Robben Island: Protecting this seabird paradise

Robben Island is an island in Table Bay, 6.9 km west off the coast of Bloubergstrand, Cape Town (South Africa). Robben Island is South Africa’s largest coastal island: this oval 5 x 2km island rises 30m above sea level at its highest point and is approximately 574 hectares in extent. Historically, the island was used as a prison site for mostly political prisoners up until the 1990s with the election of the new democratic Republic of South Africa. The most notable former inmate of the maximum security prison was former president of South Africa and Nobel Laureate, Nelson Mandela. Today, the island is managed by Robben Island Museum (RIM) as a living museum and it was declared a World Heritage Site in 1999. The island is home to approximately 1440 breeding pairs of Endangered African penguins, 54 breeding pairs of Endangered Bank cormorants and 1401 breeding pairs of Endangered Cape cormorants, among other protected seabird species (unpub. South African Department of Environmental Affairs: Oceans and Coasts 2017).

Given the rate of decline of the above-mentioned endangered seabirds and the threats facing them, SANCCOB has created the Robben Island Museum Seabird Ranger Project, which will benefit
seabirds by taking direct, rehabilitation-focused, conservation action to support the wild populations. Project partners include SANCCOB and RIM who have a long-standing relationship in protecting and rehabilitating seabird species on the island. The most notable intervention was during the 2000 MV Treasure oil spill when an oil spill in Table Bay caused the oiling of 19 000
African penguins and putting an additional 20 000 penguins at risk on Robben and Dassen islands.

A dedicated Ranger is positioned full-time on the island, carrying out vital monitoring duties and rescuing seabirds that are injured, ill or abandoned. This Ranger plays a pivotal role in the conservation management on the island and the rehabilitation chain of African penguins and other seabirds. Seabird Rangers are particularly important as they fulfil a hands-on, monitoring and intervention role with seabirds on a daily basis.