While a group of penguins waddle towards the ocean to head out hunting for a declining resource. their partners remain at nest sites keeping eggs warm and protected. The wooden boardwalk is an ebb and flow of tourists winding their way through the colony, all eager to catch a glimpse of this endangered species.
Today, the Stony Point Penguin and Seabird Breeding Colony, part of the Kogelberg Nature Reserve Complex, is one of only two shore-based breeding colonies in South Africa. The other is the Boulders Colony in Simons Town. The arrival of the penguins 36 years ago changed a lot in Betty’s Bay,” says CapeNature senior marine manager Cuan McGeorge.
When the penguins arrived, community groups called for their protection: African penguins were already vulnerable at the time.
But their conservation efforts did not come without problems. First. predators discovered the penguins and in 1986 a leopard wiped out 90% of the colony. The leopard was relocated. but returned three weeks later and continued the killing. “The population was almost wiped out entirely.” says McGeorge. Then the community requested a fence. an intervention that saved the penguins. but was detrimental to their habitat. Guano has a high alkalinity and. as a result. causes fynbos to die over time.
“The penguins simply swam around the fence ends and moved further inland to find a more suitable habitat for breeding.” says McGeorge. The original breeding location became barren and in 207 0 a management intervention was called for. The solution came in the form of brush-packing from invasive clearing projects to create windbreaks. This intervention also changed the behaviour of the penguins.
“It was no longer necessary for penguins to burrow as branches offered the perfect shelter by raising nest sites,” McGeorge explains. The ground cover returned. However. with penguins being an important keystone species. Stony Point also became home to other seabirds.
“Penguins dive deep and food ball fish to the surface. which helps other seabirds have a fair share of the declining food resource.” says McGeorge. Today, bank cormorants. crowned cormorants and Cape cormorants breed here. Although all are endangered species. they have also created more work.
Cape cormorants at Stony Point
Cape cormorants breed up to three times in summer at Stony Point. “Last year we counted 2 800 Cape cormorant breeding pairs. therefore they need nesting material.” They found this in the ground cover that grew over the brush-packed material initially established to help the penguins breed successfully.
McGeorge says the task to sustain a viable habitat for the endangered species is challenging and assistance is required from the community and volunteers to make it a success. “People caused the problem originally, therefore we need to source a solution. something that is possible here at Stony Point as we are a mainland colony where resources are available on our doorstep, unlike that of an island colony.”
African penguin facts:
- Decades ago. penguins only bred on islands. but with guano harvesting having devastated their breeding habitat. seals competing for similar food resources and the commercial over-exploitation of fish. it was no longer a balanced environment.
- Betty’s Bay was quiet. the habitat was intact and there were no seals.
- For the Jackass penguins that discovered this location, it was heaven.
- These birds became the first penguins to breed successfully on mainland Africa and were renamed African penguins.
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