Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Guest Post | The day it rained sardines: Part 2

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. Read Part 1, which ended with the rehabilitation team asking for help getting food for the young chicks in their care.

Oh no, what a predicament. It takes eight hours by boat to reach Mercury Island from the small harbor town of Lüderitz; there is no way we could find a boat willing to take a few boxes of frozen sardine that far and at such short notice. Never mind that it would cost an arm and a leg. And getting there by land through the extensive dune fields is definitely not an option either.

Where the Namib meets the sea: much of the coast between Lüderitz and Mercury Island
consists of massive dune fields | Photo: Jessica Kemper

“Listen Joan, don’t panic just yet. Let me think about it; I’ll give you a radio-call in an hour—over and out.”

Well, at least it is one of these rare days with perfect weather. No howling wind, no fog. I phone my friend Gino - a conservationist and keen aviator - and discuss my (admittedly rather bizarre) idea of doing a “Mercury-Island-fly-past-sardine-drop” with him. I know it’s a long shot, but Gino is enthusiastic and we immediately start planning our airdrop mission. I call Joan and Rian; they are excited but not entirely convinced that this would work. Two hours later we are in the air in Gino’s bright yellow two-seater Citabria. I am firmly wedged into the narrow back seat, balancing five parcels made of tightly wrapped frozen sardine on my lap. Nearly an hour after take-off we can see the island, and as we get closer we spot Joan and Rian waving from the balcony of their house.

The house on Mercury: there is only one house on Mercury Island. Freshwater and other
supplies are brought there by boat | Photo: Jessica Kemper

Stay tuned to for the conclusion to this series of posts: The day it rained sardines in Namibia!