There are 350 species of seabird on Earth, of which 132 have been recorded in South Africa. These include terns, albatrosses, penguins, skuas, gannets, boobies, gulls, cormorants, shearwaters, storm petrels and frigatebirds. Twelve species are endemic to South Africa and include the African Penguin and the Bank Cormorant. The unique and dynamic ocean environment off South Africa is the reason for the high diversity of seabirds. Three oceans collide to create incredibly rich and productive feeding areas for these seabirds, that fly from all over the world just to feed here. Because seabirds are vulnerable to being eaten by land-based predators like foxes and caracal, they need islands to breed. Luckily for them and us, South Africa has plenty.
These endangered and charismatic creatures bring huge amounts of visitors to Boulders and Stony Point and feeding areas are protected by Table Mountain National Park MPA and Betty’s Bay MPA. These are the only coastal colonies in South Africa, the remainder breed on islands (Robben, Dassen, Dyer and St Croix). Both Robben Island MPA and Addo Elephant National Park MPA provide protection for these last refuges of African Penguins that have declined by 99% in the past century.
These exquisite seabirds breed only in South Africa and a few islands in Namibia. They are an attraction for tourists at Lambert's Bay but their stronghold is on Bird Island in the Addo Elephant National Park MPA where 60 000 pairs breed.
These are some of the most adaptable seabirds along our coastline. When food resources shift, so do they, with the ability to use different breeding sites from year to year. In 2017, 4500 pairs relocated from Robben Island to the roof of the Nedbank building in Cape Town!
There are no albatrosses that breed on the South Africa mainland, they prefer cooler islands farther south like the Prince Edward Islands. Sixteen species of albatrosses regularly fly to South African waters to feed. They travel all the way from remote islands near Antarctica and New Zealand. For instance, the entire world’s population of Chatham Albatrosses breeds on single rock 800 km east of New Zealand and flies all the way to the Agulhas Bank to feed. Wandering Albatrosses leave their chicks at the sub-Antarctic Prince Edward Islands to find squid near the Agulhas Front. Albatross populations have suffered from accidental bycatch by commercial longline fishing vessels, but recent mitigation measures have reduced mortalities by up to 90% in some industries thanks to the work of the Albatross Task Force.
To find out more about the important seabird research and conservation being done in South Africa, visit the Fitzpatrick Institute of African Ornithology, BirdLife South Africa and SANCCOB websites.