Boulders Beach near Simon’s Town, Cape Town would simply not be the same without its famous residents: the African penguins. Kids of all ages from all over the world delight in their tuxedo outfits, comical waddles and donkey-like calls. Not only can you see the beautiful 60cm-tall penguins up close at Boulders, you can also swim with them!
Sadly, this privilege could come to an abrupt end in as little as 15 years from now. Scientists believe the African penguin will be extinct by 2030 if humans don’t change their behaviour right now. The African penguin population has decreased dramatically from a healthy 1.5 million approximately 100 years ago to only about 40 000 birds in the wild today. In the last 28 years alone there has been a 61% decline, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which listed the African Penguin as endangered in 2010.
The African penguin (Spheniscus demersus) is only found along the coast of South Africa and Namibia – on islands and in two land-based colonies (one on Boulders Beach, near Simon’s Town, and the other on Stony Point, near Betty’s Bay).
So what is killing our penguins? In one short sentence: it is us. According to African penguin conservation initiative Penguin Promises, our behaviour is causing major issues ranging from climate change to pollution (such as oil spills and the huge amounts of plastic in the ocean) and overfishing (depleting the penguins’ available food sources).
In the past, much damage was also done by the collection of penguin eggs to be sold as delicacies, and guano (penguin poop) to be used as fertiliser. Penguins only lay two eggs at a time and need the thick guano layers as nesting sites. Thankfully, the collection of eggs and guano is now prohibited in South Africa.
Living in Cape Town, I have been fortunate to visit Boulders Beach numerous times over the years – it is one of my favourite outings in Cape Town. The small beach is beautiful and protected from Cape Town’s strong winds and ocean currents by the big granite boulders on the shore and in the water (it is these boulders that gave the beach its name). Sadly, though, I have also noticed the decline in numbers over the last decade. I remember visiting the beach exactly 10 years ago for a special celebration and photographing many more penguins then than now.
So this year, I decided to take a stand, make a “penguin promise” and participate in the last leg of the Penguin Waddle 2016 to help raise awareness about the penguins’ plight.
Led by Penguin Promises and the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town, the Penguin Waddle (from 11-16 April), saw 16 penguin lovers from all over South Africa walk 125km from Gansbaai to Boulders Beach to raise awareness and encourage everyone en route to take action and give our feathered friends a fighting chance at survival.
‘We don’t want your money, honey, we want your love’
On Saturday, I, together with dozens of other Capetonians, joined the 16 penguin heroes on their last leg of 15km from Muizenberg to Boulders Beach. Dressed in black and white, we not only enjoyed the beautiful scenic coastal walk but also committed ourselves to a greener lifestyle to help save the penguins and all other marine life.
Says Gabrielle Harris of Penguin Promises: “The Penguin Promises campaign wants to focus on awareness as opposed to fundraising. Its slogan, ‘We don’t want you money, honey, we want your love’, says it all. Often, when people donate money to a cause they feel momentarily better about themselves and then walk away, not really knowing or caring what happens to the money they donated or the species they supported.
“To combat this ‘armchair activism’, Penguin Promises proposes that every person who is privileged to live on our planet looks closely at their relationship with nature, and makes a conscious choice to change at least one aspect of their behaviour that will reduce their environmental impact.”
Waddle you do to help save the African penguin?
Start today by making a “penguin promise” – it all starts with one thing. Here are some suggestions:
Say no to plastic
Don’t buy plastic shopping bags (rather reuse fabric bags) and don’t do plastic bottled water. Plastic ends up in the ocean where it endangers the lives of penguins and other marine species. Don’t use plastic straws either – they are lightweight and easily blown by the wind. Animals can mistake them for food, which can lead to their deaths.
It is important to realise that plastic is made from oil. Relying less on plastic (and oil) reduces the chances of it ending up in the ocean. Oil spills, which affect the penguin and other sea animal populations immediately, can take a long time to clear up.
Eat sustainable seafood and grain-fed poultry
Did you know that anchovies are the staple food of penguins? Most of the anchovies caught by the fisheries are used to make fishmeal for farmed fish and chicken. Rather opt for poultry that has been grain-fed.
Eat only sustainable seafood produce. WWF SASSI’s seafood guide is a great place to start. Download the SASSI pocket card or SASSI app to your phone, or SMS a fish type to 079 499 8795 to find out if it is a wise choice for the ecosystem.
Clean up and don’t litter
Litter in our oceans is a threat to the penguins and many other sea living animals. Get involved in coastal clean-ups in your community – if you don’t live on the coast, arrange a waterway clean-up in your area.
Volunteer at a conservation centre in your community, buy local products and share information with other people. A greener lifestyle means a better environment – not only for penguins, but also for all living creatures.
Visiting Boulders Beach
Boulders Beach is part of the Table Mountain National Park and about 40km from Cape Town CBD, near Simon’s Town, en route to Cape Point. It can be easily reached by car or by train. (Take the Southern train line from Cape Town Central Station to Simon’s Town. From Simon’s Town train station walk 30 minutes or catch a taxi to reach Boulders Beach about 3km further.)
There is a penguin viewing area, boardwalk and visitors centre (Tel: 021 786 2329) at Boulders Beach, as well as a beach area, of course, where you can swim. Only a limited number of visitors are permitted on the beach every day to prevent overcrowding and protect the penguins. Visitors pay a small conservation fee to access the beach.
Respect the penguins and keep at least a 2-metre distance from them – they may look cute but they have sharp beaks. Remember that Boulders Beach is the African penguins’ home and playground and we are merely their adoring fans.
Take a quick virtual trip to Boulders Beach via this great video clip by Paul Brown.
(All photos by Birgit@Groove Is In The Heart.)