Tragedy has befallen one of the largest colonies of endangered Rockhopper penguins in the South Atlantic. On March 16, 2011, a carrier vessel from Greece called the MS Olivia ran aground near the coast of Nightingale Island (part of the Tristan da Cuhna island chain–see map below for details). The crew was rescued from the boat before it broke in half and sank to the ocean floor, releasing an estimated 800 tons of crude oil into the ocean.
More than 20,000 penguins have been covered in oil, putting their lives and the survival of the entire species in jeopardy. To make matters worse, this very remote location is accessible only by boat in very rough seas. A small group of rescuers are working round the clock to save thousands of animals, but supplies are limited. A ship from South Africa is en route to the tiny island, which is roughly 1,750 miles west of the African continent. Unfortunately, poor weather conditions have slowed the vessel’s progress.
This spill could not have come at a worse time for the Rockhopper penguins who were just reaching the end of their molting period. Most of the birds haven’t eaten for weeks while they transitioned from old feathers to new, because they can’t swim in the frigid South Sea without a thick layer of feathers to insulate them and provide their natural buoyancy. Now this entire species of penguins–listed as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)–is facing possible extinction if the world is not able to come together and provide the resources they need.