Tag Archives: South Africa

Kayleigh’s Story

The African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary

Nearly a year ago to the day, I arrived in Gansbaai South Africa. For the next 5 weeks I was going to be helping out on the Great White Shark cage diving vessel, SlashFin, with Marine Dynamics and International Marine Volunteers. I didn’t know at the time that for the first time ever, the Great White Sharks would disappear for a prolonged period of time and that I would actually end up spending my time at the African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary.

APSS as it is known takes in sick/injured birds and abandoned chicks and helps rehabilitate them back into the wild. (African Penguins are endangered and experts do believe that if nothing is done, they will be extinct in the wild by 2030.) It’s also a really important place to me and helping out there is what started a new found love for penguins and birds, it also made me realise that working with birds is what I wanted to do with my life. A day at APSS would involve cleaning, cutting fish tails and fillets, laundry and feeding. When I returned back to England I continued to volunteer with birds at Birdworld in Farnham, yet really wanted to get more hands on experience back in South Africa… I left my job and returned. Yet this time I wanted to give back to the place that taught me so much, APSS.


I decided I was going to raise money for APSS. I let my work friends decide how I would go about doing this. They decided that I would get blown of the side of a mountain, yes paragliding – I can honestly say now that I will never do this again! The most terrifying part was when the guy told me that if I needed to run to gain air then I would have to run off the side of the mountain! The incline that you are on is enough to terrify anyone that has a fear of heights, no matter how small. All in the name of fundraising.

My target was £300 and as the days and months rolled by the total kept creeping up. I actually managed to triple my target and raise £940!!! Again I would like to thank every single person that donated, plus family and friends. Without their kindness it wouldn’t have been possible! I didn’t do anything really, it was down to everyone else. I was able to give back to the place that changed everything for me and I will be forever grateful.

This is me back in action in Kleinbaai, Gansbaai at a recent penguin release – for more information regarding penguin rehabilitation and conservation visit the Dyer Island Conservation Trust website.

Kayleigh Hawkins
International Marine Volunteer

 

Dissection day!

Shark dissection time!  As the day progressed so did the excitement of the volunteers, constant questions of “Can’t wait, when we going to start?” become the order of the day. As we start the setup of all the dissection and measuring equipment, I could see all eyes firmly focused on the defrosted male vaalhaai, or soupfin shark, that was wrapped in black plastic bags.

Before we could start with the actual cutting open of the shark, we needed to do external measurements. This is a lengthy process but as I explained to the volunteers that this is a very important part of the scientific process.  The volunteers quickly jumped at the opportunity and listened carefully to the instructions given. I gave one as the volunteers, Jaime, the opportunity to lead with the measuring, since he had a degree in marine biology and this could really help him to gain some hands-on experience. I explained the basics of measurements and guidelines, and then very quickly they started to taking accurate measurements of the shark with my supervision.

External morphometrics

External morphometrics

Finally when we were done with the 3-page external measurements, it was time to cut open the 17.5kg shark. To add to the atmosphere the perfect sunny spring day turned into ominous cloudy windy weather, it’s almost if Mother Nature knew how to set the scene. As I started making the first cut, I noticed some of the volunteer’s faces pulled in all different directions as the dead shark smell  filled their nostrils, especially when squeezing out the stomach contents to weigh. As the chorus of “ewwh’s” and “ahh’s” rained down, the fascination and interest remained as no-one moved an inch.

We opened up the shark, removing the liver, stomach, intestine and reproductive organs, all for internal measurements. The longer the dissection went on the more questions of genuine interest followed, ” How does the shark stay afloat?” was one of the volunteer questions. So sharks do not have a swim bladder like other fish for buoyancy but instead they have a liver filled with oil called squaline. I happily showed them by cutting a piece of liver and throwing it into a bucket of water, and as predicted it floated! It’s these types of practical demonstrations that have the biggest impact and can only be shown to people at an educational dissection.

After the organs from the body cavity were removed, I went on to show them the brain, eyes and heart, at this stage they were amazed how tiny the heart was in comparison to the body, and where it was located, in the upper throat section, “Talking about heart in your throat stuff” was one of the comments that had the group laughing. After all was cut open and measured, we then took some genetic samples and fin clips to finish off the dissection.

