South African Penguins/Oil Spill

By Cynthia Kirk

This is Bill White with the VOA Special English ENVIRONMENT REPORT.

A major oil spill has endangered thousands of penguins off the Atlantic coast of South Africa. About fifty-thousand of South Africa's penguins are threatened by the spill.

Experts from the United States, Britain and South Africa are leading efforts to save the rare sea birds. About twenty-thousand penguins were transported to safety until the oil spill is cleaned up.

A huge oil ship sank near the coast of Cape Town, South Africa on June Twenty-Third. It was carrying more than one-thousand tons of oil.

Robben Island, near Cape Town, was the first island affected by the spill. It was home to about twenty-thousand African penguins. Dassen Island, north of Robben island, had about fifty-thousand penguins.

Officials say the situation was made worse because it was the time of year when penguins hatch their eggs to produce babies. Oil leaking from the sinking ship surrounded the islands. The oil covered breeding areas and more than twenty-thousand adult and baby birds. Many eggs and baby birds were destroyed.

Thousands of people have taken part in the effort to clean the remaining penguins. It takes about two hours to clean each bird. It takes many more hours to feed the birds and keep them alive. Bird experts have praised the success of the penguin rescue project.

Environmentalists say the birds would almost surely die if they were not cleaned. They say the oil poisons the birds and prevents them from eating and swimming. Penguins are unusual-looking black and white birds with very short legs. They cannot fly, but they are very good swimmers. Penguins live in the southern half of the world. They spend most of their lives in water. But they lay eggs and raise their young on land or ice.

There are about one-hundred-fifty-thousand penguins around the world. About forty-percent are at risk from the oil spill.

The oil spill was the most recent of several serious oil spills in South Africa in the past fifty years. Such spills have reduced South Africa's penguin population by about ninety percent.

The waterway off the coast of Cape Town is one of the most heavily traveled shipping areas in the world. Experts say governments need to pressure the international shipping industry to improve safety rules so environmental disasters like this are not repeated.

This VOA Special English ENVIRONMENT REPORT was written by Cynthia Kirk. This is Bill White.

Voice of America Special English