We’ve seen how Venice’s canals cleared during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, and how wild animals took over towns around the world while humans were in lockdown

Similar animal behaviour adaptations have taken place during the South African lockdown. Even the Boulder’s Beach penguins have become ‘bolder’, and more dolphins have been sighted than usual.

While nature has had a small chance to ‘recover’ from human activity during the pandemic, it is important to take note of how human behaviour can affect the environment, and how we can be more conscious and kind towards nature in the future.

World Oceans Day is celebrated on 8 June every year with the aim of raising awareness around the role that oceans play in our lives.

Jon Monsoon, host of the Penguin Experience on Airbnb, where 100% of what you pay goes to AfriOceans Conservation Alliance, has been doing amazing work in the field of ocean life conservation for a number of years.

This World Oceans Day, he chats about how marine life has been behaving while humans are under lockdown, and what we should still be doing to support ocean conservation.

“Every second breath we take comes from the ocean,” says Jon. “The ocean gives us around 70% of the oxygen we breathe – more than all the trees and plants. And that’s why it’s so important for us to continue to protect the ocean and the life within.”

Jon Monsoon, host of the Penguin Experience on Airbnb

More time in ‘human’ areas

The biggest difference for our marine creatures these past few weeks, he says, is how much they are enjoying more time in areas that humans would usually occupy.

“Take the Boulders Beach penguins as an example. These waddling creatures usually have to plan their fishing expeditions entirely around the movement of humans, making sure that they get down to the water before the human traffic starts up each morning and the roads and pathways get too busy to ensure safe passage.”

The Boulders Beach penguin colony has been in Cape Town since the first penguins made their way into False Bay in 1983 from Dyer Island, near Gansbaai. According to Cape Town Tourism, commercial fishing, marine pollution and habitat destruction have all taken their toll on the colony in the years since. But thanks to conservation efforts by people like Jon and his team, the Boulders colony has grown to over 3 000 birds now.

How the penguins have adapted to lockdown

“We’ve gotten to know these birds very well over the years and its been interesting to see them adapt to the lockdown that we are under,” Jon reveals.

“Other unique behaviours that we have noticed during this time includes when they are able to get back to their nests. Before, penguins had to wait until the beach was empty and everyone had gone home before they could make the journey back to the nest. A near total lack of human and vehicular traffic along their most-used routes down to the ocean means that they can now afford to have a bit of a lie-in most mornings, enjoying some bonus snuggle time in the nest with their life partners. They’re also now able to get home again before dark, which is particularly useful now that the breeding season is at its peak, and the penguins need to feed their hungry babies.”

Jon also notes that nests have been popping up in the most unusual of places these days, including on a public stairwell behind a restaurant, in a cosy storeroom with a door carelessly left open before lockdown, and in the sheltered doorway of a public amenity.

The AfriOceans team has seen a number of other sea creatures also making the most of the lockdown.

The Cape clawless otters, for example, have been enjoying our quiet beaches, while massive pods of dolphins (2 000 strong) are fishing undisturbed in False Bay. Whales are currently also able to communicate with one another without having to “shout” over the noise of commercial shipping.

“It’s amazing what nature has been up to while we are all behind closed doors,” he quips.

How you can make a difference

For those wishing to do their part this World Oceans Day, there are a number of options, including changes you can make to your everyday life. Jon believes that the first step is to get educated about the role of the oceans.

“Armed with this knowledge, we can then start taking responsibility for our actions instead of believing that it is someone else’s job to fix things, like the NGOs, the government or the scientists. For example, we can all remove litter from our beaches when we see it, and we can all be aware of how our diet is impacting the oceans and choosing only to eat SASSI green list fish.”

Other ways include supporting non-governmental organisations, in cash or by volunteering your time and skills to support their work. To support AfriOceans, you can book Jon’s Online Experience through Airbnb. This Experience allows guests to “waddle” with Jon into the fascinating world of one of our most enigmatic and, unfortunately, endangered marine bird species. The Experience is a one-hour chat and workshop session during which guests will discover little-known facts about penguins, how to tell a female from a male, how to determine the age of a penguin, and much more. And while guests won’t be able to see or experience real penguins during this session, they will have the chance to build their own penguins from everyday items that can be found around the house.

Online shark experience

If sharks are more your thing, you can have a look at this fascinating online shark experience with a scientist. Through this live online experience, you’ll venture out on and under the water to tag and track large sharks. Once you locate them, you’ll take skin and blood samples and implant satellite, acoustic, and archival tags.

So, this World Oceans Day, take some time to appreciate what the waters around us do for us and for our marine life, and support the efforts of those trying to conserve it into the future.

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