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Flagship seabird plays a pivotal role in tourism, writers Guy Rogers on Herald South Africa.

The government’s new plan to rescue the endangered African penguin from extinction has emphasised the importance of the flagship seabirds — more than half of which live and breed in Algoa Bay — environmentally and economically.


According to the Draft Biodiversity Management Plan released for comment, the species plays a key role in SA’s marine tourism sector.


“For example, the colony at Boulders in Cape Town is one of the world’s most-visited penguin colonies with 885 jobs associated with it,” it says.


“In 2018, the likely income generation directly associated with this colony over the next 30 years was estimated at approximately R6.87bn.”


The species was considered to be a sentinel of ecosystem health, playing an important role in the functioning of marine ecosystems, the plan said.


“Therefore, thriving African penguin colonies will indicate that SA’s marine ecosystems are in good shape, or vice versa.”


Further, with their position as near-apex marine predators, their hunting technique of herding small prey fish together provided other seabirds with the opportunity to feed.


According to the document, the primary threat to survival of the species is food scarcity. 


“Many of the recent population declines of African penguins have resulted from food shortages caused by shifts in the distribution of prey species and competition with commercial purse-seine fisheries for food.”


Research by Bay marine biologist Dr Lorien Pichegru of NMU pointed to a possible solution in this regard, it noted.


“The observed decrease in foraging effort at St Croix Island, recorded by Pichegru in 2010, and the increase in chick survival and chick condition at Robben Island, which followed the establishment of 20km notake zones around these colonies, demonstrates that it is possible to implement interventions that reduce the threats associated with resource competition.”


The plan also spotlighted climate change as a threat as it had created a mismatch in the distributions of breeding colonies and prey resources.


“Changes in sea surface temperatures, atmospheric surface pressure and winds have affected spawning conditions for sardine and anchovy stocks and resulted in a shift in the distribution of these species away from breeding colonies.”


Seismic surveys were also a problem, it said, again quoting Pichegru’s research findings.


The plan recommended 14 measures to achieve the goal of boosting the penguin population by 5% by 2024.


These included declaration of special management areas, identification of problematic fishing activities and “advising on zonation of shipping lanes, bunkering operations and shipping activities so as to minimise the risk of oil spills”.


This story appeared on Herald news publication on the 30th October 2019.


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