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Volunteers Joined Robben Island Museum In Ridding Its Shoreline Of Ocean Waste And Pollution In Light Of Ocean Clean-Up Day

  • 3 min read

In raising awareness about ocean pollution and protecting the sensitive habitat for endangered species on the Marine Protected Area, as well as in commemorating International Coastal Clean-up Day, Robben Island Museum partnered with the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB), the V&A Waterfront and Coca-Cola Peninsula Beverages to rid the Island’s shoreline of marine waste on Tuesday, 21 September 2021.  

“As a National Museum, a World Heritage Site, a tourist attraction and a Marine Protected Area, RIM’s tourism service offering drew more than 300 000 visitors annually prior to COVID-19. Albeit the drastic drop in visitor numbers, one of our biggest challenges remains  – accumulative debris on our shoreline largely attributed to waste from passing ships and land-based sources such as litter from Cape Town’s storm water drains and rivers that ultimately flow into Table Bay,” shares Morongoa Ramaboa, Robben Island Museum Spokesperson. 

Robben Island is home to important breeding populations of five seabird species, namely the swift tern Thalasseus bergii, Hartlaub’s gull Chroicocephalus hartlaubii, Cape cormorant Phalacrocorax capensis, bank cormorant Phalacrocorax neglectus and African penguin Spheniscus demersus. Cormorants and penguins are listed as globally endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Their declined is attributed to a number of threats, including pollution. The geographical position of the site exacerbates its vulnerability to waterborne pollution. All the waste debris, mainly plastics and treated wood discarded by passing ships get washed to Robben Island shores. 

Robben Island’s rich biodiversity includes over 150 species of wildlife and a colony of 1200 pairs of endangered African penguins.  “Penguins, cormorants, gulls are some of the species that are often sighted at Robben Island entangled by fishing lines and the nets. It is important that marine waste is removed from the shoreline as it can lead to more injuries from entanglements that can lead to death of seabirds. There is evidence of large herbivores ingesting marine litter at Robben Island. Coastal clean-ups also ensure that waste washed upon shorelines does not re-enter the sea again. For the island, the presence of this waste on the shore is also aesthetically negative as it is a prominent tourist destination,” adds Mr Sabelo Madlala, Environment Manager at Robben Island Museum. 

After clean-up, the participants were given an interactive eco-tour of the entire Island. Amongst others, the tour covered challenges brought by the marine litter on the Island’s sensitive ecosystems; RIM’s green project initiatives (i.e. the existing solar photovoltaic (PV) mini-grid which has the capacity of generating 666.4 kilo Watt peak (kWp) of clean energy, revegetating the Island with indigenous plants in adapting to climate change and improving breeding habitat for endangered African penguins) and threats presented by climate change to the site amongst some of the various challenges. 

Collectively, about 800kg of waste (plastics, nets, fishing gear, plastic bottles and caps, polystyrene etc.) was collected from about a kilometre of RIM’s shoreline. This waste will be sorted on the Island and taken off-site for recycling.  

“Robben Island Museum’s role has evolved over the years to ensure sustainable tourism and the conservation of natural and cultural heritage. We are committed to environmental monitoring, research and conservation in ensuring healthier ecosystems and sustainable tourism. Such initiatives and partnerships with the Private Sector are a critical component in creating harmonious eco-systems that will ensure longevity for generations to come. Thank you so much to our partners SANCCOB, V&A Waterfront and Coca-Cola Peninsula Beverages for their continued support,” concludes Ramaboa.