Year in the Wild Blog

Back to the asylum at Malgas Island

While at West Coast National Park, I was fortunate again to be taken to Malgas Island, just offshore of West Coast National Park, by the SANparks marine rangers. This island is covered with nesting Cape Gannets, and is one of the last strongholds of this species, which is becoming increasingly vulnerable to overfishing and development. The nearby Saldanha Bay port looms large and ugly in the background, where millions of tons of iron ore is offloaded onto ships to be transported to China for smelting. This is the sign of the times: industrial development side-by-side with fragile ecologies.

I only had 30 minutes on the island, but once again enjoyed the crazy commotion of thousands of squawking, argumentative birds. Photographing them is challenging – at any one time there are literally thousands on the ground on their nests, and hundreds in the sky. Keeping visual track of one of them is like trying to focus on a bee in a swarm of hundreds. Good target practice with a long lens!

These birds will travel great distances to feed, before returning to the island to their nests. Cuan McGeorge, a bird expert from Betty’s Bay (near Kogelberg), explained to me that the gannets often feed nearby, a distance of at least 200 kms away from Malgas Island. At Betty’s Bay, there’s the largest single population of penguins, and the gannets have learned to understand the penguins feeding behavior and use it to their advantage.

In the mornings the penguins head out en masse, and then return in the afternoon, corralling fish back towards the shore, where the fish are trapped. The gannets then divebomb the fish from the air. The gannets are also well known for divebombing the huge shoals of sardines during the annual migration up the Wild Coast of South Africa, sometimes plummeting up to ten metres below the surface to chase after a sardine.

Thanks again to the guys at SANParks, especially Pierre Nel, for helping me out.














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