March 2022 Newsletter
Making bird-scaring lines
The sea plays a huge role in sustaining human populations with healthy food and employment and the oceans around South Africa support an amazing diversity and abundance of life. Seabirds are the most threatened group of birds globally – 15 out of 22 albatross species are threatened with extinction – and the biggest threat facing them at sea is bycatch in fisheries. They are also an important indicator of ocean health and it is the mission of BirdLife South Africa’s Albatross Task Force to conserve them. Each year thousands of seabirds are accidentally killed while foraging behind fishing vessels in the world’s oceans. One of the most efficient solutions to reduce seabird bycatch is to use a device known as a bird-scaring line (BSL), or tori line, to deter birds from entering the danger zone behind fishing vessels.
One of the cornerstones of our work is to provide cost-effective, efficient and science-based seabird bycatch mitigation measures to the South African fishing industry, and ensuring that all vessels are equipped with BSLs is an integral part of this mission. A collaborative BSL-manufacturing project has been initiated between BirdLife South Africa and the Ocean View Association for Persons with Disabilities (OVAPD), a registered non-profit institution that provides people with disabilities from in and around the local community with a place where they can interact, learn skills and make a small income.
The main aim of the OVAPD centre is to generate work opportunities that can integrate organised labour into the broader economy while working to conserve the environment. The centre provides training and occupation for adults with disabilities who are unable to enter the open labour market because of the nature of their disabilities. Being trained and working at a meaningful occupation has given the members stronger motivation and greater self-esteem and independence, as well as a sense of being integrated into the wider community. For them, the opportunity to not only work, but also gain experience is invaluable because despite legislation supporting the integration of persons with disabilities, finding employment is difficult. At the centre they can also socialise while earning a small income to supplement their disability grants.
For the past 10 years, Rand Merchant Bank has generously provided funding to purchase raw materials for the manufacture of BSLs. These materials are delivered to the OVAPD, where a team of 10 members manufacture the lines. We ensure that they receive training on any modification to the design of the lines, based on science and feedback from the fishing industry. After the BSLs are made, we purchase them from the OVAPD and market and sell them to fisheries. We also work with the fishing industry to check that the BSLs are well maintained and replaced regularly and we provide BSLs that are customised, for example, to the smaller inshore trawl and longline vessels.
Since the beginning of this collaborative project we have supplied more than 1000 BSLs, effectively equipping 60% of the vessels that interact with seabirds. The BSLs in South Africa have directly contributed to a 99% reduction in the deaths of albatrosses in the demersal hake trawl fishery and an 85% reduction in seabird mortality in one of our longline fisheries. Since its inception, the project has prevented the deaths of approximately 58 000 seabirds in the South African trawl fisheries alone. And 58 people with disabilities gain technical life skills, socio-economic welfare and upliftment every year through it. Over the years this important partnership has drawn the attention of both mainstream and social media.
Now, however, we are at a crossroads, as we will face difficulties in sustaining this project when our funding ends. Ensuring the provisioning of best-practice BSLs not only addresses one of the most significant threat to seabirds and our responsibility to conserve them, but also brings together people who would normally not have an opportunity to be involved. We are appealing to interested parties, corporates and non-governmental organisations to help us keep this amazing project going. By improving fishing practices that save seabirds, we help to drive an ecosystems approach to fisheries management and access to markets. Let’s rally behind our unsung heroes who contribute to saving these amazing seabirds.
REASON NYENGERA, ALBATROSS TASK FORCE PROJECT MANAGER
The IOCongress 2022 goes virtual
The International Ornithologists’ Union (IOU), which has convened the world’s largest summits on avian biology since its first congress in 1884, has partnered with the University of KwaZulu-Natal to organise the 28th IOCongress, which will take place virtually from 15 to 19 August 2022.
A virtual IOCongress has the advantage that it will provide a platform where ornithologists can participate fully without having to travel. All symposium and oral presentations, posters, workshops, round-table discussions and exhibits will be accessible regardless of their location. This will allow participation in any part of the IOCongress at any time. Currently more than 400 presentations have been planned.
Students from developing countries have the opportunity to be funded due to generous support from the Oppenheimer and Leventis foundations. Sign up to the IOU and submit your abstract before 25 March 2022. We look forward to seeing you there!
