Saturday, September 8, 2012

Rescue effort continues for oiled penguins

oile penguin
An African penguin is washed by Sanccob staff after it was found covered in oil on Robben Island |on Wednesday. Picture: AP

Cape Town - Endangered African penguins from the Robben Island colony are still being oiled on a daily basis.

Bird conservation body Sanccob’s rehabilitation centre in Table View has taken on oiled penguins every day this week after a storm at the weekend caused part of the Seli 1 wreck to split apart and spill oil into Table Bay. 

This comes as the city’s clean-up efforts at Dolphin and Rietvlei beaches are drawing to an end.
On Wednesday, a Department of Environmental Affairs aircraft surveyed the area of the ocean where the penguins hunt, but it could not identify any oil slicks that may be contributing to the pollution of the birds. 

“We have only identified a slick in the vicinity of the wreck itself. Currently there is a ‘light sheen’ leaking from the wreck – thin oil which dissipates easily – this tells us that the spill is nearing its end… but with this particular wreck you can’t ever be too sure,” said Feroza Albertus-Stanley, environmental director for the department. 

On Thursday the rehabilitation centre took on another 50 penguins, bringing the number of penguins saved to 113. This figure includes 11 chicks which were removed from their nests to avoid them starving to death. Conservationists believed that their parents had been oiled and were unable to care for them. 

The cost for the rehabilitation was mounting, said Venessa Strauss, Sanccob’s CEO.
“It costs R500 to rehabilitate an oiled penguin and R1 500 to rehabilitate a chick,” she said.
She appealed to people to donate or adopt a penguin. 

Strauss suspects that another ship may be dumping oil illegally, because it is easy to do so without being caught when there is an existing oil spill in the area. 

Meanwhile, the National Department of Transport has committed to removing the Seli 1 wreck.
“The department views the removal of the Seli 1 in a serious light and the matter is receiving the necessary attention. To this end, the department has approached national Treasury for financial assistance and the matter is being considered,” said Sam Monareng, a spokesman for the department.
“The navy will assist in the carrying out of a thorough scan of the wreck and together with the salvage company, a detailed plan will be developed,” Monareng said. - Cape Argus 


Oil prospecting threatens crucial African penguin colony

07 Sep 2012 00:00 - Fiona Macleod

Conservationists warn that the last stronghold of the endangered birds has been threatened by offshore oil and gas exploration near Port Elizabeth.
NewAge, an international company that has been granted the rights, announced that seismic surveys would begin early next year in a 12 000km2 block around Algoa Bay.

Ross Wanless of BirdLife International said the prospecting threatened crucial penguin breeding colonies at St Croix island, home to more than 60% of the world's remaining African penguins. "If an exploitable resource is found, there will be hugely increased risks of oil spills from wells and from an increase in ship traffic as well as noise pollution," he said.

Even the seismic surveys, which sound out sub-sea geological structures for hydrocarbons, could have a negative impact on penguins and other marine life, said the head of the Bayworld centre for research and education at the Port Elizabeth Museum, Malcolm Smale.

"We do not fully understand the consequences of these euphemistically termed 'sounds' on marine taxa. Buffer zones are being set up, but the birds are not confined to the islands and travel extensively through the shelf waters to feed," said Smale.

Two weeks before the Seli 1 broke up and deposited an oil slick on Cape Town beaches last weekend, Environment Minister Edna Molewa gazetted a draft management plan to deal with the decline of the African penguin population from about one million breeding pairs in the 1920s to 25 000 pairs in 2009.

One of the suggestions favoured by BirdLife is to set up man-made alternative breeding sites in areas where disturbances and competition for favoured food sources, such as anchovies and sardines,  would be reduced. Other proposals include closing fisheries near to breeding sites and reducing access to boats and low-flying aircraft.

New colonies

Lorien Pichegru, a University of Cape Town scientist researching the penguins at St Croix and nearby Bird Island, said setting up new colonies would be a long-term solution because the birds are slow breeders and difficult to relocate.

"In the meantime, if they find oil in Algoa and set up an oil refinery, as proposed, in Coega, the biggest penguin breeding colonies will be threatened by increased traffic and possible oils spills. There are also about 100 000 gannets on Bird Island that will be affected," she said.

Laws and systems put in place to clean up after oil spills were not always properly applied, Pichegru added.

Shaheen Moola, managing director of Feike Natural Resource Management, said the government was "hopelessly" underinsured for a large oil spill on the coast. "South Africa is [currently] only insured for approximately R185-million, whereas a significant oil spill could result in clean-up costs worth billions of rands," he said.

NewAge spokesperson Henry Camp said the Petroleum Agency of South Africa's approval for the seismic surveys in Algoa had followed consultation with marine experts in the area. A comprehensive environmental impact assessment would need to be conducted before exploration drilling or oil production could begin, he said.


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