Ecologist’s death a great loss

Ecologist Dr Norbert Klages has died
Ecologist Dr Norbert Klages has died

Marine conservation has lost a leading campaigner with the death of ecologist Dr Norbert Klages.

A resident of Port Elizabeth for more than 30 years, Klages, 65, was a founder member of the South African Marine Rehabilitation and Education Centre (Samrec) at Cape Recife, established in 2009.

Today, it plays a key role in the protection of the critically endangered African penguin.

Klages published more than 100 international scientific papers on marine science studies, as well as numerous popular pieces about broader environmental matters.

He co-authored two books with Colin Urquhart and, for good measure, translated one of them, Addo, more than just elephants, into German.

Having acquired his undergraduate degree in the German city of Hanover, where he was born, then a master’s and doctorate from Kiel, Klages left Europe to work in the Antarctic where he studied the stomach, contents of apex predators, including species of seals, dolphins, whales and seabirds.

This allowed scientists to determine for the first time what these animals were eating.

Klages became an expert in this field.

Marine biologist Dr Stephanie Plön said he had been an important influence and support in helping her and other researchers get started.

“He was a wonderful tutor to the many young scientists who studied and worked under him.”

Klages arrived in Port Elizabeth in 1983 with his wife, Sabine, and spent 20 years at the then Port Elizabeth Museum, now Bayworld, focusing on the seabirds of Bird Island and exploring their value as indicators of the health of the Algoa Bay ecosystem.

He played a key role helping to coordinate the rescue and rehabilitation of penguins oiled when the Cordigliera sank off Port St Johns in November 1996, and when the Treasure sank off Cape Town in June 2000.

In a milestone exercise after the Treasure went down, 19 500 penguins were evacuated from Dassen and Robben islands and 4 000 were trucked to Port Elizabeth to be rehabilitated.

Klages left the museum to start the Institute for Environmental and Coastal Management at NMMU and then worked as an environmental consultant for Arcus Gibb before retiring.

He had cycled out to the Gamtoos Ferry Hotel with friends as part of training for this weekend’s The Herald Continental Cycle Tour and, on the night of January 29, he suffered a heart attack in his tent and died.

He is survived by his wife of 35 years, Sabine, and two sisters.

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