Contribution starting at $3,250
Exported from Streamline App (https://app.streamlineicons.com)
12+ days (avg. $270 a day) Includes accommodations, food, and all related research costs
Wildlife & Ecosystems

South African Penguins

Location
Robben Island, Cape Town, South Africa, Africa Map it
Lead Scientist
Activity Level
Moderate
Accommodations
House
Food
Shared meals
Colony of African penguins
Earthwatch volunteers release captured penguins (C) Sara Stroman
Earthwatch volunteers collect data on an African penguin (C) Caroline Edgar
A female African penguin on her nest (C) Sara Stroman
Earthwatch volunteers monitor African penguin habitat (C) Tania Taranovski
Earthwatch volunteers head to the research site (C) Tania Taranovski
A view of Robben Island from Cape Town (C) Caroline Dunn
Colony of African penguins
Earthwatch volunteers release captured penguins (C) Sara Stroman
Earthwatch volunteers collect data on an African penguin (C) Caroline Edgar
A female African penguin on her nest (C) Sara Stroman
Earthwatch volunteers monitor African penguin habitat (C) Tania Taranovski
Earthwatch volunteers head to the research site (C) Tania Taranovski
A view of Robben Island from Cape Town (C) Caroline Dunn

Ninety percent of the penguin population on Robben Island has disappeared over the past 100 years. You can help conserve their habitat and protect their population.


An Earthwatch volunteer carefully weighs an African penguin

Robben Island is a hotspot for seabird biodiversity, including endangered cape cormorants, bank cormorants, and 3,800 African penguins. It lies in the middle of major shipping lanes, and the risk of oil spills to local seabirds has been well documented. You can help a team of Earthwatch scientists monitor seabirds on the island and help reduce the impact of the various threats to this fragile environment.

Working with experienced researchers and staff, your team will participate in a variety of activities to monitor the health of this island environment. You’ll conduct population surveys on penguins and other seabirds to determine their breeding success and survival, monitor chick body condition as part of a globally-unique experiment into the impacts of local fishing, and perhaps even help deploy high-tech tracking technology to monitor penguins' behavior at sea.

Your research will bring you face-to-face with the problems seabirds face, such as predation by seals and competition with fisheries. On your recreational days, you can take the ferry to the mainland and enjoy some of Africa’s premier tourist spots, including the Cape Town Waterfront and Table Mountain.

 

A Typical Itinerary

  • Day 1: Rendezvous, briefing, ferry to Robben Island
  • Days 2–11: Monitoring penguins, measuring chicks, deploying tracking technology, helping injured penguins
  • Day 12: Departure at time depending on ferry schedule and weather

HOW YOU WILL HELP

You’ll first receive an orientation to the island and visit the penguin colony to learn about research aims and methods. Then, you'll help:
Earthwatch volunteers monitor a nesting African penguin (C) Alix Morris
Monitor penguin nests

Volunteers on March and April teams will be present for the beginning of the penguin breeding season; they'll help record where penguins are nesting and select the penguin pairs to be studied throughout the season. Groups that follow will continue to monitor nests.

An Earthwatch volunteer carefully holds an African penguin chick (C) Alix Morris
Assess chick body condition

Volunteers will help to weigh and measure penguin chicks. This data will be used to assess their body condition index (a bit like BMI in humans) and will help researchers assess the benefit of a newly-established Marine Protected Area around Robben Island.

Earthwatch volunteers capture an injured penguin (C) Alix Morris
Help injured birds

The majority of this work happens in July and August, when penguins finish breeding and abandon their nests. The research team sees the most injured and oiled penguins during this period, and you'll get hands on with these birds to help them heal.

Field conditions and research needs can lead to changes in the itinerary and activities. We appreciate your cooperation and understanding.

FEEDBACK & QUESTIONS

5 Reviews on this Expedition

If you have been on this expedition, others considering attending would love to hear about your experience.
Susan Ackerman | September 19, 2019
The penguin expedition is fantastic. First, the penguins are the stars and incredibly cute, but not to be taken lightly–they are still wild animals. It never gets old seeing penguins and their chicks. The location on Robben Island where Nelson Mandela spent 18 years of his life is quite historical in itself. One of the afternoons, we did the prison tour, which is beyond enriching but gives an in-depth understanding of apartheid and the politics surrounding it. The island is like being in a time warp and experiencing all the history and different roles the island has played from a leper colony, a WWII outpost, to a prison. Beyond the science, the historical experience is worth the trip and tourists are not allowed to stay on the island, which is great. There are hardly any people on the island and some of the untouched beauty is breathtaking. Our team was awesomely lead with always enough to do, but not being overtaxed. The meals were superb, but that is team dependent. The accommodations are simple, but typical of Earthwatch. This is not the Ritz by any stretch, but simple and comfortable. If you have time before or after your volunteering, there are tons of wonderful activities and sights in Cape Town. It is a fantastic city rich with culture and beauty. I have done so many expeditions, and I felt really good about my donation doing some real good.
Darren Towers | September 18, 2019
The penguin research expedition on Robben Island was an incredible opportunity to work directly with a small, local, and dedicated Earthwatch team to help understand the penguin population and have the data we collected tell us about this endangered species and the health of the wider environment. It was expertly organized, exciting work, and a welcoming, friendly, and tremendously fun experience all round. I learnt a lot about the penguins, the wider environment and myself - and I'd thoroughly recommend this fantastic project in this unique location to anyone. Get ready to get hands-on, stuck in, and enjoy the adventure!
Janet Donald | February 14, 2018
It’s impossible to convey in words the fascination and sheer fun of observing penguins, including weighing fluffy grey babies while the parents protest loudly. Every hour of our work in March 2012 was unforgettable and gave me an endless number of stories. As an Australian, this included the irony that the penguins rely on the hated and openly maligned Western Australian rooikrans for their nesting. The acacia is indeed an ugly foreign invader. And the fact that eucalypts (of which there are 700 species) are still called gum trees. Eucalypts are the cockroach trees of the planet, that’s for sure. The ones on Robben Island are seriously old! I hope I can make time to come again. Penguins are completely fascinating and I understand researchers’ obsession with them.

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