SAMREC Penguin Rescue and Rehabilitation. Working for Ocean Birds in Port Elizabeth.

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I love the ocean, and he penguins who rely on it.

And this love leads me to voice my concerns on overfishing, the threat to fish populations and the plight of our marine birds and penguins as I make ongoing modest efforts to create ocean awareness. One of them was walking the 124km with Penguin Promises last year.  On my visit to Port Elizabeth, I therefore couldn’t resist a tour of SAMREC for a look at the work being done by a handful of dedicated people at this marine rehabilitation centre situated in the Cape Recife Nature Reserve.

Also, a while ago some travel bloggers got together to adopt a one-eyed penguin called Wanda, and I wanted to meet her. Turns out Wanda was a boy, who has since mated with another one-eyed penguin and they even have a baby on the way. Happy feet, happy endings. By means of background, the South African Marine Rehabilitation and Education Centre (SAMREC) was founded in 2000 as a non-profit organisation formed to care for sick or injured African Penguins because of their vulnerability.

The work here is vital, particularly as St Croix Island in the Port Elizabeth bay is now the biggest breeding colony in the world.

‘One of the causes of the decline in numbers of African penguins is that the cold currents in which penguins find their food have been pushed further out to sea, which results in them having to swim almost 60 kilometres from their burrows and by the time they get back to feed their babies much of the food has been digested so the chicks are not fed properly and therefore take longer to fledge.’

‘This has a domino effect: the parents start moulting before the chicks fledge, once in a moult they cant swim and find food so the chicks suffer even more. When the chicks are left to fend for themselves, they don’t know how to catch fish and in their weakened state they can’t cope with the elements and so they are washed up on our beaches. When SAMREC gets them, they treat any diseases they may have, give them a vitamin boost, fatten them up and release them.’

They still have to learn how to catch fish but at least they are strong and have a fighting chance. It is important to try and save every bird as there are only 25 000 breeding pairs left in the world and 21 000 of those are right there.’ ‘Another concern is that St Croix is in line with the new port of Ngqura which means ships sail right past the breeding colony. While pollution is monitored in the harbour itself, spillage can occur as ships approach and queue to get into the harbour.

There is also a daily incidence of oiling when people clean their boat engines. A penguin only needs to get a spot of oil as small as a 5 cent coin on its feathers to render it helpless. Opened in 2000, in September 2009 SAMREC moved into their new premises and thanks largely to a grant from the National Lotto, was able to design the facility from scratch to meet their specific needs. The design incorporates a huge concrete area that can accommodate 2000 birds if there is a bad oil spill, something that has sadly happened before.

A major part of SAMREC’s work is educational, and they offer lessons and talks that cover a vast array of topics. These are held at schools, on the beach or in SAMREC’s exhibition classroom where learners and visitors alike are encouraged to touch the exhibits, which range from whale or shark teeth to a stuffed genet. There are many lessons to be taken here and you can meet the penguins that are unable to be reintroduced back into the ocean and have been given forever homes here. Some as a result of injury, others human imprinted.

If you would like to have a lasting impact on a penguin’s life, you can adopt one. The adoption program costs R1500, as this is how much it will cost to successfully rehabilitate a penguin. When you adopt a penguin, a tag engraved with your name and your new penguin’s name will be put up on the new Adoption Wall. I know that it’s a lot of money, but you can do what we did and get a group of friends to join you in the adoption. Visit and e-mail for an updated list of available birds. Read more about their Sea School and Volunteering program. 

If you ever do find a sick or stranded seabird please call 041 5831830 during business hours and 084 587 8346 after hours. SAMREC will know what to do.

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