The group were all smiling and showed genuine interest throughout the dissection, for some this was first time they had ever been a part of a dissection, let alone a shark dissection! The group left with a newfound respect for these amazing ocean predators, and a comment by one of the volunteers to end of the day saying: ”This was one awesome experience, that I’ll probably never forget”!

Ettiene Roets (IMV Coordinator)

Gansbaai/Kleinbaai Magical

After spending most of our time on Slashfin and Whale Whisperer it’s nice to get to experience different views of Kleinbaai and Gansbaai. Going on hikes at De Kelders, where you have views of rocks and get to hear the waves hit against them. Hiking in the milkwood forest where you get to walk through fynbos and listen to all the birds.

DSC_1221

DSC_1249

DSC_1293

DSC_1298

No words can describe the African Skies so here are a couple examples of what the volunteers get to wake up to and what they get to see before they go to bed.

DSC_0157

DSC_0081

DSC_0170

Helping to conserve the African Penguin

On Wednesday, 12th February 2014, instead of volunteering on Marine Dynamics’ shark cage diving boat, Slashfin, seven of our International Marine Volunteers had the privilege to visit one of the largest remaining African Penguin colonies in the world, Stony Point in Betty’s Bay.

International Marine Volunteers arive at Stony Point, Betty's Bay for a day of working for the conservation of the African Penguin.

International Marine Volunteers arive at Stony Point, Betty’s Bay for a day of working for the conservation of the African Penguin.

These visits are a fortnightly institution for the Dyer Island Conservation Trust and the International Marine Volunteers. We help with the maintenance of this colony, assisting with alien vegetation clearing, placing of artificial homes for the penguin families and vegetative habitat mimicry.

Stony Point Seabird Monitor, Yvonne, addresses the Volunteers about their duties for the day.

Stony Point Seabird Monitor, Yvonne, addresses the Volunteers about their duties for the day.

Yvonne, Seabird Monitor at Stony Point, gave the volunteersa a private tour of the boardwalk, which meanders over the Penguin walkways to and from the ocean. This walkway provides excellent viewing of the African Penguins, and other seabirds nests, without disturbing or impacting on the birds in any specific way. After the innitial tour, Yvonne explained to the Volunteers what their duties for the day entials.

A quick history on the African Penguin, in their natural habitat they were once quite abundant and were able to burrow down into guano, creating adequate nests to shelter them from environmental factors. Then the guano was harvested off of the islands and sold commercially as fertilizer, and a component of gunpowder. As a direct result the penguins were unable to form nests and were forced to lay their eggs in open scrapings on hospitable terrain. The eggs that survived the forty-day incubation period yielded surviving chicks, but without the safety of a nest they simply became an easy meal for seals, and predatory birds.

Within the past thirty years, the population numbers have declined by ninety percent. The species is predicted to become extinct within the next ten to fifteen years if drastic action is not taken.

The Dyer Island Conservation Trust, that has vowed to save the African Penguin, has created a program that introduces artificial homes in which the penguins can nest and more successfully raise their chicks.

An African Penguin inspects one of the artificial nests installed through the Faces of Need project of the Dyer Island Conservation Trust.

An African Penguin inspects one of the artificial nests installed through the Faces of Need project of the Dyer Island Conservation Trust.

Two years prior to our visit, a residential area was built across the street from the bay.

The penguins, which once had free reign of the entire area, were evicted from the neighborhood further limiting their available nesting grounds.

The penguins would still venture into the neighborhoods and became cat and dog food and even some were even killed by homeowners who considered them pests.

The International Marine Volunteers helping with the fence at Stony Point.

The International Marine Volunteers helping with the fence at Stony Point.

The main job during the volunteers visit was to finish building a fence in order to keep the penguins in the colony and keep the terrestrial predators, such as house cats, from stealing the newborn chicks from the nests.

It was hard work but very rewarding, knowing that the fence would help the Dyer Island Conservation Trust and Stoney Point save African Penguin lives, and promote the conservation of this species!