After the storm: African Penguins on Dyer Island and Stony Point

by Marietjie Engelbrecht
Calm before the storm in June 2017

The calm before the storm

As soon as the weather patterns leading up to the storm of 7 and 8 June 2017 was identified, the CapeNature management teams of the two precious African Penguin colonies on Dyer Island and Stony Point, started with earnest preparations to minimise the loss of birds, as well as limit any possible damage to infrastructure.

CapeNature staff moving African Penguin artificial nest to higher ground

CapeNature staff moving African Penguin nest to higher ground before the storm

The priority concern during preparations were the bigger chicks, covered in down that are not yet waterproof and very sensitive to wind-chill or drowning in nest flooding.  With water levels rising during the storm, the loss of nests with eggs and small chicks due to flooding was also a real concern.

African Penguin chick

African Penguin chick on his way to his relocated nest in preparation of the storm

Adult birds are waterproof and can withstand wind, rain, cold and the associated wind-chill.  These iconic birds are built to withstand the storms of the Cape and are, compared to chicks, much tougher than one would think.

During the preparation period, CapeNature conducted counts of nests and chicks to ensure we have accurate data to see if the mitigation measures were successful.  The following mitigation measures were put in place sensitively, as to limit interaction or disturbance in the colonies:

  • moving of nests that were too close to the coast,
  • covering exposed nests where possible with plant material or artificial nests,
  • packing sandbags in strategic areas to reduce flooding,
  • digging drainage lines to reduce flooding, and
  • have staff on duty during the storm to rescue birds if absolutely necessary.
Onset of storm on Dyer Island

Onset of storm on Dyer Island

The wind and rain was icy cold and the storm beat down on both colonies.  About 7 chicks were rescued out of the colonies by CapeNature staff and is now at the African Penguin Seabird Sanctuary (APSS) for rehabilitation until they are ready to go back to the wild.

Rescued African Penguin chicks

African Penguin chicks rescued during the storm on Dyer Island

After the substantial storm, we are relieved to say that 81 % of the chicks between the two colonies (Dyer Island and Stony Point) survived.  This is good news as the unfortunate mortalities are expected to be an over-estimate due to the likeliness that there are more small chicks sitting safely under the adult that could not be seen to be counted.  The breeding season is also not over yet, so we are positive that the unfortunate losses during the storm will not have a dire impact on the breeding success for the season at both colonies.

“We want to thank all the staff that worked tirelessly before, during and after the storms to ensure our colonies at Dyer Island and Stony Point were ready to deal with the threats at hand” said Dr Razeena Omar, CEO of CapeNature, after the results came in.

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