Climate change and human impact on sardine and anchovy populations have been wreaking havoc on African penguin populations who depend on them while making their thousand plus mile trek to their birthplace. An arduous journey from Southern Africa all the way to Islands in the Atlantic Ocean.
The penguins make this trip annually and depend on sardines and anchovies as a nutrient rich source of energy to do so. Unfortunately over fishing has destroyed these populations, leaving penguins eating the penguin equivalent of junk food to replace their main source of nutrition. Predictably this has had a massive negative impact on African penguin populations.
Sardines and anchovies have been replaced with jellyfish and other small fish, leaving the penguins stuck in what ecologists call an “ecological trap.”
Meaning animals return to a habitat that has changed in such a way it threatens their well-being without even realizing it. In this case African penguins embark on an exhausting journey to end up thousands of miles away from where they started, unable to properly recuperate. For many penguins this is fatal and it’s estimated that African penguin populations in South Africa have dropped by as much as 80%.
Year by year food is increasingly out of reach and this has massive consequences for younger penguins especially. Not only is the journey more difficult for them to begin with, but meeting the caloric intake demanded by both the trip and adequate growth and development is nearly impossible. With fish, and therefore calories, already dwindling these penguins are being starved to death.
Over fishing is one problem, but these penguins also depend on fish that live in cool, plankton rich waters. Changing climate is changing the currents which means these spots are rapidly diminishing. Meaning the main sources of food are further and further away from the well beaten penguin path. Pushing what little food is left out of range for most penguins.
And once again young penguins who need to replenish the population are most heavily impacted.
Already, over 80% of African Penguin’s have disappeared and the forces which are pushing them to extinction don’t seem to be backing down anytime soon.