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.
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.
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.
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 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!