The Dyer Island Conservation Trust was founded in 2006 by Wilfred Chivell. Operating in the incredible marine environment of Gansbaai in the Overstrand area of the Western Cape, this area is home to the Marine Big 5™ – a hotspot for the great white shark; the breeding ground of Southern right whales; home of the endangered African penguin; a breeding colony of Cape Fur seals and dolphin species that visit these shores, as well as plenty of incredible seabirds.
Together with eco-tourism partners Marine Dynamics shark tours and Dyer Island Cruises, the Trust conducts valuable research, conservation and education. The companies support the Trust financially and are essential in fundraising for the Trust.
Trustees of the Dyer Island Conservation Trust include scientists and entrepreneurs – Wilfred Chivell (Founder and Chairman); Prof. Les Underhill (Animal Demography Unit, University of Cape Town); Dr Rob Crawford (Oceans & Coasts); Dr Newi Makhado (Oceans & Coasts); Mike Gibbs (Sherborne Gibbs Publishing – UK); and Tertius Lutzeyer (Grootbos).
Partners include but are not limited to: Department of Environmental Affairs; CapeNature; SANCCOB (Southern African Foundation for the Care of Coastal Birds); Animal Demography Unit – University of Cape Town; Mammal Research Institute – University of Pretoria; WWF (World Wildlife Fund); Overstrand Municipality; Birdlife Overberg; WESSA (Wildlife Environment of South Africa); the Two Oceans Aquarium Cape Town.
The Trust projects focus
The Trust projects are focused on the Marine Big 5 surrounding Dyer Island. Dyer Island lies 8kms off Kleinbaai harbour and is a breeding colony for the African penguin, a species endemic to southern Africa. The Island is managed by CapeNature and is considered an Important Bird Area by Birdlife International.
The population of the African penguin has decreased by 90% in 30 years, leading to their being listed as Endangered with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature IUCN (May 2010). This decline is influenced by various factors but the historic guano scraping in the 19th and 20th centuries, for use as agricultural fertilizer, left penguins forced to nest on the surface instead of the soft guano burrows they would normally make. This has left them exposed to heat stress leading to nest abandonment and subsequent predation of the eggs and chicks, most especially by the Kelp Gull.
Chivell identified the need for shelters that would mimic the natural burrows of the penguin, essentially creating homes for the breeding pairs and improving the chances of fledgling survival success. He created a fibreglass/mesh resin nest that is lightweight yet durable and could be made by the local community. The project was given a name, Faces of Need, and officially launched in March 2006, leading to the establishment of the Dyer Island Conservation Trust to manage this and other projects. To date over 800 nests have been placed on Dyer Island and are monitored by a researcher, as to their affect on the breeding success. These nests have also been placed at other breeding colonies. The project has featured locally and internationally and won various awards. Funding raised for this project has contributed to penguin rescue and tracking of penguin movements, to establish the energy expenditure required for feeding and the possible need for a Marine Protected Area around the colony.
Two penguin conferences (2008/2009) were arranged by the Trust and held in Gansbaai and brought together scientists and conservationists to look at the issues. This was instrumental in having the status changed from Vulnerable to Endangered.
The Trust is the local centre for injured and oiled penguins and other seabirds and works closely with SANCCOB where the birds are sent for rehabilitation. All vagrant and visiting seabirds are logged and GPS positions supplied for scientific research.