Port Elizabeth’s much-loved marine rehabilitation centre, Samrec, is set to hand over operations to the country’s biggest seabird rescue organisation, Sanccob.
The two organisations said on Friday the impending move was a progressive step towards long-term seabird conservation and environmental education in the region.
“The transfer is a positive step for the survival of the penguins in our bay, since it will mean a more efficient and effective organisation to look after their wellbeing,” Samrec board of trustees chairman Dr Eckart Schumann said.
Samrec (the South African Marine Rehabilitation and Education Centre) was established at Cape Recife in 2000 in terms of recommendations in the assessment of the Port of Ngqura development related to concerns around increased shipping and a likely upswing in oil spills.
Since then it has become a central role player in rehabilitating oiled penguins as well as an eco-education centre and tourism attraction.
For several years costs were problematic after expected funding from Transnet, in terms of the Ngqura assessment, failed to materialise.
But Samrec’s budget had been looking healthy since last year, with money coming in from donors, wildly popular rehabilitated penguin releases and other fund-raising events, Schumann said.
The endangered African penguin is restricted to Southern Africa and ranges around the coast from Namibia to Algoa Bay.
Excluding juvenile birds, there are now just 23 000 breeding pairs left – so the global population is 2% of what it was in the early 1900s.
The Eastern Cape is home to more than 53% of the remaining birds and the biggest colonies are in Algoa Bay on St Croix and Bird islands.
Founded in 1968, Sanccob (the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds) is headquartered in Cape Town and has a branch at Cape St Francis.
Sanccob executive director Dr Stephen van der Spuy said the April 1 transfer of the Samrec facility to Sanccob would mean better coordination during emergency response situations like oil spill disasters.
It would also mean a more streamlined working relationship with local and national stakeholders like SANParks – an important point because SANParks manages Algoa Bay’s islands.
He said Sanccob was “excited and humbled to have been given this opportunity to build on the foundations laid by the Samrec team”.
Initial concerns about mosquitos and vulnerability to avian malaria were voiced about the Samrec site at Cape Recife because it is set back from the sea. The founders of the centre disagreed, saying the adjacent nature reserve and predation by bats and frogs meant there was no mosquito problem.
Van der Spuy said it did not matter either way because Sanccob used nets at their Cape Town facility and they would be doing the same here.
Hailing the transfer, Schumann said Samrec was particularly pleased that Sanccob shared its belief in the importance of environmental education to complement rehabilitation work.
Thanking Samrec staff, donors and supporters through the years, he called on them to stay involved in the facility. “Samrec is still there, it just has a different name.”