It’s one of the biggest attractions surrounding Cape Town, and yet, it may soon disappear as the African penguin is edging on extinction and experts have little clue on how to stop the drastic decline. The adorable flightless birds may soon become a sight to see exclusively in carefully contained reservations if their numbers continue to dwindle.
Reports have stated that the African penguin population has declined by a whopping 90% since 2004, when colonies were spread throughout the warmer coasts. In fact, in the 1930’s, the largest colony nested around 1 million of the black and white birds, and it was certainly not the only one.
Today, only 100,000 remain within their natural habitat, surfing along the coast of South Africa or the neighboring Namibia, which has led the species of penguins to disappointingly be labeled as ‘endangered’ in 2010 by the Worldwide Union for Conservation of Nature. Measures have been taken, but their population is still in worrying decline.
The most popular belief as to what caused this drastic plummet of the adorable birds, was the reported drifting of sardines and anchovies further out to the colder depths of the Atlantic Ocean. Their main source of food has gone away due to climate change increasing the water’s temperatures, natural fluctuations or perhaps overfishing in the area.
The latter has led the South African authorities to ban fishing in 2008 within 12 mile radius of four highly important and most populous colonies of the fancy-clad birds. The islands Robben and Dassen in the Atlantic Ocean, along with St. Croix and Fowl Islands in the Indian Ocean are now forbidding fisheries from diminishing the sardines and anchovy numbers in their areas.
It was in their hopes that with carefully contained hotspots of food, that the African penguins will have a much easier time hunting, and would not have to venture out farther into the waters in search for nourishment. More importantly, it would lessen their risk of encountering predators, such as fur seals or sharks, and will dramatically decrease the chance of pure exhaustion that would weaken adult penguins.
Penguin biologists have claimed that the ban on fishing has increased the chance of chick survival by 18%, due to the extra fish left around instead of being hauled away by fishing boats. However, the numbers are still in decline after 7 years of banning fisheries from conducting their business in the area.
The industry is becoming impatient and state that their business is seeing loss due to the mere 10% of sardines and anchovy population they are allowed to fish. And furthermore, some fishery specialists state that the ban should be lifted because it hadn’t amounted to clear results, and that the African penguin population is plummeting because of predators, nests flooding and the stress of climate change.
The actual fishing of their main source is allegedly not such an important cause to their unfortunate disappearance. However, penguin biologists claim that it’s too early to tell, and that the ban should not be lifted for several years.
The debate will be once again settled by the South African authorities in December of this year, and it will be decided if fishing is truly that important of a factor when it comes to the survival of these rare and slowly disappearing endearing birds.
Image source: flickr.com