In the summer of 2000, a 17-year-old ship on its way from China to Brazil was squeezing between two islands off the coast of South Africa. Out of nowhere, a hole formed in the massive hull of the MV Treasure, which was carrying 140,000 tons of iron ore on board. It wasn't long before the ship drifted eastward and then, rocking in the tempestuous surf, sank to the bottom, its 1,300 tons of fuel oil ballooning above it as it fell.
While all the members of the vessel's crew were airlifted to safety, the oil spill threatened to take thousands of other casualties: the penguins of the two islands it had been passing. Robben and Dassen Islands are home to the largest and third largest populations of African penguins in the world, and provide vital breeding grounds for the endangered species.
Soon enough, a wall of oil came crashing over the penguins. Birds began to wash up on beaches, soaked with oil, many of them dead or dying. 20,000 African penguins were oiled, and another 20,000 clean penguins were at risk as the oil moved toward their habitat.