Durban - The African penguin is on the brink of extinction, warns the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries.
Minister Barbara Creecy has gazetted a new five-year plan, the Draft Biodiversity Management Plan For The African Penguin, that aims to curb the decline of the species, endemic to South Africa and Namibia.
In 2013, a similar plan failed to prevent their numbers from plummeting.
Classified as endangered in 2016, the number of African penguins fell to a record low of 15000 pairs last year.
“(If) no further interventions are implemented, it is predicted that the future population along the West Coast of South Africa will continue to undergo rapid reduction and (the species) could be functionally extinct by 2035,” the gazette notice said.
A leading factor driving their decline is food scarcity, attributed to industrialised fishing for sardines, African penguins’ preferred food.
Christina Hagen of BirdLife SA said companies also overfished anchovies, alternative food for penguins. “Growing penguin chicks need a diet very high in lipids - something that sardine and anchovy provide,” she said.
Research suggested other anthropogenic actions leading to their decline included oil spills, and seismic surveys within 100km of a breeding colony, which had been shown to cause the penguins to feed in other locations.
The department proposes identifying critical sea habitats, a declaration of special management areas, mitigating fishery activities affecting the species, the rezoning of shipping lanes to avoid oil spillages near colonies, and the drafting of a risk assessment report into the release of captive-bred penguins.
The public have until November 17 to submit written comments on, or objections to, the draft plan to the deputy director-general of the department. They can also be made by email to [email protected]