Critically endangered South African penguins driven away by ship noise

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Penguins in South Africa are being driven out of their natural environment due to the noise of ships.

The African penguin lives on the island of St. Croix off the east coast of South Africa. The animals are already endangered. But a new study has found that African penguins are leaving their natural environment to escape noisy ship fueling operations.

The island was once home to the world’s largest reproductive colony of these animals. However, the population has fallen sharply since South Africa began allowing ships in the region to refuel at sea six years ago, the study found.

Lorien Pichegru is acting director of the Coastal and Marine Research Institute at Nelson Mandela University, which led the study. She told Reuters the organization found that noise levels in the area had doubled since fueling activities began.

Scientists say high noise levels affect sea creatures’ ability to find and capture other animals to find food. Noise also makes it difficult for animals to communicate with each other and map travel routes.

“This year we are at 1,200 breed couples in St. Croix up from 8,500 couples in 2016,” Pichegru said. “I counted the dead birds on the bay beach every month.”

The study recently appeared in the publication science of the whole environment. The researchers said the study is the first to look at the effects of marine traffic noise pollution on a seabird.

In 2016, South Africa’s Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) presented the award to the country’s first offshore fueling operator license to the Aegean Navy. It later granted two licenses to SA Marine Fuels and Heron Marine.

The companies operating the fueling activities have not responded to Reuters’ request for comment.

An order to stop all new licenses has been in place since August 2019. It will only be lifted after an environmental study has been completed by port officials. The study is expected next year.

The Nelson Mandela University study used data from ship identification instruments to estimate underwater noise from passing ships.

Oil-covered penguins were found refueling from ship to ship in Algoa Bay in 2019 after an oil spill. Environmental groups have called for activities in the bay to be banned.

Pichegru said penguins in the area were already struggling to breed due to a number of issues, including industrial fishing. She added that the refueling activities did not kill all of the penguins. “It was exactly what made the whole thing ecology tip over and then the penguins couldn’t deal with with it,” she said.

I’m Bryan Lynn.

Reuters reported this story. Bryan Lynn customized the report for VOA Learning English.

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words in this story

breed v. procreate

license n. an official document that gives someone permission to do or have something

ecology n. the relationship between living beings and the environment

deal with v. deal with something

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