Ship Grounding and Oil Spill at Tristan da Cuhna

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Tristan da Cuhna defines the statement “middle of nowhere” at 1500 miles from African and South American continents. A remote island group right in the middle of the Southern Atlantic Ocean would seem unlikely spot for an oil spill. But alas, we humans are a persistent species.

Nightingale Island is a biodiversity hotspot and holds the endemic, i.e. not found anywhere else, Northern Rockhopper Penguin.  Several other species are also known to breed or take residence in the island group. This includes the Atlantic petrel that only breed among the islands of Tristan da Cuhna.  Nightingale also supports important populations of Atlantic Yellow-Nosed Albatrosses and Sooty Albatrosses. As mentioned by Ocean Doctor the neighboring Inaccessible Island is a World Heritage Site.

On March 16th, the Greek-owned bulk carrier MS Oliva ran aground on 4-km² Nightingale Island on its way from Santos, Brazil, to Singapore with a cargo of Soya beans. By the end of the day on the 18th, the MS Oliva had broken in half spilling her 64,000 ton bean cargo and 1,400 tonnes of heavy crude.  The last reports are that a 13km oil slick exists around the island and has now made it to Inaccessible Island.

From The Great Beyond

“The scene at Nightingale is dreadful as there is an oil slick around the entire island,” said Trevor Glass, the Tristan Conservation Officer, in a statement. “The Tristan Conservation Team are doing all that they can to clean up the penguins that are currently coming ashore. It is a disaster.”

Of course another worry is the risk of rats on the vessel colonizing the island and placing the island’s seabird colonies in jeopardy.

A heart wrenching set of photographs and updates exist at the Tristan da Cuhna website.

Dr. M (1729 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Assistant Director of Science for the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, a National Science Foundation supported initiative. He has conducted deep-sea research for 20 years and published over 50 papers in the area. He has participated in and led dozens of oceanographic expeditions taken him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses on how energy drives the biology of marine invertebrates from individuals to ecosystems, specifically, seeking to uncover how organisms are adapted to different levels of carbon availability, i.e. food, and how this determines the kinds and number of species in different parts of the oceans. Craig’s research has been featured on National Public Radio, Discovery Channel, Fox News, National Geographic and ABC News. In addition to his scientific research, Craig also advocates the need for scientists to connect with the public and is the founder and chief editor of the acclaimed Deep-Sea News (, a popular ocean-themed blog that has won numerous awards. His writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web. His forthcoming book, Science of the South (, connects cultural icons of South such as pecan pie with the science behind them.

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