Penguins are finding only starvation on their ocean pastures off South Africa and Namibia
The already rare South African penguins, especially the juveniles, are now it terrible peril and are starving in uncounted droves
Ocean pastures are perishing as high and rising CO2 makes pastures on land lush and green but kills ocean pastures
A new research report from the Universities of Cape Town and Exeter in the Journal Current Biology has just broken the tragic news. The authors report that the traditional ocean regions, aka ocean pastures, where penguins feed are now so scarce in plankton they have become an “ecological trap”.
The penguins, like the livestock of any pasture, depend on their ocean pastures to feed and thrive. While the ocean pastures have not become perfectly lifeless clear blue deserts the amount of plankton, the grass of the ocean pasture, is so sparse that the ‘carrying capacity’ of the pastures is a tiny fraction of what it ought to be. The penguins have no choice but to go there in search of food but most instead of being treated to a feast now starve to death.
The research reveals the effect of a what the authors call a “marine ecological trap” for the first time, with low survival rates among juvenile penguins, and the numbers suggest breeding birds are 50% lower than if the birds were able to find food instead of starvation in the trap.
“Environmental degradation can cause maladaptive habitat selection, meaning cues which used to work for a species now put them in danger,” said Dr Richard Sherley, of Exeter.
“Juvenile African penguins look for areas of low sea temperatures and high chlorophyll, which indicates the presence of plankton and therefore the planktivorous fish which feed the penguins.
The African penguin, aka ‘Jackass Penguin’ is listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature which says the species is “undergoing a very rapid population decline” which shows “no sign of reversing”.
The University researchers teamed up with government scientists from South Africa and Namibia to deploy satellite trackers on 54 juvenile penguins from eight colonies covering the species’ breeding distribution. They report small changes in the temperature and salinity of the waters in the area (known as the Benguela ecosystem) where fish such as sardines and anchovies used to aggregate had caused these species to move their distribution hundreds of kilometres to the west.
Our results of the study support a call for suspending fishing when the carrying capacity of the ocean pasture drops below certain levels, and suggest that the ocean pastures in the region require major efforts to help in their recovery and sustainability.
It’s not just Penguins that are in peril in the region.
The fishing industry of Namibia is now reporting a similar perilous collapse. Today Namibia’s tuna peril according to official figures show that in 2011 the tuna industry was worth $170 million (USD) when 4,000 tonnes of tuna was caught by 39 vessels. By 2015 the catch had collapsed to less than 1/4 of that amount, well under 1,000 tonnes caught by only nine remaining boats fishing Namibia’s ocean tuna pastures.
Our Promise In Restoring Namibia’s Ocean Pastures
Namibia is a country known for its dry grasslands and pastures on land. Every Namibian knows that the health of the pasture means everything and when the pasture grass in not healthy the pastures cannot sustain herds of both cattle and wildlife – livestock.
Pastures on land and their grass depend on water, rain that comes in the wind. Man has known he must care for pastures to keep them productive. This care is not a transitory thing it must take place in an ever present manner every year for so long as we hope to share the bounty of thriving sustaining pastures. Humans learned the lesson to care for its pastures ten thousand years ago on land, it is time to take that lesson to sea to offer the same wise pasture management to ocean pastures.
The same is true about ocean tuna pastures although there the grass of the pasture is phyto-plankton. Ocean pasture phytoplankton grass grows in water and what it depends upon most of all is the gift of dust that blows to it from the land. Without the minerals in dust the ocean pastures enter times of drought and become blue deserts.
The South Atlantic ocean pastures have been closely monitored for decades and are shown to have been in a state of collapse. Primary productivity as seen in ocean colour satellite and ship board data of chlorophyll reveals they have lost as much as 50% of their carrying capacity. The rapid disappearence of ocean pasture phytoplankton/’grass’ translates into collapse of the primary grazing species which includes tuna.
The International Tuna Commission has stated that South Atlantic Albacore tuna are now at a mere 25% of their historical abundance and populations are collapsing fast. The Penguins face the same peril.
Namibia can restore it’s ocean penguin and tuna pastures and immediately return those pastures to historic abundance. The methodology and technology is now perfectly proven, safe, sustainable, and best of all very low cost. If just one of the large 30 Namibia tuna vessels now out of work is repurposed to becoming the platform for caring stewardship of Namibia’s ocean pastures they can be returned to health and abundance in a matter of just a few years.
Tuna are amazingly resilient and productive fish. They respond immediately to finding good pasture upon which to thrive and survive. Healthy well fed tuna will rapidly gain weight and will enter into prime spawning condition within a few months of finding flourishing pastures and good feeding.
Healthy pasture fed tuna will spawn every year at least once and each healthy female may release millions of eggs. The better fed the mother tuna is the greater survival of her young. The tuna grow incredibly fast on good pastures, existing fish will put on weight within months and newly hatched young will become large valuable harvestable fish within 2-3 years.