Register at https://iocongress2022.com/registration/
Find out more about IOU membership at https://www.internationalornithology.org/membership-levels
DR ALAN LEE, SCIENCE AND INNOVATION PROGRAMME MANAGER
Say no to further ship-to-ship bunkering in Algoa Bay
Since 2016, BirdLife South Africa and other conservation organisations have been deeply concerned about the long-term authorisation for transferring fuel from one ship to another – a practice known as ship-to-ship bunkering – in Algoa Bay. We were recently shocked to learn of a decision to lift the moratorium on issuing new ship-to-ship bunkering licences in this area from 1 April 2022. BirdLife South Africa is strongly opposed to this decision.
Algoa Bay is a marine biodiversity hotspot that encompasses the Addo Elephant Marine Protected Area and an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area. Until recently, St Croix Island held the largest African Penguin breeding colony in the world, while Bird Island is currently home to the world’s largest breeding colony of Cape Gannets. The bay is also an important site for various other marine species, such as migratory humpback and southern right whales and resident populations of bottlenose and common dolphins and Bryde’s whales. It supports a diverse array of socio-economic activities, such as boat-based whale and dolphin tour operations, fisheries and sporting events. In mid-2021, it became a certified ‘Whale Heritage Site’.
BirdLife South Africa is especially concerned about the impact of ship-to-ship bunkering on the African Penguins that breed on St Croix Island. Three oil spills have already occurred in Algoa Bay as a direct result of this bunkering, affecting penguins and other endangered seabirds. However, our concerns are not limited to the threat of further spills. The number of African Penguins at St Croix Island has plummeted by approximately 80% since 2015 – the largest short-term decline of any African Penguin colony on record. We suspect that this is associated with several factors that have influenced the quality of the marine habitat within 30km of their colony, where they forage on sardines and anchovies. Since ship-to-ship bunkering began in 2016, marine traffic, especially of large bulk carrier vessels, has more than doubled. These vessels’ anchorage areas and shipping lanes occupy a significant portion of penguin foraging habitat. Before ship-to-ship bunkering started in Algoa Bay, African Penguins were already under pressure from competition with fisheries for their prey and other threats that contributed to their endangered status. They are known to be extremely sensitive to marine noise pollution and we suspect that the increased number of ships in the bay has displaced them from important foraging areas, thus reducing the number of penguins that are able to breed at St Croix Island.
With these concerns in mind, since 2021 BirdLife South Africa has participated in the Bunkering Environmental Working Group, a sub-committee of the Bunkering Stakeholders’ Forum. Through this avenue we had constructive engagements with the Transnet National Port Authority regarding the terms of reference for an environmental risk assessment for ship-to-ship bunkering in Algoa Bay. The moratorium on new bunkering licences had been in place since August 2019, with the understanding that it would remain until a holding capacity study and an environmental risk assessment were concluded. However, the decision to lift the moratorium was ultimately made, and communicated by the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA), without either an environmental risk assessment or a public consultation process.
BirdLife South Africa considers it crucial that decisions regarding ship-to-ship bunkering in Algoa Bay be informed by a proper understanding of the full range of environmental and socio-economic risks this activity poses and that such decisions be made in a transparent and consultative manner. In recent weeks we have therefore used a number of avenues (including stakeholder engagement meetings, the media and the submission of objections to SAMSA) to voice our firm opposition to the lifting of the moratorium. If you share BirdLife South Africa’s concerns and would like to express your opposition to this decision, please consider signing a petition to this effect at https://chng.it/DPNB4sqSSR
DR MELISSA LEWIS, POLICY AND ADVOCACY PROGRAMME MANAGER, AND DR ALISTAIR McINNES, SEABIRD CONSERVATION PROGRAMME MANAGER
Bioblitz for a proposed national park
The small village of Rhodes in the Eastern Cape was the base for a rapid biodiversity assessment, or bioblitz, organised by SANParks, WWF South Africa and the South African National Biodiversity Institute to evaluate the life forms on farm sections that may be incorporated into a new national park that would protect high-altitude grasslands. Moving away from the traditional electrified fences that keep animals and humans apart, SANParks and WWF South Africa are exploring a new vision: how people and nature can co-exist within the framework of a national park.
Tasked with surveying the avian biodiversity, the BirdLife South Africa team found different highlights at each of the five sites earmarked for assessment. Most rewarding, though, was the high-altitude pasture surrounding Naude’s Nek Pass and Tenahead Lodge. For those who are intimidated by the challenges posed by the likes of Sani Pass, Naude’s Nek offers an accessible public route that will reward you with many of the Sani specials: Drakensberg Rockjumper, Mountain Pipit, Sentinel Rock Thrush, Drakensberg Siskin, Cape Vulture, Ground Woodpecker, Cape Eagle-Owl and the elusive Bearded Vulture.
