Saturday 19 March 2011

Oil of Oliva

A little ironic that yesterday I was with a team from the Hawkes Bay Regional Council doing a practice 'Oil Spill Exercise' at Mahia Peninsula, whilst the MV Oliva (a greek owned bulk carrier) was running ashore on Nightingale Island, in the Tristan da Cunha group.  This small group of extremely isolated Islands is in the South Atlantic, and is not only famous for wildlife, but also for being the most isolated island group on the plant.  In 1961 the entire island main island (called Tristan da Cunha) was evacuated when a volcanic eruption right beside the main town occurred, with people being transferred to the UK. Most of the people returned in 1963, and since then have made a living from lobster fishing, farming, and sale of stamps.  It has become an infrequent destination for cruise ships, due to it being so isolated, and ships finishing in the Antarctic often call past there on their way across to Cape Town and then up the west coast of Africa.

In 2009 I worked onboard the MV Minerva and we called in there for a day.  The weather was blue sky gorgeous, but there was a serious swell and we didn't manage to get passengers ashore on Tristan.  We did take supplied (potatoes, baked beans (!?), and other bits and pieces onboard though, so I did manage to set foot ashore.

The MV Oliva is said to have a cargo of Soya beans onboard, but of more concern is the 1500 tonnes of heavy fuel oil.  She has apparently broken her back in the relentless swell and fuel oil has leaked out and spreading around the coast of Nightingale.  This is of major concern for the Northern rockhopper penguins which are currently ashore, many probably moulting at this time of year.  There are also massive populations of other seabirds including Atlantic yellow-nosed albatross (c.1000 pairs, the species is endemic to the Tristan group), sooty albatross (c.200 pairs).  Lets hope rats have not been able to get ashore from the ship, as this would also have a serious impact on the islands biodiversity.

Latest news can be found here.

Nightingale Island (large island on the right) with Middle Island to the left, and Sotltenhoff Island to the far left.

Spinners Point where the ship MV Oliva has run aground

The habitat on Nightingale

Main Island of Tristan da Cunha
Atlantic yellow-nosed albatross in flight

Atlantic yellow-nosed albatross in flight at sunset
Atlantic yellow-nosed albatross taking off from the water

Atlantic yellow-nosed albatross low over the water at sunset

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