FOR THE BIRDS ... Eco-tourism operator Lloyd Edwards and penguin researcher Dr Lorien Pichegru show off the new calendar which is aimed at raising funds for research being done on Algoa Bay’s endangered African penguins. Picture: JUDY DE VEGA

ECO-TOURISM operator and marine photographer Lloyd Edwards has produced a calendar to raise funds for groundbreaking research being done on Algoa Bay’s endangered African penguins.
The calendar features striking shots of whales, dolphins, cormorants, skuas, plunging gannets, a lolling Cape fur seal and penguins.
The money raised will fund the penguin research fund established by Edwards and penguin researcher Dr Lorien Pichegru, who is from Reunion.
Specifically, Edwards said, it would go towards the running costs of a new 18.6m catamaran, ideal for fetching and carrying researchers to and from the rocky shores of St Croix and Bird islands, which could be treacherous in stormy weather.
The boat was built specially for this work, at no cost, by renowned Kenton boat builder John Butt. It was the last boat made by Butt, who has sold his famous 51-year-old business Buttcat to a Port Elizabeth buyer.
“I think we all feel it is entirely fitting that John’s last boat should be built for conservation,” said Edwards.
Port Elizabeth companies Harvey’s Composites, Rigifoam and 6th Avenue Auto Centre sponsored the fibreglass and expanding foam elements in the new boat and fuel for the last season of research in the old boat.
The need for a new boat came about with Pichegru entering the fourth year of her research on St Croix and Bird islands.
Edward said his Raggy Charters outfit had been transporting her to and from the islands using the company’s existing vessel, but as her student team and study regime expanded it had become clear a dedicated boat was needed.
“The boat is ideal for loading and off-loading because of the way it is designed. The bow protrudes over the rocks, allowing us to get in right against the shore.”
Pichegru’s research is aimed at finding answers to the dwindling population of the African penguin.
The species decreased by 90% through the 20th century and halved between 2004 and 2008 to fewer than 26000.
The study is aimed particularly at determining if the introduction of a small no-catch zone can combat the negative effect of over-fishing.
The new study cycle of her research, which was written up in the Royal Society of London journal this year, will begin with preparations in February for the penguin breeding season, which begins in March.
She is hoping the 20km marine protected area around St Croix that she recommended and had implemented in January last year will be retained by the authorities and hopefully extended to 30km.
The protected area needed to be in place for at least four years to allow juveniles to fledge, wander and then return, so that balanced results could emerge, she said.
Students from NMMU, Rhodes and UCT working under Pichegru are studying other penguin matters all aimed at understanding the species better and helping to rescue it.
These studies include one on the scented oil released by phytoplankton when it is eaten by zooplankton and the hypothesis that the penguins can smell this oil and use it to track fish which in turn will be gathering to feed on the zooplankton.
If the hypothesis was proved it would be a world first, said Pichegru. Little is known about the penguin’s olfactory powers. Until now the thinking has been that they are guided simply by sight and temperature changes when hunting for fish.
The calendars are being distributed through Walmer pharmacies and Fogarty’s Bookstore in Walmer Park.