Oil Spills Threaten Endangered South African Penguins
African Penguins are Endangered
African penguins, recognised by their chest black horseshoe markings and their distinct bray-like calls. The birds are native to South Africa and Namibia but can also be found in Mozambique and the last three decades riddled with symptoms of climate change and human activity such as overfishing and habitat destruction, have seen their numbers fall by 60%
Scientists are also concerned about bunkering and consequential oil spills.
Ronelle Friend, an environmental consultant, explains the ecological risks in the region, “We want to protect our biodiversity and make Algoa Bay an ecotourism destination, and we can’t do it with the risk of oil spills, penguins endangered in oil. We are losing our status as the largest breeding colony of African penguins in the world, and that worries us”.
Oil Spills are a Threat to the Coastline’s Biodiversity
The deep waters of Algoa Bay off the coast of South Africa- which is home to almost half of the world’s endangered population of African penguins, are ideal for offshore bunkering operations in South Africa and have served as a charge-free port for refuelling and cargo-ship loading stop since three maritime companies acquired licences in 2016 – which is a huge threat to the ecosystem.
With the main operating storage tanker able to hold 100,000 metric tons of fuel, conservationists not only fear a potentially massive leak but are also concerned about the overall impact on this marine biodiversity hotspot, which is also a major tourist attraction. They claim the bunkering takes place too close to foraging and breeding grounds, disrupting the ecosystem and exposing sea animals to oil spills.
A minor oil spill already occurred in 2017 and another last year with around 100 oil-drenched penguins being recovered by rangers. Seabird scientist Lorien Pichegru explains, “The oil on their feathers takes away their waterproofness,”
In attempting to clean themselves, the penguins also ingest toxins shown to damage their internal organs and breeding capacity. In addition, oiled adults tend to abandon their eggs and chicks. Many eventually then die of starvation and cold.
Scientists are studying the adverse effects of noise, pollution and increased ship traffic on marine animals.