South African Penguins

Wildlife & Ecosystems

South African Penguins

Join Earthwatch in South Africa to help protect the second largest colony of African penguins on the planet.

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The facts

Why the research is important

Why the research is important

This project aims to understand the causes of the penguins’ rapid decline and to develop well-informed strategies to increase their chances of survival.

In this project, scientists are testing new research techniques to help protect South African penguins.

African penguins once dominated Robben Island. But human activity has had a disastrous impact over the years. For example, in June 2000 the ore carrier Treasure sank between Robben and Dassen islands, spreading oil over the sea and threatening 40% of the world population of African penguins. This trend continues at nearly all colonies, including Robben Island, which now has fewer than 3,000 pairs.

This project aims to understand the causes of the penguins’ rapid decline and to develop well-informed strategies to increase their chances of survival. With the help of Earthwatch volunteers, researchers have collected data on breeding success rates of the Robben Island penguins, growth rates and overall conditions of the chicks, annual survival rates of the birds, and other features of the population. The project will try to relate changes in these population features from year to year to changes in environmental conditions. Determining the factors contributing to the decline of the penguins will help develop conservation measures to protect them, and possibly other seabirds as well.

Help test new research techniques to protect  South African Penguins

Test new research techniques to protect the South African Penguin.

The project is also developing research techniques that can benefit penguins and other birds. The wing bands used to identify the penguins have been redesigned, making them easier to read and lowering the risk of harmful effects on the penguins from the bands.

About the research area

Robben Island, Cape Town, South Africa, Africa

Daily life in the field


This is a summary:



The Scientists


Leiden Conservation Foundation Research Fellow, Environment and Sustainability Institute, University of Exeter and Bristol Zoological Society.

ABOUT Richard Sherley

Dr. Richard Sherley has been studying African Penguins on Robben Island as a student and co-PI since 2007. His research focuses on the nesting success, survival and dispersal of seabirds to understand the impact of anthropogenic and environmental change in marine ecosystems.


Accommodations and Food

Accommodations and Food


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