African Seabird and Penguin Sanctuary launches in the Cape
“Without our natural heritage there is nothing for us. It is what is good for our planet, our people and our country” - Derek Hanekom, Minister of tourism
Gansbaai is classed as a small fishing village, a tiny settlement that came into being around the 1800's as the first permanent fishing cottages were built by Khoi-descendants under ancient Milkwoods in Stanfordsbaai and inside of a secluded cove in De Kelders. Long stretches of uninhabited beaches reach out to acres of natural fynbos making this area, famous for it’s shark cage diving tourism industry, home for many different species of land and sea animals. Just a mere 8,5 km out form the coastline of Kleinbaai sits Dyer Island, widely accepted as one of the most important costal inland systems in South Africa and a recognized Important Bird Area. Here endangered African Penguins, Cormorants and some 29 different species of seabirds and cape fur seals (and a whole host of Great White Sharks mind you) call the island home throughout the entire year.
As a resident of nearby betty’s Bay myself, I have often found it tricky to deal with any injured or distressed sea birds we would often on occasion come across. Because of overfishing, oil pollution, by-catch and our own pollution like plastics that find their way into the ocean and along the coastlines many populations of endemic seabird species are struggling, as their slow rate of breeding does not allow them to compensate for their population loss. Simple things like plastic bags can enter the water system and pose a big hazard to various marine animals if they ingest the bags, often resulting in horrible deaths.
If we did happen to come across a bird or penguin in distress out in our Overberg area the nearest centre that was able to deal with anything beyond domestic animals was SANCOB, all the way in the city. So you can imagine my delight when we heard that a new state of the art rehabilitation centre was opening up in the Overberg. The African Penguin And Seabird Sanctuary (APSS) open it’s doors this year to house and protect seabirds and penguins that cannot function in the wild. The community is able to report cases of injured seabirds, and with an in-house staff trained in animal rehabilitation, hopefully these injured birds will be able to make full recoveries and then be released back to their natural habitats.
Their goal ? To create a “first-of-its-kind facility that will restore the balance of this incredible area by rescuing, researching, and rehabilitating these unique marine species, while educating passionate individuals on how their choice can make a difference.” The center itself is very impressive, with state of the art conditioning pen’s where birds in the last stage of their rehabilitation can prepare for eventual release behind one-way glass that allows the public to view the birds without disturbing them. With a bird hospital and a laboratory and clinic onsite guests are able to view the activities of the centre on large television screens. One thing that is really important it to get the general public educated about conservation issues. Tourism can be about making a positive difference in peoples lives, and with the added attraction of a rehabilitation center in the Overberg, it means that visitors can be educated about our natural environmental heritage as well as us locals having a sense of pride in what is being done in conservation in the area. I enjoyed the minister of tourism comments when he suggested that ; “ You speak of tourism, you speak about the environment , you speak about conservation –they are all interdependent”
One of the things I found very fascinating was the “floating” floor grid, slanted sections of removable blue-squared flooring that allows for the floor to be immediately drained and removes moisture from the area, affording the Penguins a wonderfully dry and clean surface to stand on 24/7 which is important to their recovery and general health and well being.
As always I love a good centre that provides a point of research in the area, so I will be watching to see what comes out of this centre in the future- hopefully a lot of happy and healthy seabirds along with some exiting new research into the critical role these animals play in our ocean ecosystems.
If you find any injured birds or penguins you can contact APSS at +27 82 907 5607or on twitter @APSSZA
Visit their website or visit their centre directly http://africanpenguin.org/