A POTENTIAL NEW BREEDING COLONY FOR AFRICAN PENGUINS ALONG THE SOUTH COAST?
Posted on the 21st July 2014
(This article first appeared in the July 2014 newsletter of BirdLife Plettenberg Bay and is posted with the permission of the Editor. - Ed.)
A potential new African Penguin colony on the south coast of South Africa
The African penguin population in South Africa has decreased rapidly over the last ten years, mainly thought to be due to a lack of available prey (sardine and anchovy). The fish have shifted their distribution from on the west coast to the south coast. The penguins have been unable to take advantage of this situation by moving to the south coast due to a lack of suitable breeding sites. BirdLife South Africa and other partners have therefore started looking into the feasibility of establishing a new mainland colony on the south coast, closer to the fish.
I am leading on work for BirdLife South Africa and have been investigating potential sites for the new colony. In May, I visited a site in Plettenberg Bay with Mark Brown, Mike Bridgeford, Minke Witteveen and Anton Wolfaardt, an experienced penguin researcher. The potential site is at the Keurboom River mouth, near to the gull colony. The site looks promising due to the area of land available, the nature of the vegetation and general location. However, there are concerns about the relatively high use of the area for recreation, an activity which would conflict with a potential colony. My next steps are to compare this site against other potential sites and the “optimal” site criteria developed at a workshop of penguin experts in 2013. 4
I have also been developing a simple population model of a hypothetical colony to get an idea of roughly how many penguins would need to be released at the site and over what time period. While the results are still preliminary, the return rate of released penguins is a key variable in ensuring that the colony is viable, making the choice of site all the more important. The model also suggests that it will be relatively slow process for the colony to grow to about 100 pairs (in the order 10 -15 years). So it is important to start the process soon to give the colony time to grow. We are working on this and hope to have more progress to report soon.
Christina Hagen, Coastal Seabird Conservation Manager, BLSA