Talk of the Town
African penguins face danger of extinction
Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation representative Dr Judy Mann spoke to residents of Settlers Park Retirement Village on the threats faced by African penguins, on African Penguin Awareness Day recently.
The awareness day is held on the second Saturday of October.
Mann cited natural and human factors as threats to African penguins.
She said the population of African penguins had declined by 99% since the beginning of the 20th century, from more than one million breeding pairs to less than 15,000.
The current population consited of 30,000 birds and their numbers were steadily decreasing.
She told her attentive audience that at this rate of decline, it was estimated the African penguin would become extinct in the wild by 2030.
She cited the seafood industry as the major contributor to this decline.
“Food scarcity is the primary driver of the decline.
“Seafood demand by humans is constantly increasing and the seafood industry competes with the African penguin for food, especially sardines and anchovies.
“Anchovy is mainly used for fishmeal for domestic livestock such as chicken and pigs.
“The sardine is a source of protein for many homes in South Africa,” she said.
Climate change was another contributor.
“Seawater temperature changes caused by climate change are suspected to have caused both the sardine and anchovy stocks to shift eastwards during the breeding season of the African penguin.
“This means that food is far away from nesting birds,” she said.
Mann said the two largest oil spills in SA, from Apollo Sea in 1994 and Treasure in 2000, collectively killed 30,000 African penguins, despite successful rehabilitation efforts. Speaking about natural threats faced by African penguins she said: “Cape Fur Seals compete with penguins for food and displace them from breeding sites, imposing significant mortality at some colonies.
“Kelp gulls scavenge unguarded eggs and small chicks. And feral cats and dogs are a problem on mainland colonies.”
She said common bird diseases such as aspergillosis, avian malaria, avian influenza and avian cholera were also a potential threat.
Severe storms due to climate change could also have a negative impact on nesting sites.
Mann said sustainable food production for humans would be the first step in the right direction.
“By reducing [our] consumption of meat, we reduce the amount of seafood caught for fishmeal, keeping anchovies in the sea for penguins to eat.
“Choose sustainably harvested seafood.
“Consult the SASSI list and look out for the blue MSC label on seafood products to make wise choices,” she said.
She further urged that management of Marine Protected Areas be supported and the carbon footprint reduced.