Monday, January 26, 2015

Guest Post | The day it rained sardines: Part 1

Dr. Jessica Kemper is an expert and advocate for the endangered African penguin.  Formerly the head of Section for Namibia's Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources (MFMR) and responsible for the conservation management and rescue of the country's seabirds, Jessica now heads the African Penguin Conservation Project. She continues to research Namibia's dwindling penguin population to find ways to improve their conservation status and runs the Seabird Rehabilitation Center in Lüderitz. Population numbers for African penguins have decreased to just 55,000 today from an approximate 1.5 million figure in 1910.

In this series of posts, she describes a unique resupply mission to help rescued African penguin chicks being hand-raised in Namibia. 

“Please do not hang up…this call is from a radio…do not speak until after the tone…beeeeeep.” I patiently listened to the tinny voice recording on the other end of my phone. Clearly somebody from one of the three islands that are staffed permanently by personnel from the Namibian Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources was trying to get hold of me, but which one? Mercury, Ichaboe or Possession Island? I am instantly worried, because it’s usually not a good sign when they phone me at home.

Lonely Mercury Island: One of the jewels of Namibia’s coast, tiny Mercury Island lies in picturesque Spencer Bay, about 100km north of the town of Lüderitz | Photo: Jessica Kemper

“Hi Jessica, it’s Joan from Mercury Island, can you hear me – over.” Ah, Mercury Island, undoubtedly the most beautiful island in the world. A mere 3ha in extent, a rocky cigar-shaped pyramid (or is it actually a pyramid-shaped cigar?), nestled in a stunning bay along the stark Namib Desert coastline of southern Namibia and covered in African penguins, Cape gannets and Bank cormorants. It is hollow, with seven cave entrances meeting in a large central cave below the centre of the island. When the sea is rough, the waves colliding in the belly of the island make the whole island shake.

Mercury penguins: Nearly 17000 African Penguins live on Mercury Island, making it the most important penguin breeding island in Namibias. Dolphin Head and the wreck of the Otavi provide a stunning backdrop.
Photo: Jessica Kemper

Bank Cormorant family: About three quarters of the endangered world population of Bank cormorants
breeds on tiny Mercury Island | Photo: Jessica Kemper

Gut Cut: One of the seven entrances leading into the central cave below the island, 
named so by a former islander with a vivid imagination

“Hello Joan, yes I can hear you fairly well, what’s up? – over.” I hear sobbing over the static. “Jessica, I’m so sorry to bother you, but I have no idea what to do. The supply vessel was supposed to arrive last week, but it broke down and we are now out of fish to feed the four penguin chicks and the gannet chick we are rehabilitating. They are all too young to be released. Rian and I have been catching fish around the clock, but we can’t catch enough to feed the birds with. We desperately need help… – over.”

Plan a visit to the Aquarium to learn about the resident African penguins at the Aquarium. They are part of a North American species survival plan. We had two chicks born here this summer. 

Read the next post in this series: The day it rained sardines in Namibia!