This past week the MHC crew assisted Dr Lorien Pichegru with her research on St Croix island. Twice a year Lorien spends just over a week on St Croix island collecting data for her research. Lorien is looking at the impact of fishing around the island on the African Penguins. At the moment the 20km fishing ban has been lifted around the island, meaning fishing vessels are able to use purse seine nets within 20 km of the island. St Croix is home to the largest african penguin colony in the world.
Lorien is looking at how far the penguins need to travel to find food, she attached a little GPS backpack to an adult african penguin and sent it on its way. The penguin spends two days foraging with the GPS backpack and then we retrieve it, simultaneously collecting body condition data on the penguin’s partner and their chick/s.
Lorien looks at the distance that penguins need to travel to find food, the theory is that if there is over fishing occurring around the island, the penguins would need to travel further away from the island to find food. The two african penguin parents will work together to raise their chick. One heads out to find food, while the other looks after the chick, until the foraging partner returns to trade places with the “babysitting” partner. However, if the partner looking after the chick has to wait too long for the foraging partner to return, it will abandon the chick to search for food itself. This leaves the chick exposed to the elements and predators. The second problem is that if the penguins have to travel too far for fish, the ingested fish have already begun to digest in their stomachs by the time they return to the nest and that adult won’t be able to provide feed for its chick/s.
It is imperative that fishing quotas are set in consideration of the species that depend on it, even more so when these species are endangered and endemic.
When the 20km fishing ban is set around the island, Lorien will come back and duplicate the study to compare the foraging effort and similarly look at the growth of the population.
We will over the next couple weeks head back to remeasure the chicks and track their growth. We had a great time on the island! Early morning snorkels, long days of data collection, ending in watching the dolphins play at sunset.