Aquarium & visitors support penguin conservation

Filed under: Pine Knoll Shores,Uncategorized by pineknollshores on Saturday, September 22nd, 2012

African penguins in the wild, photo courtesy George Wall

Thanks to the generosity of visitors, the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores is donating $5,000 to support conservation of African penguins. The Aquarium hosted the Penguin Plunge exhibit featuring four captive-bred African penguins from May through September of this year. Visitors were generous in putting contributions into a donation box near the exhibit.

African penguins are an endangered species. Once numbering in the millions as recently as the early 1900’s, there are currently only about 50,000 African penguins left in the world. Habitat destruction, collection of eggs for human consumption, commercial overharvesting of their food fish, and oil spills are some of the reasons behind this rapid decline.

“More than a quarter of a million visitors to the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Koll Shores this summer had a chance to meet the penguins and learn their conservation story,” said Aquarium director Allen Monroe. “Many of the factors of human influence that affect penguins also impact wildlife on our shores.”

The donated funds will be split between two non-profit conservation groups — the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) and the African Penguin Species Survival Plan® under the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

SANCCOB rescues and rehabilitates penguins and other seabirds that get covered in oil when accidents occur in the busy shipping routes passing near African penguin nesting sites. SANCCOB rehabilitated thousands of stricken penguins after the tanker Treasure sank in 2000. The organization currently is caring for more than 200 seabirds oiled by leaking fuel from another sunken vessel. SANCCOB also hand-rears weak and abandoned penguin chicks for release, conducts seabird health surveys and other research, and provides education outreach to schools and groups.

The African Penguin Species Survival plan is one 300 Species Survival Plans under the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). Known as SSPs, the plans cooperatively manage threatened or endangered species within accredited zoos and aquariums. The SSPs include breeding and management plans to assure a healthy and genetically diverse captive population. SSPs and AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums significantly contribute to species recovery, veterinary care for wildlife disease issues, establishment of assurance populations and many other species-focused conservation efforts.

The African Penguin SSP also supports SANCCOB’s field conservation work. In the past, the SSP has purchased satellite tags to help track penguin chicks and purchased nesting boxes to provide shelter for penguins on beaches where natural habitat has been degraded.