next generation more ready than we were to take on such challenges? I’m in the process of finding out. Read more

1planet1ocean is out. Ocean Doctor is in.

1planet1ocean is out. Ocean Doctor is in.

1planet1ocean is out. Ocean Doctor is in.

1planet1ocean is out. Ocean Doctor is in. The reason? When my daughter came up with, “Ocean Doctor,” it was clever, catchy and immediately caught on as my moniker and even as the name of my radio show. 1planet1ocean – a project of The Ocean Foundation, served us well since 2004, but in a frenzy of New Year cleansing and simplifying, I felt it best to let go of the old and embrace the new. Read more

Deep Reflection: Alone in the Dark at 1,300 Feet Below

DeepWorker 6 filming Giant grenadier  (Albatrossia pectoralis)

I am inside a tiny, 1-person submarine beneath the Bering Sea, hundreds of miles offshore from the Alaskan coast. There are 1,300 feet of water between me and the surface. I’m here as part of a Greenpeace-led expedition to shed new light on the unexplored depths here.

It’s freezing cold, completely dark, and forbidding and it’s utterly beautiful. Read more

Want to Help the Gulf of Mexico? Kill Your Lawn.

Want to Help the Gulf of Mexico? Kill Your Lawn.

The Lawn has Become as much of an American Icon as Baseball and Apple Pie. But at What Cost? (Photo credit: From the cover of “The American Lawn” by Georges Tevssot)

Since 1948, radio station KBMW has been serving as the “Voice of the Southern Red River Valley,” a tri-state area including North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota, boasting some of the “richest farmland in the United States.” So why did they want to interview a city boy who lives for salt water? To update their listeners on the BP oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, and most importantly, tell their listeners how they could help. Like so many of us, they feel a deep connection to the Gulf, even from more than 1,200 from water’s edge, and the daily images of oil erupting from the BP well has led to palpable frustration. It’s hard to watch and not be able to help. Truth is, KBMW’s listeners are more connected than they may realize, and they can materially help the Gulf of Mexico — and their own neighborhoods, by just getting outside and doing some gardening.

Read more

Rebuilding the Gulf’s Shattered Fishing Industry ? On Land

Today NOAA announced further fishing closures in the Gulf of Mexico due to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Now a total of 37 percent of federal Gulf waters are off limits to fishing, an area of nearly 89,000 square miles where NOAA considers fish and shellfish potentially too toxic for human consumption. For a region where commercial fishing is a vital part of the economy, the future of the region grows increasingly uncertain with each barrel of oil spewed into the deep Gulf waters.

There’s a solution: Rebuild the Gulf of Mexico fishery on land. Investing in “next-generation” sustainable land-based, closed-containment recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) could keep the Gulf region in the seafood business profitably, while creating green jobs and reducing fishing pressure on wild stocks. What is “next-generation” RAS aquaculture? From the outside, many of the systems look like an ordinary warehouse. Inside, they’re a specially-constructed system of pumps and filters that recycle 99 percent of their water and grow healthy and heathful fish without chemicals, antibiotics or genetically-modified anything. Read more

2010: The Year We Wake and Act

Like closing your eyes after staring at a light bulb, the image of the vast, dark spill haunts me like an after-image that just won’t go away after more than a month of poring over satellite images and nautical charts of the vast BP oil spill spreading throughout the Gulf of Mexico. At some point, as I pondered the growing dark mass, I recalled the eerie 1984 film, 2010 (the sequel to Arthur C. Clark’s 2001: A Space Odyssey) and the massive dark mass that consumed the planet Jupiter. And it seemed a tad spooky that the year the author chose when Jupiter would face its ginormous black swath of destruction was…2010.? Not knowing where it would lead me, I decided I had to indulge my right brain today, so I cracked my knuckles, opened Photoshop and this image is the result.? Read more

The Gulf of Mexico: What’s at Stake

This video highlights the vast diversity of marine life throughout the Gulf at risk from the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster. The video provides an underwater tour of the Gulf by sub and scuba, encompassing the U.S., Cuba and Mexico. Produced for the opening of the first State of the Gulf of Mexico Summit in 2006, it was also shown before Congress on 5/19/2010 as part of the testimony of Dr. Sylvia A. Earle.