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    Rare birds 'breeding despite spill'

    NewsStrange but TrueTuesday 07 February 2012
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    World
    Endangered species of birds may have escaped the worst effects of an oil spill in the South Atlantic a year ago, a new survey has shown.
     
    Thousands of endangered penguins' lives were threatened by the disaster off Nightingale Island, part of Tristan da Cunha, a UK Overseas Territory.
     
    Bulk carrier MS Oliva ran aground on March 16 last year, en route from Brazil to Singapore.
     
    The ship broke up in the rough seas, discharging its cargo of 65,000 tonnes of soya beans and 1,500 tonnes of bunker fuel into the waters around Nightingale Island, with the oil reaching Inaccessible Island, a World Heritage Site, and Tristan more than 30km away.
     
    The group of islands is home to more than 65% of the global population of endangered northern rockhopper penguins.
     
    Residents of Tristan da Cunha and the Tristan Conservation Department, followed by staff from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds, launched a joint operation to collect and clean up the oiled birds and prevent many more from coming into contact with the oil.
     
    The RSPB said results from a survey of birds in the area suggest the breeding populations have not suffered as much as anticipated.
     
    However scientists are also warning the survey should be met with caution.
    Dr Juliet Vickery, the RSPB's head of international research, said: "It's a big relief that the initial results of the counts are better than we had anticipated. We should not, however, relax our watch. There is much we don't know about this species and the extent to which breeding colony counts reveal the true picture of population trends is hard to ascertain.
     
    "Though immediate impact is not as bad as we feared, there may be longer term sub-lethal effects reducing breeding success, so it is vital that we continue to monitor the birds closely for several more years to establish the true impact of the oil spill."
     
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