The sub-escarpment grassland beyond Naude’s Nek Pass was no less rewarding. This is crane country, with Grey Crowned Crane (chicks in tow), Wattled Crane and Blue Crane all recorded, in addition to other large birds such as Denham’s Bustard and Secretarybird. Isolated wetlands delivered Black-rumped Buttonquail for the lucky few. The lowland grassland south of Rhodes, where clear mountain streams carve their way through the Clarens Formation sandstone, yielded spectacular scenery and a few surprises of its own: an unexpected sighting of European Roller, a previously unrecorded Southern Bald Ibis breeding colony and a Black Stork nest.
From tree-filled valleys to high mountain tops, the birdlife was extremely rewarding. BirdLife South Africa was honoured to be part of this exciting event, and would like to wish SANParks and WWF South Africa every success in bringing this project to fruition.
To get a feel of the beautiful landscape traversed by our team, watch the highlights video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vYw8nHZO01U
LINDA VAN DEN HEEVER, VULTURE PROJECT MANAGER, AND DR ALAN LEE, SCIENCE AND INNOVATION PROGRAMME MANAGER
Beyond the call of duty
While on duty in Parkhurst, Johannesburg, security officers Zenzele Sibanda and Philane Hlatshwayo went out of their way to assist an Egyptian Goose that was wrapped up in fishing line. A community member witnessed their efforts and decided to share the story with the members of the local WhatsApp group. This caught the eye of BirdLife South Africa CEO Mark Anderson, who did not hesitate to make plans to acknowledge the two officers.
The pair’s efforts not only contributed to conserving life, but exhibited how passionate they are about protecting communities. It is delightful to witness an act of kindness such as this, aligning as it does with what BirdLife South Africa aims to achieve.
As a token of appreciation, Communications Manager Andy Wassung and I presented Zenzele and Philane with a copy of Sasol: The Larger Illustrated Guide to Birds of Southern Africa each. We hope that these books will enhance their knowledge about birds, grow their interest in protecting communities and encourage them to educate people about the importance of taking care of nature.
BONGINHLANHLA GCABASHE, COMMUNICATIONS INTERN
Call for board nominations
Do you know anyone who is suitably qualified and has the interest and time to serve on BirdLife South Africa’s Board of Directors? If so, we would like to hear from you! BirdLife South Africa is inviting nominations for directors to serve on its board. The advert and nomination form are available from Dr Isabel Human at email@example.com or from https://www.birdlife.org.za/who-we-are/about/
If you have any queries, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
MARK D. ANDERSON, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER
Cape Gannet: a supreme diving bird
While researching the many ways that Cape Gannets are ideally adapted to be superb diving seabirds, I came across a fascinating video clip showing large numbers of birds diving at high speed into the ocean. It is astonishing to observe their agility and efficiency as they plummet from the sky with pinpoint accuracy in pursuit of their prey. I found myself itching to illustrate how a gannet transforms its body into a graceful, perfectly streamlined shape to safely pierce the surface of the water without injury. Momentum drives it downward, aided in its trajectory by its elegant shape. Powerful wings, large webbed feet and keen binocular eyesight complete the ideal design of a supremely proficient diving bird.
LEIGH WOLFAARDT, ARTIST AND RESEARCHER OF BIRD OF THE YEAR 2022
Establishing a new African Penguin colony
Establishing a new mainland colony for African Penguins at De Hoop Nature Reserve is one of BirdLife South Africa’s, and indeed Africa’s, most ambitious and most important bird conservation projects. Christina Hagen, the organisation’s Pamela Isdell Fellow of Penguin Conservation, is doing all she can to ensure its success, with support from Pamela Isdell, CapeNature and SANCCOB. A predator-proof fence has been constructed and CCTV monitoring cameras have been installed, and now decoy birds and a loudspeaker playing the braying calls of the penguins have been set up to entice penguins to the site. It was a pleasure to visit the proposed colony in late February 2022 with Pamela and Neville Isdell, Christina and Peter Hagen and my wife Tania. I look forward to the day when we celebrate the arrival of penguins and, better still, when they breed on this protected peninsula.
