South Africa has a coastline extending over 3900km (including the coastline around the Prince Edward Islands) and is among the most varied in the world displaying high levels of biodiversity, including endangered seabirds such as the African penguin; Cape gannet; Cape cormorant and Bank cormorant.
Over the last century, maritime activities around the world have continued to increase since coal was replaced by oil in the 1930s. It is now estimated that around 40,000 vessels pass the South African coastline annually with at least 12,000 vessels calling at South African ports. A large number of these are tankers laden with an excess of 30 million tons of crude oil. In addition, with Operation Phakisa unlocking the economic potential of South Africa’s oceans and inviting offshore drilling for oil and gas, the risk than an oil spill occurs is greatly increased. It is vital that South Africa is prepared to respond to an oil spill affecting wildlife.
Disaster mitigation and policy development
SANCCOB’s Oiled Wildlife and Preparedness Response Programme works with various stakeholders to ensure that both the oil industry and government authorities take the appropriate preparedness action to mitigate the increased risk of oil spills off the South African coastline. SANCCOB’s Preparedness and Response Manager ensures that appropriate risk assessments are carried out; that contingency plans are in place; and that there is regular engagement with all stakeholders, such as the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA), and seabird colony management authorities. In addition, as part of the Operation Phakisa Incident Management Organisation, SANCCOB continues to contribute to and develop the national oiled wildlife contingency plan to improve oiled wildlife preparedness and response for African penguins and other seabirds in South Africa. Fortunately no major oil spills or pollution events occurred in 2018, however some seabirds were still oiled by a number of small incidents involving fish oil from a fish processing plant.
Offshore ship-to-ship bunkering in Algoa Bay
One of the largest threats currently facing seabirds in South Africa is offshore ship-to-ship bunkering operations that have been permitted in Algoa Bay since 2016. As Algoa Bay is a well-positioned stop-over route (positioned a few kilometres from the busy shipping lanes and East-West routes) and offshore bunkering is cheaper than in port bunkering, oil tankers and commercial vessels prefer this method of refueling. This is a major concern as Algoa Bay is an area of high biodiversity value and home to the largest remaining breeding colony of endangered African penguins and Cape gannets.
In addition, the South African cabinet has recently approved Algoa Bay as a Marine Protected Area (MPA), which was already recognized as one of six ‘Hope Spots’ in South Africa as well as an ‘Important Bird Area’ by BirdLife. At this stage any oil spill will likely have catastrophic consequences on the already decreasing populations of African penguins and Cape gannets (more so now than in 2000 when the Treasure oil spill occurred). SANCCOB and its partners will do everything in their capacity to prepare for any major oil spill in the future.
Just one oil spill in Algoa Bay could negatively impact over 40% of the remaining African penguin population, as well as 70% of the global Cape gannet population at once. It is vital that all stakeholders work together to improve oiled wildlife preparedness and response measures.
SANCCOB Oiled Wildlife Preparedness & Response
- SANCCOB maintains a state of 24/7 readiness to rescue and rehabilitate affected seabirds in the event of an oil spill. SANCCOB has responded to every major oil spill affecting seabirds off the South African coast.
- SANCCOB is mandated to respond to oiled wildlife in the South African National Oil Spill Contingency Plan and the National Oiled Wildlife Contingency Plan.
- SANCCOB works with local stakeholders and is also a member of the Global Oiled Wildlife Response System (GOWRS) – an international network of 10 best practice responders.
- SANCCOB is able to develop and maintain adequate levels of preparedness for oiled wildlife response for persons, companies or governments whose activities pose a threat to the environment.
- SANCCOB ensures that all their members of staff are highly trained and comfortable to deal with an oiled wildlife response incident. In addition,
- SANCCOB is able to provide and facilitate training programs and exercises for their clients to train key members of their staff to be able to respond to an oiled wildlife incident.
- SANCCOB runs two rehabilitation facilities in South Africa capable of treating high numbers of oil seabirds with designated oiled wildlife response equipment stockpiled for rapid response.
Request for support
SANCCOB’s Oiled Wildlife and Preparedness Response Programme is in need of support for the remuneration of the manager, who advises on policymaking, engages relevant stakeholders to identify the main issues to be considered in national oiled wildlife response planning, and engages with bunkering companies in Algoa Bay (for instance by testing the oiled wildlife response plan). The programme is also in need of equipment and funds to cover traveling expenses to attend important stakeholder meetings with businesses or fellow partners in Oiled Wildlife Response (when these are not covered by independent foundations).
It is disheartening that SANCCOB’s efforts to hand-rear and release African penguin chicks is even more important now than in 2000 when the Treasure oil spill occurred, as back then South Africa harboured a much larger population. Currently every single penguin plays a crucial role in saving the species from extinction.