If we want to gain economically from the ocean, we need to protect it, according to Nelson Mandela Bay mayor Athol Trollip.
He was speaking yesterday at a landmark ceremony at Cape Recife during which Port Elizabeth’s much-loved South African Marine Rehabilitation and Education Centre (Samrec) was officially transferred to the heavyweight South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (Sanccob).
The centre has played a key role in conserving the endangered African penguin, whose numbers have plummeted globally to just 23 000 breeding pairs – 2% of what they were in the early 1900s.
According to a recent study by the University of Cape Town’s Avian Demography Unit, the surviving penguin population is nevertheless 19% greater that what it could have been without Sanccob’s intervention.
In an impassioned speech, Trollip said with the largest remaining colony now resident in Algoa Bay, the species was even more synonymous with Port Elizabeth and should be embraced as one of the metro’s unique selling points.
In an earlier presentation, Samrec chairman Dr Eckart Schumann said an increasing number of stranded marine birds and other animals were showing signs of acute hunger.
Trollip said this point had struck a resounding chord with him.
“We know that besides declining species, other issues include pollution and over-fishing. This recent mass death of dolphins at Woody Cape is another red flag.
“We sit with an economy in trouble right next to an ocean that is also in trouble. It is how well we conserve the ocean that will determine how much it can contribute to our economy.”
Schumann said the transfer would bring greater cohesion between two different groups battling to achieve the same goal and Sanccob’s much larger budget and operational efficiencies should likewise benefit the penguins.
Samrec, which was launched in 2000, overcame repeated setbacks including not receiving the funding from Transnet recommended in the Port of Ngqura environmental impact assessment.
Sanccob executive director Dr Stephen van der Spuy, a veterinarian, said the Cape Recife facility would be expanded and his team was looking forward to partnering with Port Elizabeth.