Eastern Cape Tourist AttractionsBird Island Marine Protected Area
Where? There are a number of cruise companies that will take you out on a cruise among the islands.
How? Call Raggy Charters on +27 (0)73 152-2277
The aim of a marine protected area is to conserve marine life. They take the form of a collaboration between civil society, communities and government that promote conservation and safeguard threatened marine species and important habitats.
Bird Island Marine Protected Area lies just off the coast of Port Elizabeth. It is a group of islands (Bird Island, Stag Island, Seal Island and Black Rocks) that are home to more than a few red-data listed seabirds, whilst the reefs around the islands support a large abalone population (perlemoen) and serve as a largely undisturbed habitat for linefish.
When increasing poaching became a problem, the islands were given immediate protection with Marine Protected Area status. The marine protected area, which is close to the Woody Cape Section of the Addo Elephant National Park, was included in the park. As a result Addo is the only park in the world able to claim the world's Big 7 (the Big 5 plus the great white shark and southern right whale; both of which frequent the waters off Algoa Bay).
The islands are the only key seabird islands between Dyer Island and Hermanus, classed by Birdlife as Important Bird Areas.
They support the African penguin, Cape gannet, roseate tern, Antarctic tern and kelp gull. Bird Island is home to the biggest breeding colony of gannets in the world, and the second largest breeding colony of African penguins, whilst Black Rocks supports an important seal breeding colony that in turn supports the threatened great white shark population. The subtidal reefs around the islands are home to a number of endemic fish species, invertebrates and seaweeds.
Although the islands were declared an MPA in 2004, abalone plundering continued unchecked until a complete dive ban was enforced in 2006, and a no-fishing zone restricted part of the MPA, meaning penguins could find their food closer to home. In 2008 Addo provided marine rangers to protect the area, which has helped significantly.
There are plans to extend the MPA boundaries, adding a further 120 000 hectares and extending it 20 km offshore.
Take a cruise in amongst the islands in Algoa Bay to spot whales and bottlenose dolphins. Whilst these boats are not allowed on the islands, they do get close enough to easily see the huge colonies of birds.