Home Latest News Drought still affects penguins in South Africa

Drought still affects penguins in South Africa

Australia’s Millennium Drought may still be affecting penguin populations in South Australia more than 10 years after it broke out, a new study has found.

Flinders University researchers have identified a strong link between the drought, which stretched from 2001 to 2010, and remaining numbers of penguins in colonies south of Adelaide, including one on the brink of survival.

The current population of Granite Island has fallen to 20 adults, while all other populations in nearby Encounter Bay have gone extinct.

“The fact that Granite Island’s population of little penguins has still not recovered suggests … that the population has reached a critical reduction in breeding numbers during the drought period,” the researchers said.

The study also found a strong link between the number of little penguins, river discharges and one of their main local food sources – southern garfish.

It suggested that ocean warming and other factors, such as predation and low juvenile survival rates, could have contributed to the colony’s problems.

Little penguins are seabirds that forage in a central spot while breeding, with most of their prey being caught within 60 kilometers of the colony.

The coastal and estuarine environment at Victor Harbor’s Encounter Bay, the Lower Lakes and Coorong is dependent on regular outflow from the mouth of the Murray River, which is regularly closed during periods of drought.

“As droughts become more frequent, future studies are needed both within Australia and elsewhere to identify which species could be affected for seabird conservation and river management,” the study said.

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