MARK D. ANDERSON, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER
Vote for Flock to Marion!
At BirdLife South Africa, we believe that the unique nature of Flock to Marion 2022, the immense amount of organisation involved (especially under pandemic conditions), the success of the wildlife viewing, the funds raised and the positive contribution to local conservation all justify entering the event into the South Africa Tourism Awards – and make it worthy of winning. If you do too, please vote for us and help us climb the leader board by clicking on https://southafricatourismawards.co.za/nomination/birdlife-south-africa/. By voting, you’ll receive a guaranteed R1000 travel voucher and will also stand a chance to win a 16-night holiday for two people in South Africa, worth R100 000.
ANDY WASSUNG, COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER
Save the date: 2022 AGM
BirdLife South Africa invites you to join a virtual presentation of its AGM at 10h00 on Saturday, 28 May 2022. Diarise the date and you can expect to enjoy the annual meeting where items on the agenda will include the presentation of the 2021 annual report and an announcement about new initiatives.
Shop now for Cape Gannet merchandise
We’re so excited to share our Bird of the Year 2022 Cape Gannet merchandise, which is now just a click away. Whether you need gift ideas for corporates or loved ones, are building your own Bird of the Year collection or your little one could do with another fluffy toy (can one ever have too many fluffy toys?), our Cape Gannet merchandise is the perfect option.
To purchase a T-shirt, pin badge or fluffy toy, visit Shop for the Birds! at https://shop.birdlife.org.za
Proposed development a concern for Lesser Flamingos
As many BirdLife South Africa supporters will be aware, Kamfers Dam outside Kimberley in the Northern Cape supports the largest permanent population of Lesser Flamingos in southern Africa. It is one of only four locations on the continent where this species breeds with any regularity and is a globally Important Bird and Biodiversity Area.
BirdLife South Africa and other stakeholders have a long history of involvement in the conservation of Kamfers Dam. The past two decades have seen some outstanding achievements in the conservation and improvement of this unique site. In 2006 the construction of an artificial breeding island by Ekapa Mining, in collaboration with the Northern Cape Department of Environment and Nature Conservation, spurred three successful breeding seasons that resulted in the hatching of 24 000 chicks between 2007 and 2010. Since then the colony has shown tremendous resilience and survived the effects of floods (eroding their breeding island), drought and disturbance from people and domestic animals. In 2017 Lesser Flamingos even bred for the first time on the mudflats in the south-western section of the dam.
Recently the expansion of urban development near Kamfers Dam has been posing an additional threat. Although the area around the dam was originally demarcated as an eco-precinct in the Sol Plaatje Municipal Spatial Development Framework, unbeknown to BirdLife South Africa and other stakeholders the urban edge was adjusted at a council sitting in December 2017. As a consequence of this re-alignment, urban development is now permissible adjacent to the dam’s south-western edge.
BirdLife South Africa’s Policy and Advocacy team has been notified about an environmental impact assessment process currently under way for a housing development comprising 2886 housing units (175 freehold and 2711 sectional title units) and a ‘business node’. The affected property is situated adjacent to the dam. A scoping report has been compiled and was submitted to the Provincial Department of Agriculture, Environmental Affairs, Rural Development and Land Reform on 12 January 2022.
BirdLife South Africa has commented extensively on the scoping report, highlighting the following concerns:
- lack of adequate consideration of alternative sites for the housing project;
- potential harm associated with increased sewage load, given poor maintenance and management of the existing wastewater treatment plant that feeds Kamfers Dam;
- negative impact of increased (and possibly contaminated) stormwater flowing from the proposed housing site towards the dam;
- increased threats from both people and domestic animals;
- a range of impacts associated with construction activities;
- noise and light pollution;
- assertions in the draft scoping report that a 500m buffer between the dam and the development was recommended by BirdLife South Africa. (This measure was not suggested by BirdLife South Africa. Instead, our staff have always held the position that we would need to see a comprehensive environmental impact assessment to make an informed decision regarding the adequacy of this buffer and the manner through which it is proposed to be secured.)
While the competent authority reviews the scoping report, the environmental impact assessment phase of the process is under way. Several specialist studies have been commissioned by the environmental assessment practitioners, including a vegetation study, an aquatic biodiversity study and a high-level fauna study. BirdLife South Africa has repeatedly highlighted the need for a dedicated avifaunal study that focuses specifically on the potential impacts of the development on the Lesser Flamingo colony and we were recently pleased to receive notification that such a study is under way. Given the potential severity of the consequences for Lesser Flamingos, BirdLife South Africa will continue to engage proactively with the project’s consultants to ensure that our concerns are addressed.
