07 December 2010 by Julienne du Toit

No. 5, Penguin Crescent

Dyer Island is a strange, flat, desolate looking piece of land planted in a shark-infested sea, not far from Gansbaai, two hours from Cape Town.

As you pass in a boat, on your way to one of the region’s popular shark or whale encounters, you may see a distant, lonely figure on the island. That would be the resident conservationist, or perhaps a visiting scientist or ornithologist.

If you’re any kind of birder at all, you’ll clamour for your skipper to linger here. You may see roseate terns, bank cormorants, a veritable infestation of rare African black oystercatchers, and if you’re very lucky, Leach’s storm petrel.

Wilfred Chivell, who runs Dyer Island Cruises, once dropped me off there for an hour of pottering about. I was incredibly lucky - this is not an easy place to land.

The island used to be solidly jam-packed with African penguins, all burrowing and nesting in centuries of their own deep guano. But alas, the guano was mined for fertiliser decades ago, and now the penguin population has sunk from 25 000 in the 1970s to about 2 000 today. That’s mostly because the penguins struggle to burrow in the stony ground. The rapacious kelp gulls easily pick off the eggs or chicks.

But my heart was lifted to see penguins peering out of little fibrecrete dwellings, twisting their heads at me. It felt like I’d entered a kind of marine hobbit-land. Each little housie was numbered, and the houses were all arranged in crescents and cul-de-sacs. Since Wilfred had a brainwave and installed these little houses, the gulls can’t get at the chicks, and the penguins are living happily ever after.

I bought one too. I like to think of my penguins from time to time, raising generation after generation of babies. Find out more on link

comments powered by Disqus