African Penguin Conservation



SAPFIA shares in the concern about the continued decline in the numbers of African penguins. For this reason, SAPFIA is committed to participating in the scientific process initiated by the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment (DFFE), and the deliberations concerning the potential impact of fishing on penguin population dynamics, as well as engaging with other scientific deliberations related to the development of a management plan for African penguins. We are of the opinion that the management of South African pelagic fisheries is conservative and consistent with pronouncements made in scientific publications and other fora such as ecolabelling certification schemes, to ensure that adequate prey provision is being made for top predators such as the African penguin. 

An ‘Island Closure Experiment’ (ICE) under the auspices of DFFE, has been conducted since 2008 at Dassen Island, Robben Island, Bird Island and St Croix.   This has involved alternating years of opening or closing islands so that 50% of these four islands are closed in any one year.  The purpose has been to determine the scale of the effect of fishing around breeding islands on the penguin population growth rate. SAPFIA has been and remains an active participant in this experiment.  This is despite that the small pelagic fishing industry has incurred an estimated cumulative loss of approximately R 300 million rand due to closures since 2008 at West Coast islands only (i.e.  Dassen and Robben Islands). The scientific calculations from ICE suggest that island closures will have a negligible benefit for the penguin population growth rate. This small effect will not meaningfully arrest the ongoing decline in the penguin population over recent decades.  

It is urgent therefore that targeted scientific research be carried out to determine the cause of the decline in the penguin population so that appropriate steps can be taken to halt and reverse the decline. An initial comprehensive list of possible impacts that need to be credibly and scientifically quantified should include but not be limited to the following: historical egg harvests, historical guano harvests, disease, natural predators, parasites, oiling, seal predation/competition, invasive alien predators (such as cats, rats, mice, dogs and caracal), global warming, prey biomass levels and local competition with fishing. Seals have been protected in South Africa since 1973 and have increased substantially in numbers since that time. In addition to direct predation by some seals on penguins, seals may compete with penguins for food, as well as for breeding habitat. The likely scale of the impact of competition with seals on penguins can be estimated using mathematical models, and the results of this scientific research is urgently required to guide decision making regarding penguins. SAPFIA will remain an active positive participant in this scientific process and debate.