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Media Release: High seas cause damage on Bird Island

Date: 5th September 2008

Addo Elephant National Park rangers were evacuated from Bird Island in Algoa Bay in the Eastern Cape on Monday, 1st September, when high seas caused the water level to move about 15 meters inland.

Addo Elephant National Park rangers were evacuated from Bird Island in Algoa Bay in the Eastern Cape on Monday, 1st September, when high seas caused the water level to move about 15 meters inland.

The rangers were evacuated by means of a helicopter provided by the SA National Defence Force as the Park’s boat could not be mobilised in the 9-metre high seas. Before their evacuation, the rangers reported that the sea water had reached the back of the lighthouse building and the front of buildings that house staff on the island.

The Park’s rangers were able to return to Bird Island on Tuesday afternoon, the 2nd of September, again by helicopter, to assess the damage caused to both infrastructure and the birds that breed on the island.

African penguin chicks, aged between two and four months old, were drowned by waves which flooded their nests. However, the extent of penguin chick deaths is not yet known as their bodies were washed away. Once researchers can investigate the damage done to nest sites which they have marked, the number of penguin deaths can be estimated.

Rangers have also captured some adult penguins with broken legs which they will take off the island for rehabilitation. The African penguin colony on Bird Island numbers about 2 675 breeding pairs.

The Cape gannet breeding colony on Bird Island – the largest of its kind in the world at about 80 000 pairs – was not affected by the high seas except for flooding of some peripheral nest sites by sea spray. Rangers took measures to drain these sites on 3 September 2008.

Black Rocks, which houses a 400-strong colony of Cape fur seals, was completely submerged by sea water on Monday, as were Stag and Seal Islands which lie close to Bird Island.

There was also extensive damage, estimated at up to R3 million, to the newly constructed jetty on Bird Island with gabions broken and washed away. The damage will not affect Park ranger patrols in the marine area. Although Park rangers have not yet been able to assess the impact of the high seas on St. Croix Island, which also forms part of Addo Elephant National Park, it is thought that the African penguin colony here has also been affected.

Issued by: South African National Parks

Enquiries: Megan Taplin, Regional Communications Manager, Addo Elephant, Camdeboo, Karoo, Mountain Zebra National Parks
Tel: (042) 233-8609 or 083 650 8649

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