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South African Penguins

Ninety percent of the penguin population on Robben Island has disappeared over the past 100 years. You can help conserve their habitat and protect their population.

Robben Island is a hotspot for seabird biodiversity, including endangered cape cormorants, bank cormorants, and 3,800 African penguins. It lies in the middle of major shipping lanes, and the risk of oil spills to local seabirds has been well documented. You can help a team of Earthwatch scientists monitor seabirds on the island and help reduce the impact of the various threats to this fragile environment.

Working with experienced researchers and staff, your team will participate in a variety of activities to monitor the health of this island environment. You’ll conduct population surveys on penguins and other seabirds to determine their breeding success and survival, monitor chick body condition as part of a globally-unique experiment into the impacts of local fishing, and perhaps even help deploy high-tech tracking technology to monitor penguins' behavior at sea.

Your research will bring you face-to-face with the problems seabirds face, such as predation by seals and competition with fisheries.

For more information or to book contact our office (03) 9016 7590 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Susan Ackerman | SEPTEMBER 19, 2019 ★★★★★

"Dive into the historically-rich experience of Robben Island while learning about the endangered African Penguin"

The penguin expedition is fantastic. First, the penguins are the stars and incredibly cute, but not to be taken lightly–they are still wild animals. It never gets old seeing penguins and their chicks. The location on Robben Island where Nelson Mandela spent 18 years of his life is quite historical in itself. One of the afternoons, we did the prison tour, which is beyond enriching but gives an in-depth understanding of apartheid and the politics surrounding it. The island is like being in a time warp and experiencing all the history and different roles the island has played from a leper colony, a WWII outpost, to a prison. Beyond the science, the historical experience is worth the trip and tourists are not allowed to stay on the island, which is great. There are hardly any people on the island and some of the untouched beauty is breathtaking. Our team was awesomely lead with always enough to do, but not being overtaxed. The meals were superb, but that is team dependent. The accommodations are simple, but typical of Earthwatch. This is not the Ritz by any stretch, but simple and comfortable. If you have time before or after your volunteering, there are tons of wonderful activities and sights in Cape Town. It is a fantastic city rich with culture and beauty. I have done so many expeditions, and I felt really good about my donation doing some real good.


Darren Towers | SEPTEMBER 18, 2019 ★★★★★

"An amazing African Penguin adventure"

The penguin research expedition on Robben Island was an incredible opportunity to work directly with a small, local, and dedicated Earthwatch team to help understand the penguin population and have the data we collected tell us about this endangered species and the health of the wider environment. It was expertly organized, exciting work, and a welcoming, friendly, and tremendously fun experience all round. I learnt a lot about the penguins, the wider environment and myself - and I'd thoroughly recommend this fantastic project in this unique location to anyone. Get ready to get hands-on, stuck in, and enjoy the adventure!


Janet Donald | FEBRUARY 14, 2018 ★★★★★

"Impossible to put into words"

It’s impossible to convey in words the fascination and sheer fun of observing penguins, including weighing fluffy grey babies while the parents protest loudly. Every hour of our work in March 2012 was unforgettable and gave me an endless number of stories. As an Australian, this included the irony that the penguins rely on the hated and openly maligned Western Australian rooikrans for their nesting. The acacia is indeed an ugly foreign invader. And the fact that eucalypts (of which there are 700 species) are still called gum trees. Eucalypts are the cockroach trees of the planet, that’s for sure. The ones on Robben Island are seriously old! I hope I can make time to come again. Penguins are completely fascinating and I understand researchers’ obsession with them.


Carol Pierobon Hofer | JULY 31, 2017 ★★★★★

"A behind the scenes experience like no other"

Having almost total access to an island the way few people are allowed in of itself is amazing. Every day brought many learning experiences, findings, and skill-building challenges. It was the best way to fully understand the life cycle and plight of the South African penguin. I gained so much field knowledge working alongside scientists. A bonus was seeing and learning about the other wildlife on Robben Island such as springboks and tortoises.

  • Activity Level: Moderate
  • Location: Robben Island, Cape Town, South Africa, Africa
  • Lead Scientist:

    Richard Sherley, Ph.D.

$5,010 AUD
Duration: 12 days