Oil spills are a catastrophe, and there is little that can be done to combat the tons of slick oil that leak from the ships that have run aground. The New Zealand oil spill that occurred on October 5th, 2011 has been severely damaging to the local ecosystem.
The cargo ship known as the Rena was 775 feet in length and it hit the Astrolabe Reef near the port of Tauranga, causing more than 350 tons of oil to leak out into the open ocean. Environment Minister, Nick Smith, said in an article on BBC that, “This event has come to a stage where it is New Zealand’s most significant maritime environmental disaster.” The reef quickly became too toxic for fish to handle, and wildlife birds also become doused in the slick, toxic oil and cannot fly. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) over two thousand seabirds were found dead, and hundreds of birds who were still alive and covered in oil were taken to special wildlife recovery areas.
However, there is good news for some of the animals affected by the oil spill. On November 22nd, forty-nine little blue penguins were released off the coast of New Zealand. The National Oiled Wildlife Recovery Team took in about 343 little blue penguins left in their sanctuary, working to be de-oiled and rehabilitated back into the wild.
A spokesperson of the WWF, Bob Zuur said that, “Releasing the birds is a trade-off between risk of being re-oiled and the not inconsiderable risks of keeping the birds longer – for example disease, birds reducing condition, ongoing stress, social disruption and domestication. We believe the team at the National Oiled Wildlife Recovery Team made the right choice in releasing the first of the little blue penguins, taking these factors into account. There is also a possibility of a second clutch this breeding season.”
The public was also involved with helping these little penguins get back on their feet and ready to be released, and a surge of people knitting sweaters for the penguins became popular. The sweaters (some patterned like a mini tuxedo and others in vibrant neon colors) were made to keep the penguins warm and safe while they waited to have the oil cleaned off of their feathers. The sweaters also kept the oil-soaked penguins from preening their feathers and ingesting the toxic oil. People all over the world rose to the occasion, and eventually the organization had over 1,000 sweaters ready to put on penguins – thus protecting them and making them look adorable at the same time.
There is hope that another batch of penguins will be released as early as this week, and with microchips inside each penguin that has been released, it will be easier to find them and monitor them to make sure the penguins end up back home in their natural habitat.
The World Wildlife Fund also produced a quick video of the penguins being released, which shows them being released, and talks about the de-oiling of the penguins and the WWF’s plans to release and monitor more of the penguins that are still in captivity, waiting to be clean and free of oil so that they can go back to their home in the open ocean.