Improved nesting, management and monitoring for African penguins in South Africa

African penguins resting on the beach after returning from feeding at sea.
An African penguin chick emerges from a manmade nest box, as a parent penguin stands nearby.

Every year, around a million people flock to Simonstown to catch a glimpse of one of South Africa’s 28 known breeding colonies of African penguins (Spheniscus demersus). In the past century, however, the total population of African penguins has declined dramatically. Shifts in ocean circulation patterns combined with historic fishing pressure have changed the distribution of small fish, leading to insufficient food for penguin colonies. There has also been an increase in the frequency of extreme weather events. Storm surges and heavy rainfall events have resulted in destruction of penguin habitat. During heat waves, chick-rearing penguins often abandon their nests to cool themselves in the water, leaving their eggs and chicks exposed and vulnerable to hyperthermia and/or dehydration.

WWF is working in collaboration with SANCCOB and SANParks to reduce the impacts of extreme weather events on penguin nesting sites. Penguin rangers will actively monitor colonies and rehabilitate nesting habitat by using natural vegetation to protect eggs and chicks from heat exposure, cold, and flooding. The project will include construction and deployment of new nest boxes which will be designed to resemble natural nests. The project will also include development of a Disaster Risk Reduction Strategy, specifically focusing on heat waves and storm surges. During heat waves, for example, cooling methods including misting and use of shade cloths will be explored, and penguin rangers will identify and remove abandoned eggs and chicks, which will be hand-reared and later released back into the wild.

Monitoring efforts will include comparing the condition and use of different nest types by penguins, and a weather station to document the conditions under which penguin stress and mortality occur. Project activities are currently underway and due to be completed in 2020.