Policy and advocacy redesign

policy and advocacy

African penguin Biodiversity Management Plan (AP-BMP)​

The first Biodiversity Management Plan for the African penguin (BMP-AP; Biodiversity Management Plan for the African Penguin (Spheniscus demersus) was gazetted in 2013 by the South African government, highlighting the current threats to the species and necessary conservation actions to halt the decline of the species.

SANCCOB is a key player in the implementation of these actions, ranging from the rehabilitation of oiled African penguins, hand-rearing abandoned eggs and chicks to assisting in the monitoring of breeding African penguins in the wild and the protection of breeding habitat and at-sea foraging areas. SANCCOB works closely with the South African government and managing authorities and is active in several working groups under the AP-BMP. Despite the successful implementation of many of the actions listed in the plan, these aims were not attained, and African Penguins in South Africa have continued to decline.

Therefore, it is necessary that the plan is revised and extended to operate over a second five-year period, from mid-2022–2026. The main reason for the ongoing decline of African Penguins in South Africa has been linked to a scarcity of prey, which has led to mortality of adult birds. For the second AP-BMP to succeed, it is crucial that this matter is addressed.

The second (draft) BMP prescribes that, fishing of its main prey items should be precluded around all prioritised colonies and seasonally at feeding grounds while fattening before and after a moult. Further, colonies along the south coast should be maintained and, if shown to be safe and viable through Risk Assessments, bolstered through the release of hand-reared abandoned chicks and captive-bred penguins. In addition, the risk of oil spills must be strictly minimised through, for example, the zoning of shipping and bunkering activities. Given the present small size of the population, colony-specific interventions, such as the management of predation on African penguins, are likely to play a major role.

SANCCOB is committed to continuing its work along with our partners to achieve the goal of the plan, the halt of the decline of the species and a recovery of African penguin breeding numbers in the wild. 


SANCCOB participates in national IMOrg engagements, designed to improve South Africa’s preparedness and response capabilities in the event of an emergency incident.

Effective oil spill preparedness and response is based on emergency organisation procedures, trained personnel, oil spill response equipment, and logistical support. An oil spill contingency plan is the primary tool used to provide assurance that a country’s oil spill response capability is managed, organised, assessed, and improved upon as needed. Regular oil spill exercises initiated and managed by the interim IMOrg utilising the Incident Management System (IMS) bring together accountable designated representatives from government, government entities, industry, conservation agencies as well as non-profit organisations.

Environmental protection and wildlife response has received the required attention in recent years. Preparedness and planning for wildlife casualties must be fully integrated in national oil spill contingency planning. Responding to oiled seabirds affected by oil spills since 1968 has placed SANCCOB in good stead to be the named response organisation in South Africa’s National Oil Spill Contingency Plan. SANCCOB’s participation in the interim IMOrg is crucial; seabird populations are struggling, and SANCCOB must ensure our level of readiness and ability to respond is aligned with designated stakeholders to be as effective as possible.

International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)

SANCCOB is a proud member of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and is actively engaged in two IUCN initiatives; the IUCN South African National Committee and the IUCN Penguin Specialist Group (PSG), which provides scientific advice that informs policy and engages people (including government agencies) in effective conservation action.

To achieve this, members are supported by:
  • furthering knowledge of the life history and ecology of penguin species
  • providing a forum for discussion of conservation issues to identify conservation priorities
  • facilitating information exchange and cooperation among penguin specialists
  • promoting long-term conservation throughout the species’ ranges
  • assisting in the development and distribution of conservation action plans
  • Regularly reviewing the status, threats and conservation needs of penguin species through completion of Red List assessments for all penguin species
  • promoting management programs (governments or conservation organisations)
  • determining data gaps where information is needed for policy decisions
  • increasing the public’s awareness of the penguin conservation challenges

