Public Release: 

Fishing ban rescues Robben Island penguin chicks

Fish feast boosts penguin numbers

University of Exeter

Survival of endangered African penguin chicks increased by 18% following a trial three-year fishery closure around Robben Island in South Africa, a new study from the University of Exeter has found.

The results, which are published in the Royal Society Journal Biology Letters, indicate that even small 'no-take zones' can dramatically improve the survival chances of endangered species.

The African penguin population is in freefall, with adult survival rates over the last decade desperately low. Although the ban on commercial fishing off Robben Island has boosted chick survival, the long term prospect for the species remains gloomy.

Dr Richard Sherley from the University of Exeter said: "One of the major challenges of conserving a mobile species like the African penguin is that once they leave a protected area they are subject to outside pressures and dangers, including poor prey availability.

"Our study shows that small no-take zones can aid the survival of African penguin chicks, but ultimately commercial fishing controls must be combined with other management action if we are to reverse the dramatic decline of this charismatic species".

African penguins feed on sardines and anchovies but fishing of these species off Cape Town is considered to have contributed to a 69% reduction in penguin numbers between 2001 and 2013.

The species' worsening conservation status led to experimental fishing closures around four colonies between 2008 and 2014. These were earlier found to reduce penguin foraging effort but a beneficial impact on demographic parameters had not been demonstrated before this study and so the benefits of the closures have been the subject of much debate.

Although this study has shown that the fishery closure around Robben Island has improved chick survival, if the current fishing pressure exerted on sardine in particular continues on the west coast there will still not be sufficient food to allow the penguin population to recover.

Seabirds will often respond to a scarcity of food by skipping or abandoning breeding, opting not to re-lay after losing clutches of eggs, or reducing the amount of food brought to the chicks leading to slow growth, poor chick condition and mortality through starvation. African penguins have shown all of these responses in recent years.

1501 nests were monitored at Robben Island between 2001 and 2013 to determine chick survival rates and a hydro-acoustic survey was carried out to estimate sardine and anchovy biomass.

Bottom-up effects of a no-take zone on endangered penguin demographics by Richard Sherley, Henning Winker, Res Altwegg, Carl van der Lingen, Stephen Votier and Robert Crawford is published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters.

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Image caption: The endangered African penguin on Robben Island, South Africa, where former South African president, Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in prison. Restrictions on commercial fishing in a 20 km radius around Robben Island led to improved penguin chick survival.

Image credit: © Davide Gaglio, http://davygaglio.wix.com/home

For further information, images and video contact:
University of Exeter Press Office
+44 (0)1392 722405 or 722062
pressoffice@exeter.ac.uk

About the University of Exeter

The University of Exeter is a Russell Group university that combines world-class research with very high levels of student satisfaction. Exeter has over 19,000 students and is ranked 7th in The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide league table, 10th in The Complete University Guide and 9th in the Guardian University Guide 2015. In the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF), the University ranked 16th nationally, with 98% of its research rated as being of international quality. Exeter was The Sunday Times University of the Year 2012-13.

The University has four campuses. The Streatham and St Luke's campuses are in Exeter and there are two campuses in Cornwall, Penryn and Truro. The 2014-2015 academic year marks the 10-year anniversary of the two Cornwall campuses. In a pioneering arrangement in the UK, the Penryn Campus is jointly owned and managed with Falmouth University. At the campus, University of Exeter students can study programmes in the following areas: Animal Behaviour, Conservation Biology and Ecology, English, Environmental Science, Evolutionary Biology, Geography, Geology, History, Human Sciences, Marine Biology, Mining and Minerals Engineering, Politics and International Relations, Renewable Energy and Zoology.

The University has invested strategically to deliver more than £350 million worth of new facilities across its campuses in the last few years; including landmark new student services centres - the Forum in Exeter and The Exchange on the Penryn Campus in Cornwall, together with world-class new facilities for Biosciences, the Business School and the Environment and Sustainability Institute. There are plans for further investment between now and 2016.

http://www.exeter.ac.uk/cornwall

About the University of Exeter's Environment and Sustainability Institute (ESI)

The Environment and Sustainability Institute is a £30M interdisciplinary centre, based on the Penryn Campus, undertaking cutting-edge research into solutions to problems of environmental change; in so doing it is enhancing people's lives by improving their relationships with the environment. The ESI has three research themes: clean technologies, natural environment, and social science and sustainability. It is engaging with hundreds of businesses in Cornwall, the Isles of Scilly and beyond to translate its research and expertise across these themes into innovative business practice, products and services.

The ESI building has been designed to achieve a BREEAM 'Outstanding' status, the highest classification available under the BRE Environmental Assessment Method which is the leading and most widely used environmental assessment method for buildings

The ESI was formally opened in April 2013 and has been funded by the European Regional Development Fund Convergence Programme (£22.9M) and the South West Regional Development Agency (£6.6M), with significant support from the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

The University of Exeter and Falmouth University are founding partners in the Combined Universities in Cornwall (CUC), a unique collaboration between six universities and colleges to promote regional economic regeneration through Higher Education, funded mainly by the European Union (Objective One and Convergence), the South West Regional Development Agency and the Higher Education Funding Council for England, with support from Cornwall Council. http://www.exeter.ac.uk/esi

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