Rita, outside Belvedere Cottages
The South African Marine Rehabilitation and Education Centre
The centre's purpose isn't just to rescue and rehabilitate, but to also inform and educate the public through their different programs.Tour our marine rehab and education centre and experience nature through sight, sound and touch.
Visitors can experience the hospital and see the volunteers in action helping to save our environment, in particular the endangered African Penguin.
In 2000, the South African Marine Rehabilitation and Education Centre (SAMREC), a non-profit organisation, was formed mainly to care for sick or injured African Penguins because of their vulnerability; now we see our work as vital, particularly as St Croix Island in our bay is now the biggest breeding colony in the world.
One of the causes of the decline in numbers of African penguins is that the cold currents in which penguins find their food have been pushed further out to sea. This results in them having to swim almost 60 kilometers away from their burrows and by the time they get back to feed their babies much of the food has been digested so the chicks are not fed properly and therefore take longer to fledge. This has a domino effect: the parents start moulting before the chicks fledge, once in a moult they cant swim and find food so the chicks suffer even more. When the chicks are left to fend for themselves, they don’t know how to catch fish and in their weakened state they can't cope with the elements and so they are washed up on our beaches. When we get them, either from finding them ourselves or the public bringing them in we treat any diseases they may have, give them a vitamin boost, fatten them up and release them. They still have to learn how to catch fish but at least they are now fit, fat and strong and have a fighting chance. It is important to try and save every bird we can as there are only 25 000 breeding pairs left in the world and 21 000 of those are mostly right here on our doorstep.
Another concern is that St Croix is in line with the new port of Ngqura which means ships sail right past the breeding colony. While pollution is strictly controlled and monitored in the harbour itself, spillage can occur as ships approach and queue to get into the harbour. There is also a daily incidence of oiling when people clean their boat engines. A penguin only need to get a spot of oil as small as a 5 cent coin on its feathers to render it helpless.
In September 2009, SAMREC moved into their new premises in the Cape Recife Nature Reserve which, thanks largely to a grant from the National Lotto they were able to design from scratch and it is specifically for sick African Penguins and other birds, with the architect having gone so far as to study prevailing winds so that germs and harmful grass spores would be blown away from the building. The design incorporates a huge concrete area which can accommodate 2000 birds if there is a bad oil spill – when this happened in 1998 an emergency area had to be set up at the harbour.