Offshore Operations in Algoa Bay

Algoa Bay is a marine biodiversity hotspot, as is reflected in the declaration of the Addo Marine Protected Area. Two of South Africa’s most important seabird colonies are found in Algoa Bay: St Croix previously held the largest African penguin breeding colony in the world and Bird Island holds the largest Cape Gannet breeding colony. South Africa has undertaken international commitments to restore both species to a favourable conservation status. The bay is additionally an important site for migratory Humpback and Southern Right Whales, as well as resident populations of Bottlenose and Common Dolphins and Bryde’s Whales.   The South African Government launched Operation Phakisa in 2014; an initiative aimed at unlocking the country’s Blue Economy to stimulate the growth and development of our ocean. According to the United Nations, the Blue Economy in the African context covers both aquatic and marine spaces, including oceans, seas, coasts, lakes, rivers, and underground water. Operation Phakisa is targeting four key areas of blue-economic growth: marine transport and manufacturing; aquaculture; offshore oil and gas; and, ultimately, marine protection. The government estimates the oceans bordering South Africa on three sides, giving it a coastline almost 4,000 kilometres long, have the potential to add R177 billion (£9.6 billion) to GDP and create more than one million jobs by 2033.

Offshore Fuel Ship-to-Ship Bunkering

What is Ship-to-Ship Bunkering?

Ship-to-Ship bunkering is a process of transferring fuel oil in which two adjacent ships are positioned alongside each other and supply fuel oil from one to another. It is the most common type of bunkering procedure at sea; where one ship acts as a terminal while the other moors.

South Africa’s Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) is statutorily mandated to grant permission for Ship-to-Ship (STS) fuel transfer operations.  From 1 April 2016 SAMSA issued permissions for STS operations in Algoa Bay, with thirty-four ships recorded in the first month. Three bunker fuel operators, (namely Minerva Bunkering Services, South African Marine Fuels and Heron Marine) have been permitted by SAMSA and licenced by Transnet National Port Authorities (TNPA) to provide this bunkering service in the Algoa Bay. 

Why is it important to South Africa?

Bunkering operators state that because of bunker operations, there have been a major boost in economic activities in Algoa Bay. Over 100 ocean-going vessels call into Algoa Bay for bunkering each month.  Offshore STS bunkering is more efficient as vessels do not have to berth in ports, thus reducing turnaround time and port levies.

The Challenges

STS bunkering poses a variety of environmental challenges, such as the risk of oil pollution and the noise pollution associated with increased vessel traffic. These risks need to receive adequate consideration in decisions regarding bunkering operations to ensure that development is ecologically sustainable.

Since STS bunkering has been permitted, three oil spills have occurred as a direct result affecting three of the four endangered seabird species in Algoa Bay. The impact of oil on marine life can be severe or even fatal. Hydrocarbons reduce seabirds’ (and mammals’) insulation, leaving the animals vulnerable to hypothermia. It also decreases buoyancy and can also cause skin irritation and ulcers. Animals attempt to clean oil off themselves will ingest it, causing inter alia pathological changes to internal organs and endocrine disruption. Research has shown that in the long term, African penguins that were oiled, cleaned, and released have lower breeding success than unoiled birds.

Loss of marine life could also have a damaging effect for tour operators along the coastline; tourists are drawn to the beaches and ocean safaris are a popular attraction drawing much-needed revenue for South Africa. Offshore bunkering and the associated increased shipping will naturally have an impact on wildlife tourism. Similarly, Algoa Bay is an important area for small-scale and the commercial fisheries industry which will be negatively impacted by oil pollution in the event of an incident. 

What is SANCCOB doing?

SANCCOB and other environmental organisations have strongly objected to ship-to-ship bunkering and have raised their concerns that this high-risk commercial business is allowed to continue in close proximity to foraging and breeding grounds of endangered species, urging the Minister of Environment to reconsider the approval of bunkering and to exalt the protection of these declining seabirds. St Croix Island, the closest island to STS bunkering has suffered a 90% decline of African penguins in the past five years. Scientists who have dedicated years to studying seabirds in Algoa Bay believe that the increased maritime activities, including STS bunkering have had a profound effect on African penguins. Studies are underway examining the associated effects of maritime activities including vessel noise and vibrations and how they impact seabirds and/or their prey.

A moratorium was imposed on 22 August 2019 following a second oil spill since 2016 and pending the finalisation of a Holding Capacity and Risk Assessment Study. The Anchorage Holding Capacity Study (commissioned by SAMSA) was completed in 2020 and the Environmental Risk Assessment (commissioned by Transnet National Port Authority (TNPA)) finally commenced in 2023. The ERA is meant to be finalized in early 2024. In the absence of a robust environmental study, environmental organisations will continue to oppose any discussions or decisions on lifting the moratorium.” SANCCOB will remain firm in its objection to this practise in the Bay. At the same time SANCCOB also works closely with government and industry to remain prepared.

