On March 16, a cargo ship crashed into Nightingale Island, part of an island chain that's home to around 150,000 Rockhopper penguins. The ship was carrying 1,500 tons of oil, and now conservationists are struggling to rescue as many penguins as they can.
If you've never heard of Nightingale Island, it's because it's in the middle of nowhere — the middle of the South Atlantic, more precisely, between Uruguay and South Africa. It's part of the Tristan de Cunha archipelago and considered one of the most remote places in the world. 40% of the global penguin population is thought to live on the archipelago — it's a pretty good place for a bunch of penguins to hide out! Or it was.
The cargo ship was headed from Santos, Brazil to Singapore when it ran aground; 22 crew members aboard the ship were dramatically rescued, but the chain of islands has been left, oh, a little worse for wear — the islands are surrounded by the all-too-familar sheen of oil, and officials are dropping words like "disaster."
Right. The penguins. The ship crashed smack in the middle of the birds' molting season, meaning that they're shedding feathers (penguins molt just once a year, so it's a bit intense) and not eating or swimming. They're particularly weak and hungry, and being covered with oil is just that much more life-threatening. Says one local authority, "I've seen about 15 to 20 dead penguins just today."
Rescue workers have fought harsh conditions in order to evacuate around 5,000 penguins as of Friday, ferrying them from the island to the archipelago's main island (also called Tristan da Cunha), where they're taken to a makeshift rehab center. The birds are hungry, and volunteers are trying to feed them small squares of local fish; some of the island's 300 residents have donated fish from their own freezers.
This may be happening on the other side of the globe, but it certainly feels close to home. Too close for comfort, really. But isn't that always the case with these stories?
UPDATE: A commenter helpfully notes that you can donate here.