Plettenberg Bay Seabird Rehabilitation Centre was established by Dr Debbie Young to care of oiled, injured and ill birds, in particular penguins, to help them survive the harsh conditions of the east coast ocean thanks to a dedicated team of Garden Route residents.
Plettenberg Bay Seabird Rehabilitation Centre head Eve Joubert, said the centre was established in the 1970s with members rehabilitating penguins at their homes. "I have been known to take in stray animals, so some oiled penguins found their way to me one day.
"As word spread, I was soon looking after six or seven oiled penguins at a time."
With help from like-minded friends, Eve Joubert started taking care of oiled, injured and ill birds at her Harkerville house, where her pool had become an exercise facility for recovering seabirds.
In 2000 things took a turn for the better, when former Port Elizabeth marine biologist Dr Vic Cockcroft moved to the region and made some of his land available to build a rehabilitation centre with the necessary facilities to look after large groups of penguins.
The facilities include a nursery, feeding pens, a pool, a shaded cloth area, a geyser (for hot water to clean the oiled birds with), a fridge (for all the fish the penguins eat), and a small office.
Most seabirds arrive at the centre are soaked in oil; they can have avian malaria, or are starving after having been blown ashore. Eve Joubert says "Penguins are mostly oiled by fishing trawlers that pump oil out at sea, but incidents have dropped since the centre has started educating fishermen and schoolchildren regarding the dangers of oil to seabirds.
Oiled penguins are washed, treated for stress-related ulcers, and then need a month to recover the natural oils on their feathers to make them waterproof.
The centre is costly to run, with expenses such as water and electricity bills, medication, food - penguins eat nine pilchards a day - and transport to Cape Town.
It costs about R500 to rehabilitate one oiled penguin. Finances are generated by donations and fundraising.
Many hazards, including reductions in food resources and pollution (particularly oil spills), threaten the survival of the African penguin. Although Plett does not have any heavy industry or big shipping, oiled penguins and small, hungry juvenile birds are often found on local beaches. The Plett Seabird Rehabilitation Centre cares for more than 100 penguins each year, particularly in the winter months when heavy seas make feeding difficult for the newly weaned chicks.