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SSouth Africa is amazing from coast to coast, but sometimes you just have to venture a little further out to sea, to appreciate more of the beauty that this country has to offer. Lying just off the coast of Port Elizabeth, you’ll find a scattered constellation of tiny islands called The Bird Island Group Marine Protected Area.

Why Bird Island? These islands are a critical habitat for the sadly endangered African penguins and Cape gannets. Obviously you can’t waltz onto the island like you own the place, but it is an amazing place to cruise along on a boat, especially for you bird (and shark) lovers out there.

They may not be large – some are not much more than glorified rocky surfaces poking out of the sea – but they are home to South Africa’s greatest colonies of Cape gannets, African penguins, roseate terns, Antarctic terns and kelp gulls.

As Addo Elephant National Park has expanded seawards, these islands have come under the protective wing of South African National Parks.

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TThere is a lighthouse on Bird Island, and the birds are used to humans coming and going.

TThe islands are also classified as Important Bird Areas and with good reason. The gannet and penguin populations in the country are particularly dependent on these pieces of land.

SSwimming below the surface of the surrounding ocean are Great White sharks that prey on the many seals living on a little island called Black Rocks. Sticking with the ocean, there are also many species of whales mulling around the area including the glorious Southern Right whales.

Other whales that are somewhat less flamboyant than the lolling, breaching, lob-tailing Southern Rights include the speedy Bryde’s whales and singing Humpbacks heading north on an annual migration between May and November.

If you go out on a boat cruise in and around the islands, be sure to keep a lookout for Bottlenose dolphins and other species of dolphins as well. Basically, if you love nature of the marine variety, you’ll be right at home here!

Bird Island, Port Elizabeth

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TThe protection given by declaring a no-fishing zone in part of the Bird Island Group Marine Protected Area resulted in a resurgence of certain fish stocks. And the immediate beneficiaries were the penguins, who didn’t have to swim so far to find sardines and anchovies.

Going on a boat cruise is the only way of really appreciating these islands, since they’re not really places tourists can land and explore. No diving is really allowed here either what with the heavy Great White shark presence in the area. Nobody wants to be on a shark’s dinner menu.

Next time you’re in the Eastern Cape, take a trip to the Bird Island Group Marine Protected Area. Let nature reveal its beauty and inspire you to always help protect her.

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