Eastern Cape Tourist AttractionsThe St Croix Island Penguins
St Croix is home to the largest African penguin colony in the world. It lies 4 km offshore between the Coega and Sundays River mouths, part of a group of coastal island clustered roughly into two groups of three islands each.
Where? St Croix Island Marine Reserve, Algoa Bay, Port Elizabeth
When? Daylight hours for best visibility
St Croix, a 12 ha rocky island, lies close to the smaller Jahleel and Brenton Rocks. It is made up of a series of quartzitic outcrops that rise as high as 53 metres on St Croix.
The island is almost entirely devoid of soil today although this was not always the case. Historical references paint a different picture of the island as 'brown with seawolves (seals) and white with birds' in 1575.
It took just four years during the 1820s to annihilate the seals.
As with Dassen Island, penguin eggs by the thousand were removed for human consumption halting only around 1956. And guano harvesting resulted in all its soil finding its way onto foreign ships to serve elsewhere as fertilizer.
Today St Croix is a penguin sanctuary. Boats are not allowed to land on the group of islands, although some charter boats cruise close enough to enable one to see the penguins quite easily.
St Croix, along with Bird Island (and Robben and Dassen islands on the west coast), is part of an experiment to study the effects of fishing on penguin breeding and foraging behaviour.
Fishing exclusion zones have been put in place 20km around the islands, with three years on and three years off, to see the effect on the penguins. The islands are studied in pairs to control for any variation in findings. But preliminary findings suggest that the fishing exclusion zones are good for the penguins on St Croix, but not for the penguins on the west coast.
The different conditions on the west coast, by comparison with the south, scientists think account for the difference.