An oily problem

It would be difficult to imagine our daily lives without access to oil and oil products. Transportation is one of the most obvious uses of oil, but did you know that many items we use every day are made from oil or its by-products?

Some of these products include:

  • Plastics such as food containers, toys, computers and printers, white goods, CD cases
  • Synthetics used in items such as clothing, curtains, furniture upholstery, carpets
  • Cosmetics such lipsticks, moisturisers, deodorants and antiperspirants
  • Nylons used in stockings, ropes, tents, parachutes
  • Polystyrene used in cups, coolers, packaging
  • Toothpaste, chewing gum, dentures, contact lenses

The list, unlike oil, is almost inexhaustible.

But there is a downside to oil too. Oil spills in the ocean are an enormous issue for marine life. In this Ted talk The Great Penguin Rescue, “the penguin lady” Dyan deNapoli talks about an oil spill that occurred when a ship sank off the coast of South Africa in the year 2000, oiling nearly 20,000 (almost half) of the total population of African penguins, and the efforts made to rescue them.

deNapoli explains that a degreaser used to remove the oil from the pelicans was invented by a 17-year-old boy. How cool is that. She says that more than 1,000 volunteers turned up each day to help with the rescue, and continues

“After half a million hours of grueling volunteer labor, more than 90 percent of those oiled penguins were successfully returned to the wild. And we know from follow-up studies that they have lived just as long as never-oiled penguins, and bred nearly as successfully.”

It is an inspiring story, not only for the penguin rescue, but for the learning deNapoli credits to the rescue. She says,

“Personally, I learned that I am capable of handling so much more than I ever dreamed possible. And I learned that one person can make a huge difference. Just look at that 17-year-old. And when we come together and work as one, we can achieve extraordinary things. And truly, to be a part of something so much larger than yourself is the most rewarding experience you can possibly have.”

deNapoli finishes her talk with the words,

“Humans have always been the greatest threat to penguins, but we are now their only hope.”

I hope you find time to listen to the entire talk. It is what inspired my flash fiction story in response to the prompt set by Charli Mills this week at the Carrot Ranch. Charli challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes oil. It can be an oil refinery, the raw product or used as a commodity. How does oil fit into a plot or a genre? Go where the prompt leads.

Child citizen to scientist

Familiar sounds heralded his arrival: feet scraped stairs, bag thudded deck, screen door crashed.

Shouts of “Mum! Mum!” preceded him as he charged down the hallway, arms flailing, holding something aloft.

His words exploded in a jumble.  She deciphered few. Baby stopped suckling, curious.

“Slow down,” she said, patting the sofa with her free hand.

He thrust the brochure at her.

“I wanna adopt a penguin. Please, Mum. Can I?”

“Penguins can’t live here. It’s too hot,” Mum teased.

“Mu-um!” The words tumbled again. “Scientist… school… oil… penguins dying… ‘dangered… We have to save them from going extinct! Please!”

The title Child citizen to scientist refers to the now welcome involvement of citizens in the collection of scientific data, as described, for example, in this article on Fast Company about the collection of pollution data around the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

About 18 months ago, I published a post about a project led by science teacher Cesar Harada who encouraged his students to innovate and problem solve through science. He explained his project in this Ted Talk.

I particularly appreciated Harada’s conclusion about children and their involvement:

Who knows, if my young penguin adopter is encouraged, he may grow up to be scientist too.

For a picture book that introduces children to the concept of caring for our oceans, One Less Fish by Kim Michelle Toft and Allan Sheather is a great starting point. With its beautiful silk paintings, the book helps to educate children about the oceans, the way we pollute them, and what we need to do to protect them and their inhabitants.

If you are interested, there are a number of organisations through which you can adopt a penguin. These are just a few. I’ll leave it to you to investigate your best option. Just remember: you can’t take it home. 😊

Seabirds. Adopt a penguin

The Penguin Foundation

The World Wildlife Fund

Wildlife Adoption and Gift Centre

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

42 thoughts on “An oily problem

  1. julespaige

    I remember when I lived in Indiana – the zoo in Indianapolis had a program to adopt or help care for any one of their animals. And for as long as we lived their we participated. I also remember through some group supporting the WWF when the group sold T-shirts. I think I might still have the one I bought.