Over the years, considerable effort and cost have been invested in the endeavour to ensure that Kamfers Dam remains a viable breeding site for Lesser Flamingos. In addition to providing conservation value, these efforts enable tourist facilities and businesses in the area (and indeed, its very municipalities) to continue using this species in their branding. As much as Kimberley is associated with mining and the Big Hole, it has become synonymous with the Lesser Flamingo. It is in everyone’s best interest that development decisions with potentially significant impacts on this iconic species be properly informed by robust environmental impact assessment processes.
If you would like to be notified when the draft environmental impact assessment report for this project is ready for public comment, we encourage you to contact the project’s environmental assessment practitioner (Envirolution Consulting, http://envirolution.co.za) and ask to be registered as an interested and affected party in respect of the Proposed Oliphant Estate Township Development (reference no.: NC/EIA/14/FB/SOL/KIM1/2021).
KIRSTEN DAY, ADVOCACY OFFICER, AND MELISSA LEWIS, POLICY AND ADVOCACY PROGRAMME MANAGER
New paper on Benguela ecosystem seabird conservation
In January 2022 the Namibian Journal of Environment co-published a scientific paper that explores how limited food resources are affecting four Endangered seabird species breeding in South Africa. Respected seabird scientist Dr Robert Crawford was the lead author, with BirdLife South Africa’s Coastal Seabird team as co-authors. The four species covered are Benguela endemics – African Penguin, Cape Cormorant, Cape Gannet and Bank Cormorant – that compete with commercial fisheries for prey.
The South African and Namibian populations of these species have decreased dramatically in recent decades and all face limited availability of their favoured prey: West Coast rock lobster for Bank Cormorants and sardines and anchovies for the other three. In Namibia, sardine and anchovy stocks crashed due to overfishing in the 1970s and have yet to recover. Although they did not collapse in South Africa, their distribution has changed over the past few decades due to environmental change, and the abundance of sardines is particularly low at present. Rock lobster stocks are under threat from high levels of poaching. Low biomass levels of fish stocks can exacerbate competition between seabirds and fishers.
It is difficult to manage the overall abundance of fish stocks, but management of fisheries can be improved to better consider the needs of the ecosystem. The paper suggests three management measures that can be implemented to help increase food availability for seabirds:
- The implementation of marine spatial planning such as fishing closures around seabird colonies. This has shown benefits for Black-legged Kittiwakes in Scotland and African Penguins in South Africa (although the latter has been contested).
- The identification of ecosystem thresholds of prey availability below which fishing would be prohibited to account for the food requirements of seabirds and other marine predators. This has been implemented in the Californian sardine fishery to protect sea lion populations.
- The establishment of new breeding colonies closer to abundant food supplies.
BirdLife South Africa always tries to apply the best available science to our conservation actions. The Coastal Seabird team, comprising Alistair McInnes, Tegan Carpenter-Kling and myself, is therefore proud to be associated with this paper, which highlights the vulnerability of South Africa’s coastal seabirds but also suggests mitigation measures.
The article can be accessed at http://nje.org.na/index.php/nje/article/view/volume6-crawford
CHRISTINA HAGEN, PAMELA ISDELL FELLOW OF PENGUIN CONSERVATION
Focus on birds of prey
The March/April 2022 issue of African Birdlife highlights raptors, a group that, for good reason, is popular with birders. Not only are these charismatic birds majestic, they’re also impressive hunters ‒ and often a challenge to identify correctly.
With this ring… Two Western Ospreys link two birders, one in Cape Town and the other in Russia.
Field of dreams Montagu’s and Pallid harriers are under the spotlight.
The Young & the Restless Observations of young Peregrine Falcons at Red Cross Children’s Hospital in Cape Town.
Spread-eagled A confrontation between a Brown Snake Eagle and a black mamba.
But there’s more… In other articles you’ll read about eye coloration in birds, a conflict of interests in Ndumo, and good news about Spectacled Petrels.
The African Bird Fair 2022
Join BirdLife South Africa for the biggest event in African birding this year: The African Bird Fair 2022. Make sure you diarise 22 and 23 July to enjoy an epic line-up of speakers and exhibitors, as well as the opportunity to connect with other avid birders across the continent and around the world.