African penguins are native to the coastal African countries of Angola, Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa. They search for food in the open ocean and will usually swim within 20 km from shore to find their prey. African penguins are also monogamous, meaning that a male and female will pair off and breed together for life. This species is very popular with tourists throughout the region.
In recent years, the number of African penguins has declined rapidly and in 2010, the IUCN listed this species as endangered. During the 20th century alone, the African penguin population had decreased by 90% and more recently, the population halved to less than 26,000 pairs, which is the lowest number ever recorded.
The African penguin depends upon prey species, such as sardines and anchovies, for both their survival and reproductive success. A shortage in their food supply, which can be attributed to commercial fisheries, is one of the main culprits for the penguins’ decline. Conservation measures must be implemented in order to prevent further decreases of the penguin population.
Evidence suggests that marine protected areas (MPAs) are one conservation tool that may benefit African penguins. In the beginning of 2009, a relatively small no-take area was established around the world’s largest African penguin colony at St. Croix Island off of Algoa Bay in South Africa. Scientists found that within 3 months of the closure, breeding African penguins decreased their feeding efforts by up to 30%, which in turn decreased the amount of daily energy the penguins used since they did not have to spend as much time finding food. The “extra” time and energy now afforded to the penguins could be put towards other activities, like caring for their young.
According to this research, smaller no-take reserves can be especially effective when dealing with species that have small foraging ranges, such as African penguins. In addition, establishing smaller reserves could help with issues such as stakeholder conflict and compliance.
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