Thursday 31 March 2011

Worse things happen at sea?

So representatives of the human race have done it again. They have caused harm and death to yet more of Mother Earth’s inhabitants with which we share the planet. This time the victims include nearly half the world’s population of the northern rockhopper penguin, which also happens to be one of the world’s most threatened species of penguin. Not for the first time, and I am sure not for the last time, the incident occurred at sea. On this occasion, a cargo vessel has been wrecked on Nightingale Island, which is part of the Tristan da Cunha UK overseas territory in the South Atlantic. Not only has this incident threatened the life of the penguins, it also threatens to create another environmental disaster for the wildlife of the island; Nightingale Island is one of two large islands in the Tristan da Cunha group that is rodent-free. If the vessel carries rats and they gain a foothold on the island, their impact would be devastating, placing the island’s internationally important seabird colonies in jeopardy. However, the Tristan da Cunha Conservation Department have placed baited rodent traps on the shore in the vicinity of Spinner’s Point, which is the headland on the northwest of the island where the wreck is grounded, in the hope that they can intercept any rats that did get ashore.

Northern Rockhopper Penguins on Inaccessible Island, drawn by the naturalist aboard HMS Challenger

Nightingale Island is surrounded by oil which extends to a slick up to 8 miles offshore from the wreck of the MS Oliva, which was carrying 1,500 tonnes of fuel oil. Inevitably hundreds of oiled penguins have already been coming ashore. Not only are they affected, but also the economical important rock lobster fishery. And as the vessel was also fully laden with 60,000 tonnes of whole raw soya beans there is also the concern of how the impact of this spilt cargo will have on the fragile local marine environment.

RSPB research biologist Richard Cuthbert said: "How a modern and fully laden cargo vessel can sail straight into an island beggars belief. The consequences of this wreck could be potentially disastrous for wildlife and the fishery-based economy of these remote islands. The Tristan da Cunha islands, especially Nightingale and adjacent Middle Island, hold millions of nesting seabirds as well as 40% of the world population of the globally endangered Northern Rockhopper Penguin. Over 200,000 penguins are currently on the islands and these birds will be heavily impacted by leaking oil."

Yes, how did such a vessel manage to do that?

Tristan da Cunha is not the easiest place to get to and from. There is no airport and all 3 scheduled ships depart from Cape Town. They are scheduled to make 9 return trips each year and it would seem that two of them (which only carry 12 passengers apiece) are fully booked for 2011 sailings. The third is operated by the South African Government as part of a contract to lease Gough Island as a Meteorological Station. It has space for 30 passengers but only calls in September as the Gough Island relief service. So, it is not sure as to how long the Greek Captain and the 21 Filipino crew will be in the Tristan da Cunha settlement (Edinburgh of the Seven Seas), but they are all receiving the warm hospitality of the islanders.

Meanwhile the remarkable rescue is continuing. Oiled penguins are being collected from the islands of Nightingale, Inaccessible and Middle with the aim of transporting them all to the main Tristan island. But there are not enough supplies of specialist cleaning fluids and a vessel with all necessary supplies is scheduled to leave Cape Town in the next few days. Unfortunately, it will be too late for at least two sub-Antarctic fur seals that were found dead on Middle Island, and two Inaccessible rails that were found dead in the tussock grass near the shore of the island they are named after. The Inaccessible rail is the smallest flightless bird in the world and is endemic to that island.

Tristan da Cunha one of the remotest places in the world and more can be read about it, this incident and the efforts of the islanders to help the stricken penguins at:

And just to emphasise exactly how remote, here are some distances - as the crow flies - posted on the Tristan da Cunha website:

To St Helena - 2429 km - 1509 miles (nearest community)
To Cape Town - 2805 km - 1743 miles (nearest mainland city)
To Rio de Janeiro - 3353 km - 2083 miles
To Stanley, Falkland Islands - 3902 km - 2424 miles
To London UK - 9881 km - 6140 miles

Wednesday 23 March 2011

Overhead the albatross hangs motionless upon the air

An aged Laysan albatross called Wisdom - one of the survivors of the March 11 tsunami, which killed at least 2,000 of its kind along with around 110,000 chicks after the earthquake off Japan - has made it back to a remote atoll north west of the Hawaiian islands. Apart from surviving the awful decimation caused by the tsunami, it is more than remarkable that this iconic bird of the ocean is at least 60 years old. She is, in fact, the oldest known wild bird in the US. She was first banded in 1956, the year I was born, as she incubated an egg, and it was thought she was at least 5 years old then. It is awe-inspiring that Wisdom is still successfully producing chicks at such a grand old age, and has survived the rigours of Mother Nature - and the 'progress' of man - for at least six decades.

During the early 1900s, the Laysan albatross was hunted mercilessly by feather hunters who killed hundreds of thousands of them, succeeding in wiping them out from Wake Island and Johnston Atoll in the north Pacific. The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands are now protected, but the birds are still vulnerable to longline fisheries and the ingestion of floating plastics. On the newer colonised islands, they are also vulnerable to feral cats.

But for now at least, officials at the Hawaiian and Pacific Islands National Wildlife Refuge Complex are greatly thrilled at the return of Wisdom and that she survived the March 11 tsunami. Let us hope that she continues to ride the thermals for many more years to come.

Tuesday 22 March 2011

Happy Birthday, Shoshannah

On 23rd March 1985, the horoscope that my mother cut out of her paper foretold that I - as a Cancerian - would be working very hard that day, but that it would all be worth it. Considering that I went into labour at around 1 am - the exact duration of which lasted until 7.26 pm - I reckon the first part of the prediction could be classed as correct. And as, at the end of it all, a certain little girl popped into the world, the second part was pretty accurate too.

Happy Birthday Shoshannah

With lots of love from Mum xxx

Thursday 10 March 2011

As sure as eggs is eggs

Thought for the day.

Imagine how many egg sandwiches a hard-boiled ostrich egg would make. A picnic extravaganza no less, but for a hearty breakfast, also imagine the size of the egg cup required to hold such a monstrous item. And bearing in mind it would be equivalent to around 24 hen eggs in content would there be a table big enough to seat 24 people around it, each with a spoon in one hand and a bread and butter ‘soldier’ in the other?

However – and here is the rub - you would not be able to arise one sunny morning and decide, on the spur of the moment, that the family would all pile into the car for a trip to the seaside or some such outing. Oh no - well not if you were going to take advantage of the only egg in the house and the enormous amount of sandwiches as mentioned above that is. Why? Because it apparently takes 2 hours to hard boil such an egg, although it does only take a mere 50 minutes to soft boil one. But soft boiled eggs in sandwiches are not a good idea at the best of times, especially when mixed with mayonnaise. Apart from not looking very attractive, or palatable, they are little devils to handle. And that inevitable gust of wind whilst on the beach (maybe, if you are lucky, even with the odd oil-covered seagull feather being carried on it) would result in their more moist composition than that of the hard-boiled variety being coated in more sand than the latter, causing them to take on the appearance of a more insipid golden breadcrumbed look.

Hey ho what a thought.

Do I have such odd thoughts of the day on a regular basis? Well…yes actually, but on this occasion it was, in fact, brought about by looking in a magazine for a banana loaf recipe and coming across an advert for a certain supermarket who sells ostrich eggs, lain in Lincolnshire, for £18.99 each.