Showcasing Action for AEWA Priority Species: African Penguin

Article submitted by Mr. Andrew de Blocq, Coastal Seabird Conservation Project Officer, BirdLife South Africa

African Penguin Conservation: Far from Black and White

Bonn, 4 December 2018 - The African Penguin (Spheniscus demersus) is the only penguin found on the African continent, and is therefore also the only one listed on AEWA. Historical estimates in 1900 for the species’ population ranged from 0.5 – 1 million breeding pairs, but by the year 2000 only 50,000 pairs remained. The latest census of the South African population in 2018 has revealed a further decline to fewer than 16,000 pairs. Approximately 5,000 pairs persist in Namibia.
The primary threat to the African Penguin is a lack of food. Small pelagic fish stocks collapsed off the Namibian coast in the 1980s, concomitant with a crash in seabird populations. South Africa’s west coast, previously the home to the majority of the population, has also experienced drops in pelagic fish numbers, driven dually by fishing pressure and climate effects that have caused movements of core stocks to the south-east. The lack of available food close to the colonies has put stress on breeding, as adults have to work harder to find fish to provide for their offspring. Other threats to the species include oil spills (infrequent but potentially disastrous), loss of breeding habitat, disturbance, predation, and disease. Egg collecting and guano harvesting were largely responsible for historical declines up till the 1970s, but both practices were outlawed and no longer persist. 
The African Penguin is listed under the AEWA Multi-Species Action Plan for the Conservation of Benguela Current Upwelling System Seabirds (TS No. 60, proceedings of MOP6), for which BirdLife South Africa is the implementing partner. The AEWA Benguela Coastal Seabirds International Working Group was convened by the AEWA Secretariat in 2016 and is coordinated by BirdLife South Africa.
BirdLife South Africa has begun establishing a new penguin colony at De Hoop Nature Reserve where a few pairs attempted to breed in 2006. This colony failed due to predation pressures, which have been guarded against by the construction of a predator-proof fence. The use of decoys and acoustic lures will be used to attract new inhabitants. Tracking work by BirdLife of penguins during their pre- and post-moult periods has shown that the waters off De Hoop are already a key foraging area for penguins from elsewhere, which proves that the new colony is well placed. The Department of Agriculture, Forestry  and Fisheries (DAFF) has led on an ‘island closure’ experiment, whereby islands were paired up and one was closed to fishing for 20km around. Breeding and foraging metrics for penguins were then compared between ‘closed’ and ‘open’ islands, which confirmed that fishing exclusion has positive effects on chick condition and survival (Pichegru et al. 2010, Sherley et al. 2015, 2018). There is currently a feasibility study being undertaken on incorporating an Ecosystem Approach to Fishing (EAF) in the small pelagics fisheries (sardine and anchovy).  On the ground conservation actions include the provision of artificial nests to compensate for the loss of suitable nesting habitat, the ex-situ rearing and then reintroduction of abandoned chicks, rehabilitation of injured and sick birds, and the ongoing monitoring of populations at each colony. Every breeding colony is currently overseen by provincial or national conservation authorities. 

Further Information

AEWA International Species Action and Management Plans are one of most vital and practical tools under the Agreement for the conservation and sustainable use of those migratory waterbirds which have been prioritized for coordinated international action. Following extensive and inclusive consultations these Plans are adopted by the Meeting of the Parties and represent the quintessence of AEWA: cooperation across borders for a common defined goal. AEWA International Species Working and Expert groups are subsequently convened by the Secretariat to coordinate and facilitate Action and Management Plan implementation.

The dedicated implementation of International Species Plans often has far-reaching consequences beyond the immediate benefits for the main target species. This includes but is not limited to the restoration and sustainable management of critical sites and wider landscapes, increasing capacity-building and awareness-raising, diminishing illegal killing and ensuring that any use of migratory waterbirds is sustainable as well as providing alternative livelihoods. For more information on how you can support the implementation of AEWA International Species Plans, please contact the UNEP/AEWA Secretariat (Ms. Nina Mikander) or visit the CMS Family Migratory Species Champion Programme website.  


About the African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement (AEWA)
The Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) is an intergovernmental treaty dedicated to the conservation of migratory waterbirds that migrate along the African-Eurasian Flyway. The Agreement covers 254 species of birds ecologically dependent on wetlands for at least part of their annual cycle. The treaty covers 119 Range States from Europe, parts of Asia and Canada, the Middle East and Africa.  Currently 77 countries and the European Union (EU) have become a Contracting Party to AEWA (as of 1 October 2018). For more background on AEWA please see the "Introduction to AEWA" page: English | French

Last updated on 05 December 2018

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Spheniscus demersus
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