Unsung Ocean Heroes

‘The whole of nature is life.’

Albert Einstein; Theoretical Physicist, in conversation 1942

This week’s Waterfront Charters newsletter is an appeal. Any person who is acquainted with our company will know that one of our most important underpinning values is the protection and conservation of our oceans. Yes, the Atlantic Ocean is where we ply out trade so there is an element of self-preservation in our mission, but that is of minimal value compared to the overall importance of ensuring that the multitudes of varied sea creatures – large and small – are kept safe from the ills that man has wrought -and is continuing to do so in ever-greater forms to serve our own ends. From pollution to over-fishing; the ‘sport’ of catching the graceful game fish (that term says it all – that these incredible creatures can be regarded as ‘game’ to be hunted); the depredation of breeding areas through the spread of humans looking for beach houses – the list is extensive.

SANCCOB, the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds to give them their full title, are at the forefront of efforts to protect the birdlife of our oceans, beaches and estuaries. The task is thankless and endless; for every chick that is rescued another dozen are caught up in another man-created ill. The work that they do is extensive. They categorise the efforts into no less than eight different areas, and it’s worth listing these to give an indication of the wide range of actions they have instigated to protect birds and educate the public.

First on the list is Rescue. This is a 24 hour a day initiative and covers every aspect of assisting injured, sick or oiled birds and chicks. The natural follow-up to that is Rehabilitation of the bird – returning the creature to its natural habitat is the primary aim. Chick Rearing is the third area of responsibility – sometimes the recipients of this attention are still in egg form, and need extremely delicate treatment! This also covers very young chicks who have been abandoned, and more on that shortly. Under Rescue we mentioned oiled birds, and this is a category unto itself: Oiled Wildlife Preparedness and Response. Apart from nautical disasters polluting the seas with bunker oil there are many other spills, intentional and accidental, that cover the ocean with a film of lethal oil. SANCCOB works with the authorities to mitigate these disasters and rescue affected sea life.

Education, Training and Research are three of the most important aspects of preservation, and each of these areas form part of SANCCOB’s mission, and finally, they employ Conservation Staff in colonies in the Western Cape that are under the protection of conservation authorities to monitor seabirds, nests and habitats, and support critical research. Each of these eight functions form a vital part in the overall strategy of conservation, rescue and awareness of seabirds, and it goes without saying that we at Waterfront Charters support them in their efforts through offering our boats when required and continual education of our guests on the value these creatures bring to our fragile ecosystem.

There has been a recent tragedy in the world of cormorants, those delightful birds who can be seen all around the peninsula, in flocks over the waves, diving for fish, or standing on the rocks hanging their wings out to dry. SANCCOB have had to rescue no fewer than 600 cormorant chicks from Robben Island, where they had been abandoned by the breeding pairs. We quote directly from the SANCCOB news briefing:

“A robust rescue operation was executed by Robben Island Museum (RIM), SANCCOB, Two Oceans Aquarium and the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) to retrieve and safely transport the chicks, which had been abandoned by their parent birds and too young to fend for themselves. There is an estimated 3,000 breeding pairs of Cape cormorants on the Island and each nest usually has two to three chicks thus thousands in distress. This operation is now the second largest seabird rescue in the Western Cape after the MV Treasure oil spill in 2000.”

This puts the scale of the problem into perspective, and the question may be asked as to why this has happened. There are no clear answers, but it seems very likely that the lack of food is the main reason as the main food of cormorants are anchovies and sardines, and these are at very low levels at the moment. We don’t have to spell out why.

We recommend that all those concerned with matters of ocean wildlife – and hopefully that is everyone – read the full article at https://sanccob.co.za/cape-cormorant-chick-rescue-operation/ and see where they can make a difference by helping SANCCOB. Nature can be cruel as well as wonderous, but as the occupiers of the top rung of the food chain, we owe it to rest of the planet to look after the welfare of all its creatures.

Join Waterfront Charters for a cruise to get a first-hand view of these creatures; all our adventures take us into their world, and what an incredible place it is. We remain dedicated to the support of SANCCOB and the other institutions that are making a difference: we hope all our guests will too.