PENGUIN AND SEABIRD RANGERS
SANCCOB collaborates with conservation authorities, such as CapeNature, South African National Parks (SANParks), City of Cape Town, and Robben Island Museum, as well as the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) to work toward the protection and restoration of the natural habitat essential for seabirds to survive and the marine ecosystem to function. Throughout the years, SANCCOB has worked with government and conservation authorities to implement several management programmes and projects to conserve the African penguin and other seabird species.
SANCCOB supports 10 Penguin and Seabird Rangers at five vital seabird colonies (Robben Island, Simon’s Town, Stony Point, Dassen Island and Bird Island in Algoa Bay). These rangers play a critical role in seabird conservation by identifying and rescuing injured, oiled, or abandoned seabirds and eggs and transporting them to one of our two SANCCOB centres. The rangers collect valuable data which is used for scientific research, and they ensure that the natural habitat of seabirds is maintained. They also play an important role in monitoring and ensuring human-wildlife coexistence. The skill and dedication of SANCCOB’s Penguin and Seabird Rangers have saved thousands of endangered African penguins and other seabirds that would otherwise not have survived.
Robben Island Seabird Ranger
Robben Island is situated in Table Bay and is recognised as a South African National Heritage Site and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, based mainly on cultural heritage. It is also protected environmentally by the South African government and managed by Robben Island Museum, while it is also recognised as an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA) by BirdLife, as well as a global Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) by IUCN. The island falls within the Robben Island marine protected area (MPA) of 580 km (proclaimed in 2019).
It is important for SANCCOB to have a Penguin and Seabird Ranger stationed on Robben Island. The island has the longest standing monitoring of African penguins’ breeding success which was started after the MV Treasure oil spill in 2000 to evaluate how oiled and rehabilitated birds cope in the wild. These days, Robben Island acts as an important monitoring site for fishing closures and effects of fish availability on the survival of African penguin.
SANCCOB has one Penguin and Seabird Ranger stationed on Robben Island. Nicholas Ngcathu has recently joined the team after completing a successful internship on Robben Island. He lives on the Island permanently and works in collaboration with Robben Island Management.
Stony Point Seabird Ranger
Stony Point Nature Reserve is situated in the coastal town of Betty’s Bay in the Overberg and lies on an old whaling station site. During 2021 it was home to approximately 1,600 breeding pairs of African penguins. Also present in the colony are four species of cormorant; the Crowned cormorant (Least Concern), Cape cormorant (Endangered), White-breasted cormorant (Least concern), and Bank cormorant (Endangered), all of which breed on the outer rocks. The nature reserve is protected environmentally by the South African government and is managed by CapeNature. It falls within the 21 km Betty’s Bay MPA (3 km long, extending 3.6 km out to sea), and forms part of the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve. The public can view the seabirds up close, via a boardwalk through the colony.
Threats to seabirds breeding at this colony include the dramatic decrease in the pelagic fish stocks and competition with commercial fisheries, predation by land-based predators such as mongoose, caracal and leopard, as well as dogs and cats, human-induced disturbance and activity, extreme weather events (heavy rains, flooding and heat), and chronic pollution by crude oil or other pollutants. SANCCOB identified the importance of a full-time Penguin and Seabird Ranger at Stony Point due to the frequency of African penguin chick abandonment incidents, both during extreme weather events and when birds start moulting while still rearing chicks.
Gavin Petersen has been working as a Penguin and Seabird Ranger at the Stony Point colony since 2019, in collaboration with CapeNature. He was awarded the very honourable BirdLife South Africa Owl award in 2021 due to his “inspiring example of how dedicated field rangers can promote the conservation of endangered seabirds”. In July 2021, he was instrumental in removing 69 African penguin chicks and 36 eggs from the colony after severe flooding of the nests during bad winter weather.