    (I am very slowly catching up on visits – I have been busy traveling, taking care of grands and there never seems to be enough time. And with the good weather in May I entered a walking contest for my husbands health insurance. I averaged about 10 miles a day last month – and that took up quite a bit of time too.)

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    1. Norah Post author

      There are so many opportunities for getting involved in helping care for wildlife, without needing the hands-on approach. It is wonderful.
      No need to apologise, ever, for visiting, or not. We all lead busy lives. We do what we can and we must make priorities. Sounds like a few good priorities taking you away. Best wishes. 🙂

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      1. julespaige

        I’ll still try to catch up on those who visited me… though it might take a while. 🙂
        As you head into winter – stay warm and cozy.

        Oh I thought you might like this book by Wendell and Florence Minor “If you were a Penguin”

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        1. Norah Post author

          Thank you, Jules. Our “winter” is very pleasant at the moment. I hope you stay cool as you head into summer. 🙂
          Thanks for sharing the story. It’s quite cute. 🙂

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          1. julespaige

            They didn’t show that in the back of the book there is a section that shows all the different penguins.
            And not that it has anything to do with anything else but I picked up some books for my 7 year old called Inspector Flytrap. http://www.kidsreads.com/reviews/series/inspector-flytrap
            (The series is for ages 6-9,)I just thought it was fun that the Inspector was a Venus Flytrap. But I read this review: “Celebrating the disabled yet enabled, the character of Inspector Flytrap is wheeled everywhere (on a skateboard, of course) by his goat sidekick as this mystery-solving duo works on cases…”

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  2. Pingback: The Penguin Lady responds to An Oily Problem | Norah Colvin

  3. Dyan deNapoli - The Penguin Lady

    Hello Norah! I just came across your great post about oil and oil spills. Thank you so much for sharing my TED talk about the Treasure oil spill rescue, and for informing your audience about these important issues. I really enjoyed your flash fiction, and listening to Cesar Harada’s TED talk as well.

    Thank you for providing information about how folks can adopt a penguin. I wanted to share the websites of a few more penguin rescue centers that are in need of support, and through which folks can adopt a penguin or fund the hand-rearing of an abandoned penguin chick. There are many organizations rescuing penguins throughout the Southern Hemisphere (there’s actually a complete list of these groups in the appendix of my book, The Great Penguin Rescue), but the following three are organizations doing great work that I regularly support and like to highlight. These are all groups that are doing direct, hands-on work to save oiled or injured penguins. (I also regularly support The Penguin Foundation in Australia, which you’ve already listed above.)

    SANCCOB (the center we worked with during the oil spill rescue in 2000): https://sanccob.co.za/

    Dyer Island Conservation Trust (DICT – also working to save Endangered African penguins): http://dict.org.za/pages/give-to-save/give-to-save.php

    Yellow-Eyed Penguin Trust (YEPT – saving Endangered Yellow-Eyed penguins in New Zealand): http://www.yellow-eyedpenguin.org.nz/passion/support-the-trusts-work/make-a-donation

    Thanks again – and keep up the great work!

    Cheers,
    Dyan deNapoli – The Penguin Lady

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    1. Norah Post author

      Hello Dyan, Thank you very much for visiting my blog and adding your voice to the comments in support of the post. Of course, I had already shared your voice in the Ted Talk, but your personal appearance makes it all the more special.
      Thank you for adding so much in your comment, including links to the organisations that work directly to care for oiled and injured penguins.
      I hadn’t realised your had also written a book about The Great Penguin Rescue. I have just downloaded an audiobook and look forward to listening to it.
      As many who read the post initially probably won’t come back and see your comment, later in the week (possibly on the weekend) I will re-post it, with your comment as an introduction. That way it will attract more readers.
      Thank you for stopping by. I am honoured.

