Care about gannets - conservationist

2012-10-16 14:06

Cape Town - It is important to care about vulnerable species in order to afford them protection before they are wiped out, a conservationist has said.

CapeNature is celebrating 100 years of gannets on Bird Island off Lamberts Bay on the West Coast, and nature conservator Yves Chesselet said that the public should make an effort to care about the birds.

"We should care because it's the only place where you can actually walk to an island over the breakwater to view them [the gannets]," Chesselet told News24.

"They're so photogenic, they're full of body language, they're extremely expressive; they live so tightly together... they're a completely unique species of bird," he added.

Cape Nature has chosen October to celebrate 100 years of the birds on the island, one of only one of only six breeding colonies of this vulnerable seabird in the world.


Records as far back as 1912 indicate that gannets occupied the island when guano scraping was a profitable exercise, with a value of almost R1.5m per year for the government.

"The birds were probably given special protection by the guano managers who must have appreciated their importance as guano producers," said Dr Tony Williams, a retired CapeNature scientist, who used the manager's reports to confirm the date when the first pair of gannets arrived on the island.

The gannets remain vulnerable and in 2002, almost 400 birds died as a result of a Pasteurellosis (avian cholera) epidemic.

Seals also killed several gannets during the 2005 breeding season and caused the entire population of around 17 000 birds to desert the island.

"We had the problem in the past of losing the gannet colony: In 2005, we lost the gannet colony and there were no gannets on the island for six months," said Chesselet.

CapeNature has spent about R5m over 10 years on promoting tourism on the island which became more important for the community after fish stocks began to decline.

Chesselet has been working in conservation since 1988 and urged communities to participate in efforts to protect the natural environment, particularly after the 2005 event.

"That's when suddenly, everybody gets a wake-up call and realises: 'Gee, we've got this gem; this tourist attraction that brings people to Lamberts Bay and to the island, and now it's gone'.

"When it's there you take it for granted, you don't actually realise what can go wrong."

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