Simon’s Town Seabird Rangers
The Simon’s Town colonies is protected environmentally by the South African Government with some areas managed by SANParks and others by the City of Cape Town (CoCT). Simon’s Town is found 35 km south of Cape Town and the 2-ha protected site consists of small beaches. There are several boardwalks, where tourists may observe the penguins up close, and visitors can access some beaches that the penguins inhabit. It is recognized as an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA) by BirdLife, as well as a global Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) by IUCN. Threats to the African penguins include predation by land-based predators such as genets and caracal, as well as dogs and cats. Although disturbance by tourists may be a problem, there are measures implemented to control excessive disturbance. The education and tourism value of the site is immense with thousands of visitors wanting to view and interact with African penguins. SANCCOB has five Penguin and Seabird Rangers stationed in Simon’s Town due to the level of human/wildlife interaction in the area. The Simon’s Town Penguin and Seabird Ranger Project has been running since 2016, as a partnership between CoCT, SANParks, SANCCOB, and Nature Connect. Currently, the Penguin and Seabird Rangers are supervised by Mashudu Mashau who is employed by CoCT, while Mikaela Slier, Vardaman Hahndiek, Kashiefa Amos, Angelo Hufke and Philile Duze are the SANCCOB Penguin and Seabird Rangers on-site.
Bird Island Seabird Ranger
Algoa Bay islands are a collection of islands in Algoa Bay: the St Croix group, comprising St Croix, Jahleel and Brenton islands; and the Bird Island group, consisting of Bird, Seal and Stag islands, as well as Black Rocks. The islands are protected environmentally by the South African government and managed by SANParks as part of the Greater Addo Elephant National Park. The group of islands in Algoa Bay are together recognised as an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA) by BirdLife-SA as well as a global Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) by IUCN and fall within the 1,200 km2 Addo Elephant MPA. 1,200 km2 (proclaimed in 2019).
The Algoa Bay islands together host the largest global populations of Cape gannets classified as Endangered on Bird Island. Until recently, St. Croix Island was the world’s largest breeding colony of African penguins but has declined dramatically by over 70% since 2014, likely due to industrial expansion and anthropogenic activities.
Threats to these seabird populations are similar to the other island colonies but with the additional human-related disturbance with an increase in ship traffic associated with the nearby Port of Ngqura, as well as increased risk of oil pollution threats relating to ship-to-ship fuel bunkering permitted in the bay. SANCCOB has responded to three oil spills in recent years (2016, 2019 and 2021) caused by this high-risk activity.
Due to Bird and St Croix islands facing a high risk of oil spills due to the volume of ship-to-ship bunkering in the area, it is essential to have a Penguin and Seabird Ranger stationed at these islands. Zamo Lazola, SANCCOB’s Penguin and Seabird Ranger, is based on Bird Island and assists SANParks with monitoring St Croix Island, which is uninhabited. He plays a crucial role in rescuing and stabilising seabirds on the islands as transportation of birds off the island can be logistically challenging.
Dassen Island Ranger
Dassen Island is located 55km north of Cape Town and about 10km off the coast of Yzerfontein. The low-lying Island is about 2.75km in size and is protected by the South African government, managed by CapeNature. Historically, the Island was the world’s largest African penguin colony with over a million breeding pairs estimated to have bred on the Island in the early 1900’s. Due to extensive egg collection and guano harvesting, bird numbers on Dassen Island have dramatically declined to less than 1,800 breeding pairs in 2022. Models predict that the African penguin could be functionally extinct along the West Coast of South Africa by 2035, especially on Dassen Island.
SANCCOB’s Penguin and Seabird Ranger will assist CapeNature to prevent further declines of the species. Threats to the African penguins include the dramatic decrease in the pelagic fish stocks and competition with commercial fisheries, as well as extreme weather events due to climate change, and disease outbreaks. Yandisa Cwecwe has been placed on Dassen Island in 2023. This project increases the vital conservation capacity in the colonies, supporting the nature conservation authorities, with increased monitoring of endangered seabirds, and a greater understanding of the threats and challenges on the ground. This means that we can direct our resources and expertise to increased practical protection for endangered species and support professional development within the conservation sector.