World Oceans Day: Penguins, whales and clawless otters all thriving during lockdown
World Oceans Day is celebrated on June 8 every year to raise awareness around the role that oceans play in our lives.
Jon Monsoon, the host of the Penguin Experience on Airbnb where 100 percent of what you pay goes to AfriOceans Conservation Alliance, has been doing amazing work in the field of ocean life conservation for many years
He chats about how marine life has been behaving during the lockdown, and what people should do to support ocean conservation.
“The ocean gives us around 70 percent of the oxygen we breathe, more than all the trees and plants. And that’s why it’s so important for us to continue to protect the ocean and the life within,” said Monsoon.
He found that marine life spent more time in areas that humans would usually occupy.
“Take the Boulders Beach penguins as an example. These waddling creatures usually have to plan their fishing expeditions entirely around the movement of humans, making sure that they get down to the water before the human traffic starts up each morning and the roads and pathways get too busy to ensure safe passage.”
The Boulders Beach penguin colony has been in Cape Town since the first penguins made their way into False Bay in 1983 from Dyer Island, near Gansbaai. According to Cape Town Tourism, commercial fishing, marine pollution and habitat destruction have all taken their toll on the colony in the years since. But thanks to conservation efforts by people like Jon and his team, the Boulders colony has grown to over 3 000 birds now.
He said it was interesting to see them adapt to the lockdown. He said nests were popping up in the most unusual of places, including on a public stairwell behind a restaurant, in a cosy storeroom with a door carelessly left open before lockdown, and in the sheltered doorway of a public amenity.
“Other unique behaviours that we have noticed during this time include when they can get back to their nests. Before, penguins had to wait until the beach was empty and everyone had gone home before they could make the journey back to the nest.
"A lack of human and vehicular traffic along their most-used routes down to the ocean means that they can now afford to have a bit of a lie-in most mornings, enjoying some bonus snuggle time in the nest with their life partners. They’re also now able to get home again before dark, which is particularly useful now that the breeding season is at its peak, and the penguins need to feed their hungry babies,” said Monsoon.
The AfriOceans team has seen many other sea creatures also making the most of the lockdown. The Cape clawless otters, for example, have been enjoying our quiet beaches, while massive pods of dolphins (2 000 strong) are fishing undisturbed in False Bay. Whales are currently also able to communicate with one another without having to “shout” over the noise of commercial shipping.
“It’s amazing what nature has been up to while we are all behind closed doors,” added Monsoon.
Monsoon said education went a long way for people to do their bit towards marine conservation.
“Armed with this knowledge, we can then start taking responsibility for our actions instead of believing that it is someone else's job to fix things, like the NGOs, the government or the scientists. For example, we can all remove litter from our beaches when we see it, and we can all be aware of how our diet is impacting the oceans and choosing only to eat SASSI green list fish,” said Monsoon.
Other ways include supporting non-governmental organisations, in cash or by volunteering your time and skills to support their work.