SEARCH FOR A SITE FOR A NEW AFRICAN PENGUIN BREEDING COLONY
Posted on the 31st March 2016
(This report first appeared in the March 2016 edition of BirdLife South Africa's E-newsletter. - Ed.)
BirdLife South Africa is leading the investigation into finding a site for a new African Penguin colony. Based on a tip-off from Mark Brown of the Nature’s Valley Trust, I looked at the spit of land at the Keurbooms River mouth in Plettenberg Bay. Despite some challenges that we’ll have to overcome, it is one of the best sites for a new colony that I’ve seen. But the most important aspect of deciding on a site is to ensure that there is enough food, both sardine and anchovy, in the area for the penguins.
To find the fish, we needed a boat with an acoustic fish finder on board and that is where Mark Brown assisted again. He found the ski-boat Pescatore Too (run by Enrico’s Fishing Safaris) and skippers Rudi and Patrick, as well as Gwenith Penry, a post-doctoral
researcher working on Bryde’s whales, to help us perform acoustic surveys in the bay. Alistair McInnes, who is in the process of writing up his PhD thesis on his survey of fish populations in Algoa Bay, completes the team. He has been instrumental in setting up the survey, designing the route and knowing what settings are needed on the fish finder.
Our first survey took place in mid-February on a calm, misty morning with a relatively flat sea. It took more than 10 hours to cover the approximately 100 kilometres, at times at a painstakingly slow speed of seven knots (about 13 kilometres per hour). But the day was a great success: all the equipment worked smoothly and we saw loads of seabirds, including Cape Gannets and White-chinned Petrels. Even Cory’s Shearwater, Parasitic Jaeger and two sub-adult African Penguins put in an appearance. Most importantly, though, we saw several large schools of fish! We cannot generalise from just one survey and will be continuing the surveys monthly, but this is a very encouraging and hopeful sign.
Thanks go to African Penguin Patron Pamela Isdell for funding this work.
Christina Hagen, Pamela Isdell Fellow of Penguin Conservation,