Initial impact of the treasure oil spill on seabirds off western South Africa

  • RJM Crawford
  • SA Davis
  • RT Harding
  • LF Jackson
  • TM Leshoro
  • MA Meyer
  • RM Randall
  • LG Underhill
  • L Upfold
  • AP Van Dalsen
  • E Van der Merwe
  • PA Whittington
  • AJ Williams
  • AC Wolfaardt


On 23 June 2000, the bulk ore carrier MV Treasure sank off western South Africa between Dassen and Robben islands, which individually currently support the largest and 3rd largest colonies of African penguins
Spheniscus demersus. Subsequently, more than 19 000 penguins were oiled, almost twice the previous highest number of seabirds oiled during a single event in southern Africa (10 000 penguins after the sinking of the
Apollo Sea in June 1994). About 19 000 oiled penguins were collected for cleaning and care and about 150 oiled adults died in the wild. Some 19 500 unoiled penguins were caught at Dassen and Robben islands and relocated to Port Elizabeth, 800 km to the east, to remove them from waters affected by the oil. Of all penguins caught, which amounted to 20% of the total species population, less than 2 000 died within the first month, considerably less than in the Apollo Sea spill. This can be attributed to improved transport of penguins and the rapid arrival at rescue centres of experts able to administer emergency care. However, resources were severely extended and mortality would probably have been considerably higher had large numbers of birds not been removed from the area affected by the oil. Many relocated birds returned to their home islands within a month of being released, but considerable disruption of pair bonds is expected to result from mortality, different periods in captivity and
disruption of moult cycles. This is likely to result in decreased breeding success. Recruitment to colonies will also be reduced by substantial loss of chicks and eggs. Although more than 3 000 orphaned chicks were collected
for captive rearing, an estimated 4 000 died at the islands before they could be rescued. Up to 20% of bank cormorants Phalacrocorax neglectus at Robben Island, the 3rd largest colony of the species in South Africa, died. There was low success in catching oiled cormorants and in saving those that were caught. Of 53 grown birds of four species of cormorant that were oiled and caught, only 17 survived. Captive rearing of bank cormorant chicks, which it was feared may have been orphaned, proved more successful. Spilt oil had minor impact on gulls, terns and shorebirds in the region.

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1814-2338
print ISSN: 1814-232X