Despite these challenges, SANCCOB’s position remains firm in that we will continue to voice our objection against this activity, however we will also work closely with government and industry to remain prepared and plan to mitigate any potential impacts in the future. As such SANCCOB is a key member in the Offshore Operators Stakeholder Forum and the Offshore Environmental Working Group where environmental impacts associated with bunkering operations and measures to avoid or, where they cannot be altogether avoided, minimise, and remedy such impacts. This includes, inter alia, the capacity for the required state of preparedness including funding initial emergency response during pollution incidents.

Island closures and advocacy for improved food availability

Lack of food, particularly small pelagic fish species such as sardines and anchovies, has been identified as a main threat to southern African seabirds, especially those that heavily rely on them for food; the African penguin, Cape gannet and Cape cormorant are all listed as Endangered by the IUCN). An experiment to understand the link between commercial fisheries and seabird populations has been conducted in South Africa since 2008 where areas around certain breeding colonies were closed to fishing for small pelagics for up to three years. The main colonies are located on Dassen and Robben Islands in the Western Cape and St Croix and Bird Islands in the Eastern Cape. Areas around key colonies were either opened or closed over a three-year period (Table). During closed years purse-seine fishing was not permitted within a radius of 20 km for that colony.

Seabird scientists, including SANCCOB researchers, have been monitoring African penguins on these colonies during the experiment, evaluating survival rates of adults and juveniles, juvenile recruitment, breeding success and chick condition as well as foraging behaviour and important foraging areas. Several publications in peer-reviewed journals have highlighted the effectiveness of these fishing restrictions, showing that penguin chicks benefit from restricted fishing near the colonies. As environmental processes are complex and both fisheries and seabirds must deal with environmental changes including years of low fish abundance and recruitment, the results are not always uniform across all colonies, but the overall positive effect of spatial fisheries management has been shown. However, these results are being questioned by fisheries scientists and industry. SANCCOB, BirdLife South Africa and WWF South Africa issued a proposal that restricted fishing around 6 key penguin colonies which includes those in the experiment as well as Dyer Island and Stony Point. Restricting fishing around these colonies would reduce the competition for food and give African penguins an increased chance of catching enough prey without expending too much energy swimming further in search of food. SANCCOB and other conservation organisations is requesting that the South African Department of Fisheries, Forestry, and the Environment to close fishing in areas identified as the main foraging areas for African penguins around six main colonies.


Save the African Penguin

Chronicles of the African Penguin

In partnership with WWF South Africa and Sea Change Project, we present a panel discussion to address the threats which challenge the existence of the endangered African penguin, following the inspiring Penguin Town series by Red Rock Films International.

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Island closure schedule from 2008 to 2019

Islands closed to fishing during that particular year are marked by X. Areas in white are when the Islands were open to fishing

SANCCOB strongly opposes the use of fireworks due to effects on wildlife

Fireworks are known to have catastrophic effects on both wild and domestic animals, particularly those inhabiting natural habitats. The affected animals flee from the invasive disturbance in a disorientated panic and the devastating outcome of this desperate attempt to survive is often the displacement, or fatalities of these animals.  

Seabirds face the same risks during fireworks as wildlife on land. Our objective at SANCCOB is to rescue, rehabilitate and rewild seabirds, focusing on the African penguin as our flagship species within southern Africa. The African penguin (Spheniscus demersus), is an endangered species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) red list, and the species already faces a plethora of potentially insurmountable challenges. 

In the official position statement published by BirdLife South Africa, the effects of fireworks on birds are provided in harrowing detail. This is an excerpt from that statement.  

“Birds will experience;  

  • Heightened stress levels and panicked responses to loud noise stimuli resulting in unexpected physiological and energetic costs for the bird.  
  • Disturbance during night-time roosting resulting in birds taking flight and risking collision with terrestrial infrastructure.
  • Displacement of birds from their established territories.  
  • Abandonment of nests leading to failed breeding after exposure to fireworks.  
  • Exposure to toxic gases released by fireworks including sulfur dioxide and nitric oxide.  
  • Risk of poisoning from abandoned fireworks casings after detonation.
  • Risk of entanglement, particularly of waterbirds, in remnants of fireworks which land in wetlands.”