World Oceans Day, observed annually on 8 June, is a chance to remember and celebrate the vitally important role of oceans and the diverse life they support. This year, a group of NGOs has teamed up to help create a brighter future for the endangered African Penguin.
Adult and juvenile penguins are often seen in the waters around Plettenberg Bay and are occasionally found on the beaches, injured, sick or moulting on the mainland where they are vulnerable to predation. Over the last four months, the Tenikwa Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre has admitted five penguins: two with injuries, one with avian malaria and the other two were moulting. The penguins have recovered well and have met the health, feather waterproofing and swimming requirements to be released.
They will be released at Lookout Beach in Plettenberg Bay at 09h00 on 8 June. The release is a collaboration between BirdLife South Africa, Tenikwa Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre, the Nature’s Valley Trust, BirdLife Plettenberg Bay and CapeNature. Members of the public are encouraged to come experience the moment, and meet the team near the Lemongrass parking area.
There is however, a greater purpose behind releasing penguins in Plett. Penguins rehabilitated at Tenikwa Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre are usually transported to existing penguin colonies to be released. BirdLife South Africa with the support of its partners is leading an ambitious new plan to start a mainland penguin breeding colony in Plettenberg Bay. It was decided that rehabilitated penguins should rather be released from Plettenberg Bay as a part of this process.
“Establishing new colonies for penguins along the South Coast is a vital conservation tool because the distribution of the penguins’ favourite prey, sardine and anchovy, has shifted away from the West Coast, where many of the penguin colonies are, to the southern coast and Agulhas Bank” says Christina Hagen of BirdLife South Africa, who is leading the project. “Because of a lack of breeding sites in the area, the penguins have been unable to adapt to this change. Plans for the Plettenberg Bay colony are still being formulated but information on this exciting conservation intervention can be expected soon” she explains.
“This is an exciting project for Plett, and while there is still much more work to be done, releasing penguins here helps to raise awareness of the project and saves the penguins some of the stress of being transported long distances to other colonies” says Dr Mark Brown, Programme Director of the Nature’s Valley Trust.