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        1. Norah Post author

          Thank you, Dyan. I’ll let you know when I post. I have listened to the first few chapters of your book and find it very interesting. I had been thinking of some questions children may ask you in an interview (I could be that child!). One of the questions would be – When did you become interested in penguins and why? I was intrigued to find out that dolphins were your first love and that you came to penguins more by chance. Your first relationships with penguins are fascinating, but sad. It is good to know that working on the great penguin rescue helped fulfill your childhood dream of helping endangered animals. Yes , thank you, I am enjoying your story. Do any photos accompany the print or ebook versions? Am I missing out with the audio only? I think I saw that Amazon had a free audio version if I purchased there, but I listen to audiobooks on my iPad so purchased from itunes. 🙂

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          1. Dyan deNapoli - The Penguin Lady

            Hi again Norah – I’m so happy to hear that you’re enjoying the book. And yes, there are photos in the print versions of the book. The hardcover has color photos, and the paperback has B&W (I’d say they’re definitely more impactful in color). I’m pretty sure the digital version of the book also has photos – I believe in B&W. I can send you some of the photos that are in the book if you’d like. Just e-mail me at dyan@thepenguinlady.com and I’ll e-mail them to you.

            And to answer your question about when and how I became interested in penguins, it was quite accidental. I had returned to college at the age of 31 to pursue my lifelong dream of working with dolphins (which I briefly did in Hawaii), and during my senior year I landed a full-time, 4-month internship in the Penguin Department at the New England Aquarium in Boston, MA. From the moment I stepped into the penguin exhibit and found myself surrounded by 65 honking, braying, cavorting penguins, I was pretty-much hooked. Their behaviors captivated me, and I was totally surprised to discover that each individual had their own unique personality and temperament – not really what I had expected in a colonial bird. And I wanted to learn more about them.

            I stayed on as a volunteer at the aquarium after graduating, and when a position finally opened up a year later, I applied for and got the position of Penguin Aquarist. I was at the aquarium for 9 years in total, and after leaving there at the end of 2004, I founded my company, The Penguin Lady, to teach kids and adults of all ages about penguin biology, behavior, and conservation. I speak in a variety of setting both locally and internationally, and donate 20% of my proceeds to penguin rescue, research, and conservation groups. One of my favorite gigs is being a guest speaker/penguin expert on nature cruises, and next February I’ll be returning to Antarctica as a guest lecturer for Lindblad Expeditions/National Geographic, which I’m VERY excited about!! My mission is to raise awareness and funding to protect penguins – 13 of the 18 penguin species are currently listed as Vulnerable, Near-Threatened, or Endangered, and that is what drives me to do the work that I do.

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            1. Norah Post author

              Hi Dyan,
              Thank you so much for popping back and sharing the story of how you became involved with penguins. I enjoyed listening to it on the audiobook too. It surprised me. I expected you to say that you had loved penguins from when you were a child. I was fascinated to find out that they each have very individual personalities.
              Thank you for offering to send colour photos. That is very generous of you. I have ordered a hardback copy of the book. According to Amazon I got the last one, and it is available only as a paperback at the Book Depository where I normally purchase. I am looking forward to receiving it as it is very enjoyable to listen to and I think would make a great gift for children and adults alike. Congratulations on the awards you won for both your book and the TED talk. Awesome. How wonderful to know that your words and actions are making such a difference in the world. And how exciting to be going (back) to Antarctica as a guest lecturer. I am happy to offer the support I can in your mission to raise awareness and funding to protect penguins.
              Best wishes,
              Norah

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  4. Sarah Brentyn

    I love this! 🐧 ❤ Can’t wait to look at these organizations. Thanks for the links. And that book looks wonderful.

    I don’t “love” the post…you know, just the ways to help. Thanks, Norah.

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  5. Steven

    I like how you have been mixing up the style/structure of your posts lately.

