Boulders Beach Penguins
January 10, 2013
Times have changed.
When Jody was last here, part of the attraction of going to see the African penguins at Boulders Beach was the physical interaction with them. It was possible to walk along the rocky beach where they lived, and even swim in the water with the small birds. Sounds idyllic, but the reality of course is that this tourism activity had a terrible impact on the health of the colony.
Found only on the south-western coast of Africa, there were 150,000 breeding pairs counted in 1956. By 2009, this was down to just 26,000 breeding pairs. The Boulders Beach colony in Table Mountain National Park was established in 1983, and by 2005 numbered 3,900 birds. Unfortunately, factors such as habitat destruction, marine pollution, domestic animal attacks and irresponsible tourism activities have contributed to the colony declining significantly to just 2,100 birds. In 2010, the African penguin was reclassified from “vulnerable” to now “endangered”.
Thankfully, action has been taken at Boulders, and boardwalks have been built to strictly control viewing areas. Rangers are on duty to ensure people respect the rules, and do not poke at, feed, or otherwise disturb the beautiful birds. How sad is it that this regulation was even necessary?
There they are, as soon as you arrive. Individuals or pairs are scattered along the side of the boardwalk, oblivious to the tourists now that all we can poke at them with is our cameras.
Once you round the corner and the actual beach area comes into view, the fragile existence of the colony becomes painfully obvious. The beach is situated directly below a residential development, where children and domestic animals apparently ran freely amongst the nesting areas. Combined with the tourist activity, the eggs and baby birds had a real struggle for survival.
We hung out on the viewing platform for quite some time, pressed up against the railing to get the best views of these personable creatures. There were adults and juveniles at various stages of molting, with various levels of skill at both walking and swimming. They waddled around uncertainly, fell frequently, and often just seemed to give up and sit or lie down. Adults chased each other into the water, squabbling about whatever birds argue about, then nuzzled each other on the rocks or beach.
Of course I had to cause a flap (pun intended) by knocking my sunglasses off myself as I lifted my camera, fumbling as they dropped in slow motion over the railing and onto the sand, directly beside some nesting birds. Fabulous. Jody came to the rescue by finding a ranger, who carefully hopped over and safely retrieved them for me. Apparently we tourists do this all the time.
The day had started out rainy and overcast, but as is usually the case here, the clouds had all burned off by the afternoon. It was a great decision to spontaneously head over to this beautiful area, just minutes from where we’re staying, and have such a wonderful experience. It seems everywhere we turn there are more to be had!