The African Penguin is Africa’s only extant penguin and is endemic to both Namibia and South Africa. This charismatic species has suffered an enormous reduction from over one million pairs in the 1920s, to numbers of approximately 10 041 pairs in 2022. The decline is cause for grave concern. African Penguins are currently classified as Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and under the Threatened or Protected Marine Species Regulations published under the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act, Act 10 of 2004.
African Penguins face a variety of cumulative pressures, including food scarcity (due to competition with commercial fisheries), breeding habitat modification, human disturbance in colonies, oil spills, disease outbreak, predation, and maritime industries such as oil and gas exploration. Significantly, recent studies have shown that African Penguin populations on St Croix Island in Algoa Bay have declined a dramatic 85% since the advent of ship-to-ship bunkering in Algoa Bay in 2016. Currently three bunker operators have been authorised to undertake bunkering operations within Algoa Bay, with additional operators anticipated.
Protecting African Penguins is not just important for the species itself, but for the whole ecosystem of which they are a critical part. African Penguins are considered sentinels of ecosystem health, playing an important role in the functioning of marine ecosystems. Thriving African Penguin colonies will give some indication of the status of other marine top predators that target the same prey and, more broadly, to the relative condition of the marine ecosystem.
The Centre is working with BirdLife South Africa and SANCCOB to address the most urgent threats to African Penguins, particularly ship-to-ship bunkering and other potentially harmful activities in Algoa Bay, urging law reform and influencing decision-making to ensure the protection of African Penguins is prioritised.