    I also remember the oil spill you speak of and somehow managed to remember the 17 year-old invention before you even mentioned it. I guess that one way of looking at it is that in the scheme of things, it can only be a problem for another few decades. I’m afraid that most people or organisations have no idea just how reliant they are on oil (with the exception of transportation). Personally, I’m not looking forward to brushing my teeth using horse hair one day.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for your encouraging comment, Steven. I’m intrigued you noticed a difference in the posts. I can’t say it was really intentional though, just how it works out when I think about Charli’s challenges.
      A problem for only another few decades! What will we do for all these oil-based products then! Horse hair toothbrushes – not a good thought. 🙂

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  6. roughwighting

    What an educational and insightful post! I know how important oil is to our world, and I know how horrible that oil spill was — but I didn’t know all the rest. We humans are so destructive, and yet, some of us are so kind and caring. Unbelievable that 90% of the penguins were saved. And the 17-year-old boy – WOW. Fun story on child citizen to scientist. xo

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for your lovely comment, Pam. I’m pleased you found the post both informative and fun. I’ve always got lots to learn. I wish I’d been a child scientist! 🙂

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          1. roughwighting

            Yes, Norah, that’s how you and I think; but my daughter still comes up against people who think people ‘teach’ because they can’t ‘do.’ It’s amazing. My daughter called me in tears once back when she was senior in college. She had been in a taxi after an interview for a teaching position, and the taxi driver said to her, “your parents paid all this money for your college tuition JUST so you could become a teacher?! Oh boy. Hopefully that attitude is changing…

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            1. Norah Post author

              Just so you could become a teacher! Yes! Teachers have the power to influence countless trajectories. It is through the inspiration or support of a teacher that all other professions are created. Not only that, teachers are just. Now if only that taxi driver had listened to his teachers, imagine where he may have travelled in life! 🙂

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  7. Pingback: Oil Slicks « Carrot Ranch Communications

  8. Charli Mills

    I hadn’t realized the impact of that oil spill on penguins, but we’ve had many around the shores of the US and with oil pipelines, much of our water is at stake from leaks. Native American across the US are focusing their activism around one commodity: water. The World Wildlife Fund is a terrific organization to support. They do much outreach and education, too. I enjoyed your flash and the exuberance of the young citizen science. It’s so true that we need the imagination and input from today’s children to resolve tomorrow’s trouble.

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    1. Norah Post author

      We’ve had a few oilspills over this way too. They are very damaging. Water is definitely a commodity that we need to conserve. I didn’t understand that for a long time. You’d think it wouldn’t be a problem when 70% of the Earth’s surface is water. But when you see what we do to it, and oil spills are only the tip of the iceberg you could say, it’s not surprising that it’s a real problem, in more ways than one. WWF is great for raising awareness. I’m pleased the flash worked and gave hope for the future. There hasn’t been much talk of meliorism lately.

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  9. Kate

    Norah, I don’t know how you do it. You bring insight, creativity and thoughtfulness to each of Charli’s Flash Fiction prompts, no matter how challenging they are.

    Liked by 2 people

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for your lovely, encouraging comment, Kate. I don’t think I do achieve it most of the time. I wonder if any of it makes sense. But I try. Your support is very uplifting. Thank you. 🙂

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  10. TanGental

    lovely Norah and very uplifting, even if you take us down a ways first. I’m with Anne and you that it is the next generation, always to whom we love for the hope but in fact we need to grasp it ourselves as if we were the 17 year olds. I simply refuse to be either complacent or a cop.

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  11. robbiesinspiration

    What a great post, Norah. I remember the oil spill in South Africa and the rescue mission that saved so many of them. We have been to Boulders Beach in Simonstown where they breed and watched them. We have even swum with them in the ocean there. You can only do that out of season as it is a very popular beach and they don’t come into the bay when there are loads of people.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for sharing your memories and experiences, Robbie. How wonderful it must have been to swim with the penguins. I am yet to see the penguins in their natural habitat, though there are quite a few places where they can be seen in Australia. One day. They are such cute animals.

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  12. Annecdotist

    Great post and flash, Norah, and I particularly liked the line, The list, unlike oil, is almost inexhaustible. I so agree it was great that penguin oil spill solution was invented by a 17-year-old boy. Children need to be actively involved, after all it’s their future that’s at stake (along with the penguins’). A sad parallel here in the UK is that we’re heading towards a political disaster which will affect young people more than anyone in terms of leaving the EU but they had no say in it.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for your kind words, Anne. I am pleased you enjoyed the post. It is wonderful to see young people so inventive, isn’t it. It gives me hope for the future. Maybe they will see solutions that our generation doesn’t.

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