Published by the Northcoast Environmental Center, an influential coalition that educates, agitates and litigates on behalf of the environment in the Klamath-Siskiyou region of northwestern California.
Another Oil Spill: Tristan da Cunha
By Ken Burton
On March 16, the MS Oliva, a Maltese-registered cargo ship carrying 66,000 tons of soybeans and 1,650 tons of crude oil from Brazil to Singapore, ran aground on Nightingale Island in the Tristan da Cunha archipelago in the South Atlantic. Rough seas subsequently broke the ship up, creating a devastating oil spill. Within 48 hours of the wreck, oil completely encircled the island, coating wildlife and threatening the island's lobster fishery, the mainstay of the islands' economy.
Tristan da Cunha, a British territory with fewer than 300 human inhabitants, is one of the most remote island groups on Earth and a globally-significant wildlife sanctuary. It is home to millions of seabirds, including about half the world's population of an endangered subspecies of Rockhopper Penguin. Six days after the wreck, an estimated 10% of the islands' penguins were oiled. The spill occurred right at the end of the penguins' molt cycle, during which they fast, so they already were weak from hunger. Fortunately, most had already left the island for the winter.
After bureaucratic and weather-related delays, rescue teams were dispatched from South Africa to assist local efforts to save the penguins. Local fishermen kept oiled birds alive until the teams arrived with frozen fish and cleaning supplies. Cleaned birds have been housed in the community's swimming pool for recuperation. Islanders corralled healthy birds to keep them out of the water. These birds were transported out of the area in the hope that the oil would be gone or greatly diminished by the time they found their way back. Despite these valiant efforts, thousands of penguins have died.
Another concern is the possibility that rats on the ship might have reached the island, which is one of only two in the archipelago without any. The ship's owners contend that the ship was rat-free, but as a precautionary measure, a barrage of traps has been placed near the wreck. Rats have a history of devastating island seabird
This environmental catastrophe has received almost no media coverage in the United States. This virtual information blackout is due to several factors: the spill happened in a remote place that few Americans even know exist,; and at the time it occurred, the world's attention was riveted on events in Japan and Libya. It serves as an excellent illustration of how much we miss by relying on the mainstream media for information, particularly on environmental affairs. The event itself provides a hard reminder that the cost of our dependence on fossil fuels is simply too high.