Since 2005, South Africa has lost around 70% of its breeding pairs with less than 15500 pairs left in the wild. According to the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), this is the lowest number ever recorded.
Namibia holds another 5500 breeding pairs, bringing the total world population to between 21000 and 22000 breeding pairs, down from the one to two million estimated at the start of the 20th century.
SA Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (Sanccob) research manager Dr Katta Ludynia said egg and guano harvesting caused the initial decline of the species at the start of the 20th century, followed by the onset of industrial fishing for sardines and anchovies in the 1950s and 1960s.
Numbers increased slightly in the early 2000s, but have since continued to decline due to a lack of food and suitable breeding habitat. “Birds used to burrow into the guano but now often breed exposed to the weather and predators,” Ludynia said.