A group of African penguins walking on Seaforth Beach near Cape Town, South Africa, November 3, 2020.Reuters/Sumaya Hisham/File Photo
CAPE TOWN: Already endangered African penguins are being displaced from their natural habitat off South Africa’s east coast by noise from refueling ships, a scientific study reveals.
African penguin numbers on St. Croix in Algoa Bay, once the world’s largest bird breeding colony, have plummeted since South Africa began allowing ships in the region to refuel at sea six years ago. Found.
Located on a busy shipping lane along South Africa’s east coast, Algoa Bay is rich in marine life and birdlife, with southern right whales roaming the protected waters.
“We found that the already high noise levels had doubled” since refueling began, Lorian Pichegur, acting director of the Institute for Coastal and Oceanographic Studies at Nelson Mandela University, which led the study, told Reuters. Told.
Scientists have previously found that increased noise levels affect the ability of marine animals to locate and corral prey, communicate and navigate properly.
“There are 1,200 breeding pairs this year in St. Croix, up from 8,500 in 2016, an almost 85% decline since bunkering began in South Africa,” Pichegru said. “I counted dead birds every month on the bay beach.”
A new study, published August 10 in the peer-reviewed journal Science of the Total Environment, examines the impact of marine traffic noise pollution on seabirds and the impact of offshore bunkering activities on underwater noise levels. This is the first study I have done. said the researchers.
South Africa’s Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) awarded Aegean Marine the country’s first offshore bunkering operator’s license in 2016 in a controversial closed-door tender, and then in 2018 and 2019 respectively. Two licenses were awarded to SA Marine Fuels and Heron Marine.
Aegean, now traded as Minerva, is a wholly-owned division of global energy trader Mercuria, Heron Marine is a subsidiary of rival Trafigura, and SA Marine Fuels is majority-owned by Oryx Energies.
Trafigura, Minerva and Oryx Energies did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
A moratorium on new licenses, in place since August 2019, will not be lifted until an environmental impact assessment has been completed by the port authority. An evaluation is scheduled for next year, said a SAMSA official.
A Nelson Mandela University study used data from a ship identification tool to estimate underwater noise from ships as a proxy for underwater ambient noise in the area.
In 2019, oil-soaked penguins were found in Algoa Bay after an oil spill from ship-to-ship bunkering, prompting conservationists to call for a ban on bunkering in the bay.
St. Croix’s penguins are already struggling to breed due to various challenges, including industrial fishing for rare prey, Picheguru said.
“Refueling didn’t kill all the penguins. It just turned the whole ecosystem upside down and the penguins couldn’t handle it,” she said. (Reporting by Wendell Roelf, Editing by Susan Fenton)