Penguins monitored after diesel spill

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iol scitech march 4 Stony Point Penguin Colony

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The penguin colony at Stony Point is one of four mainland colonies in South Africa. Picture: Henk Kruger

Cape Town - Penguins in the Stony Point Penguin Colony near Betty’s Bay will be monitored this week after 10 000 litres of diesel spilt from a wrecked boat threatened the colony.

About 4 000 penguins and 400 nests of various seabirds were exposed to contamination when the fishing trawler Connect, carrying 10 000 litres of diesel and 80 litres of engine oil, ran aground 5km from the Betty’s Bay Marine Protected Area last Thursday.

The area was closed as authorities prepared to examine the penguin and seabirds for diesel contamination.

CapeNature spokesperson Justin Lawrence said although the diesel was not visible and authorities were unable to determine how far it had spread, the colony had been reopened and penguins and seabirds were back in the water.

SA Maritime Safety Authority principal officer Gustav Louw said his team of surveyors responsible for the clean-up of the Connect said they were met by a strong diesel stench when they went out to the wreck last week.

“Fortunately diesel will eventually evaporate and disintegrate. It won’t be a threat to the environment forever,” said Louw.

Nicky Stander, rehabilitation manager at SA National Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (Sanccob), said because the water was not 100 percent diesel-free, Sanccob and officials of the Overberg Municipality would visually inspect the birds this week.

“The white parts of their bodies would turn a yellowish colour from the diesel.

“If a rescuer spots a penguin that cannot move its wings or it appears fragile, they would immediately try to catch the bird and then treat it,” Stander said.

She said seabirds were more difficult to monitor because their nests were scattered high above sea level.

“Unfortunately, we would most likely only be able to spot whether a bird has been contaminated long after it has gotten sick.

“Diesel would cause the bird to lose its appetite and become frail,” Stander said.

She added that rescuers were not just dealing with the birds from the Stony Point area, but others, too, as might come to feed at the area.

“We are not only dealing with the birds from this colony, but will have to monitor those from other colonies as well,” said Stander.

The Connect had eight crew aboard when it ran aground last week.

NSRI spokesman Craig Lambinon said five of the boat’s crew had jumped to safety aboard a life raft, while three others stayed on board.

They later tried to jump to safety, but one of the men, a 43-year-old believed to be from Strandfontein, went missing.

Rescuers in a Skymed helicopter later spotted his body washed up on rocks.

Louw said the SA Maritime Safety Authority and the Connect’s crew would this week continue to salvage as much of the boat as possible. - Cape Times

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