The season is changing, there is a definite nip in the air, and rain squalls seem to be the flavour of the moment. What better thing to do in such weather than take a family trip to Boulders Beach to see the African Penguins (well, if you are a from the north of England, rain showers and temperatures in the low teens is considered to be a corker of a bank holiday- head to the beach!)
My daughter still isn’t sure of these strange looking birds, she only recently decided that they were birds and not ‘fissies’. The boardwalk is the perfect place to see these perfect adaptations of nature up close (although the strip off to the south of the car park is equally as good, if not better). If you are new to penguins then here are some pointers on etiquette when dealing with them, especially where there are no fences. Penguins have sharp beaks and will bite you if your hand gets too close. The penguins are pretty good at letting you know when you are too close, its just that you need to have a rudimentary understanding of penguinese. You may think that they are turning their heads from side to side to get a better view of you, however, this head twisting means ‘back off monkey, you are too close for comfort, come any closer and we will test that tetanus shot of yours!’
Now penguins are fantastic birds, full of character, and we are fortunate to live next to one of the most northerly nesting sites of the African Penguin (sometimes commonly called Jackass Penguins because of the distinctive call that only their mother could love). It is therefore unfortunate that we are possibly seeing the last of them. They are surviving at Boulders Beach, however, declining fish stocks, pollution, poor breeding seasons, predation and encrouchment on breeding habitat have put the African Penguin into a possible terminal decline.
Protecting sites like Boulders is very important for the survival of these birds in the wild. However, without a clear, workable and sustainable plan to protect fisheries it seems like a grim future for the African Penguin. You can do your bit by first, supporting the colony at Boulders (visit it ones in a while, the animals will love it if you do). More importantly, there is an attempt being made to promote responsible fishing practices. The fishing industry and government has introduced the South African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI). In an attempt to inform consumers about the fish they are thinking of buying, the initiative puts species of into one of three categories according to whether it is from a sustainable stock or not. It works on a traffic light system- a red fish are from a stock that is collapsing, or is on the brink of extinction- some will be indicated as being illegal in South Africa; orange indicates that a fish is highly vulnerable to current fishing practices or places other pressures on the environment, and consumers should think twice before buying; fish in the green list are most desirable for consumers as they are from stocks that can sustain current levels of fishing. The list changes from time to time as some species come and go for various reasons. You can get more information on SASSI as well as the current list of fish at the Cape Gateway website.