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The Bank Cormorant is one of South Africa's most threatened seabirds. It breeds only in South Africa and Namibia. Along with the African Penguin, it is classified as "Endangered" – these are the two "Endangered" seabirds breeding in this area. But cormorants are not as charismatic and glamorous as penguins, so they don't have the same appeal. But the Bank Cormorant has the most beautiful eye of almost any bird species – however, you have to be really close up to see it and appreciate that this is not just another uninteresting dull black species!
The Bank Cormorant is one of ADU postdoc Katta Ludynia's study species. She says: "The global population size has decreased from around 9000 breeding pairs in the late 1970s to around 3000 pairs currently. Of these 2500 are in Namibia and only 500 in South Africa. In other words, Bank Cormorants have decreased in numbers by 67% in the last 40 years. Mercury Island currently holds almost 70% of the world's population and is by far the largest breeding colony. The reasons for the dramatic population decline on Ichaboe Island, previously the main breeding locality besides Mercury Island, are not understood well. We need to understand why certain populations are doing relatively well (like Robben Island and Mercury Island) whereas numbers of birds at other colonies continue to decrease. Food availability, climatic effects as well as breeding habitat may be key issues. We also need a better knowledge about movements of birds between colonies."
Besides Katta, three other members of the ADU are focused on research to understand the reasons for the decrease in Bank Cormorant numbers: Richard Sherley is a postdoc, and Corlia Meyer and Philna Botha are MSc students. The top picture shows the study site on Robben Island under surveillance, and the picture alongside shows Corlia setting up one of the cameras. Richard's PhD thesis has a chapter on factors that impact the breeding success of Bank Cormorants on Robben Island; it was published late last year as a paper: "Storms and heat limit the nest success of Bank Cormorants: implications of climate change." The ADU Latest News announcing this is here.