South African Penguins
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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