The Endangered African Penguin – Oil Spills and Current Stats
The city of Port Elizabeth is not only home to Worldwide Experience but also home to the largest colony of the endangered African penguin in the world. The African penguin is endemic to the coastal regions of Southern Africa. Its biggest breeding population is located on the small island of St Croix, which is situated in Algoa Bay, Port Elizabeth.
There has been a rapid decline in number over the last year from 15,200 in 2018 down to only 13,300 breeding pairs. Of which 3638 are found on the little island of *St Croix (from 5428 in 2019) and only 55 breeding pairs on *Jaheel Island in 2019 from the 2018 population of 232 breeding pairs. According to SANCCOB research manager, Dr Katrin Ludynia and her team who are working tirelessly to find ways save each bird using research, rehabilitation and education. *Islands found in Algoa Bay, Port Elizabeth, South Africa
Dr Lauren Waller from the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB), delivered a very important presentation on African penguins at the IAAAM (International Association for Aquatic Animal Medicine) where she discussed the various reasons for the extreme decline in penguin numbers over the years. The African penguin is one of the most threatened species of bird on the planet. It is the only species of penguin found along the African coast with 18 localities in Namibia and South Africa. 15 of these colonies are found in South Africa. 13 of them are coastal islands and 2 mainland colonies of which one is the very famous Boulders beach in Cape Town.
The population of African penguins in the early twentieth century was between 1.5 and 3 million penguins. Which then dropped to 0.3 million in 1956 and now sadly the population is a mere 5% of that!
There are a few reasons behind the rapid decline of the population. The recent oil spill in Algoa Bay may have only impacted 100 birds but those 100 birds may have had chicks. Which could have been predated on or starved whilst their parents were being rehabilitated and the long term breeding effects from an oil spill could affect further breeding from the oiled animals. Other reasons for the decline in numbers came from the intensive guano harvesting. This took place many years where the guano was harvested from the islands and shipped to the mainland, all for the purpose of to be used for fertilizer. The guano was around 6 meters thick and was the perfect nesting material for the penguins. Without the guano, the penguins are exposed to the elements and predators. Here are some of the big culprits behind the near extinction of the African penguin population along the South African coastline:
- Penguin eggs were also harvested and served as a delicacy in the early 1900’s.
- Fishing line, plastic pollution and overfishing are also completely avoidable causes of penguin deaths along our coastline.
- Interspecies competition and displacement for food and habitat as seals feed on penguins. Because of the low fish stock, seals have now been witnessed hunting penguins who have just fed on fish.
- Diseases like Avian flu which accounted for over 500 deaths in the 2019 outbreak in Namibia.
- And the biggest and most catastrophic reason behind the decline of the African penguin is oiling. We lost 30 000 penguins in 1994 and in 2000, after oiling events along the Southern African coastline. In 2016 another 150 birds were oiled in the Eastern Cape and this year (2019) we saw another 100 birds oiled. the good news is that SANCCOB is equipped with well trained and very passionate staff who have managed to have incredibly high success rates from their rescue and rehabilitation program with their two facilities, their main facility is based in Cape Town and the other at Cape Recife in Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape, South Africa.
You can help by providing an improved structure for the seabird patients admitted to the SANCCOB Eastern Cape by visiting https://sanccob.co.za/build-a-pool/ for more info & donate at https://bit.ly/2jQAzBg. SANCCOB saves seabirds #oiledwildliferesponse #endangeredspecies #Africanpenguin #everybirdcounts
Photo: Alan Straton from http://abmarine.co.za/
by Claire Paton