By Mark Dixon
Every now and then, Sedgefield welcomes some unique and rare ocean visitors to our shores – and even on to our magnificent beaches. June and July 2020 have been an exceptional period of unusual marine visitors.
In June, The Strandloper Project team was fortunate enough to see a Hawksbill Turtle while conducting a dive survey at Gericke’s point. Hawksbill Turtles are considered to be the second rarest marine turtle with an estimation of fewer than 8000 females in the world.
While they don’t breed on our coastline, they do migrate to feeding and breeding grounds in tropical regions and this one was probably taking a break at our iconic peninsula before heading off to some tropical island up north.
Another interesting find for the Strandloper Project crew was an African Penguin that had come ashore on the western side of Gericke’s Point. Every winter a few of these birds wash up either ill or dead on our beaches. This one was looking underweight and docile and was most likely suffering from exhaustion from the recent rough seas as well as avian malaria which they can contract mid-year.
The penguin was captured and taken to a vet for treatment and rehabilitation and will be released when healthy again.
Then, just when we thought that the season of incredible encounters was over, the Strandloper Project recently got a call to assist with a rescue of an immature Rock Hopper Penguin on Cola Beach. Jean and John Dickens found the little penguin while on their morning walk. It was roosting on the beach at the high-water mark, flanked by the towering fossil dune cliffs.
Good fortune was surely shining on the penguin because the couple’s son, John (Bobby) Dickens, is a marine scientist who has been conducting research on some Sub-Antarctic Islands, studying a number of Antarctic penguin species.
When he arrived on the scene, he was able to make a quick identification of the species, though due to it lacking its adult plumage, was unable to determine which sub-species it was. Considered a rare species of penguin in South Africa, SANCCOB reports that two or three do wash up on our beaches every year.
An initial assessment was that the penguin was underweight, but still feisty and capable of preening itself.
Once captured, it was taken to a SANCCOB sanctioned vet in Plettenberg Bay. An examination revealed that it was healthy, but had an injured leg and will be held in isolation for rehabilitation before being released. The need for being held in isolation it to reduce the chance of it contracting any disease from local penguins and other bird species and then transferring the disease to the Sub-Antarctic when it returns after release.
With the next cold front aiming for the Garden Route, we can’t wait to see what other marine creatures will seek refuge in our magnificent bay.