Celebrating World Oceans Day with African Penguins

Posted June 8, 2020 by Christi Nakajima

Today is World Oceans Day, and we’re celebrating with a sneak peak at the development of our new African Penguin habitat! Watch the video below to check it out.

Click to zoom in on our new African penguin habitat plan.

The new habitat will be three times larger than the previous habitat and feature a dynamic pool area, outdoor heating and cooling, and a significantly larger indoor bedroom area with a pool and UV-transmitting skylights. These improvements will encourage breeding, expand nesting sites, and ultimately result in a thriving colony of over 30 birds – a crucial step in the protection of this endangered species.


In the wild, African penguins mostly eat sardines and anchovies, diving to depths of over 400 ft to find their next meal. Unfortunately, their diet is part of why these incredible swimmers are endangered – overfishing of sardines and anchovies has led to depleted fish stocks, contributing to an over 60% population decline in African penguin populations over 28 years.  The good news is that we still have time to save this species, and you can help us! Simply download Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch app or visit the website for a guide on choosing sustainable seafood. Some carnivorous farmed fish, like bluefin tuna, are fed anchovies and sardines, including those caught off the South African coast. So by choosing seafood that was farmed or caught in a sustainable way, you can help safeguard African penguin populations. Here at the Zoo, all of the seafood we serve is rated “best choice” by Seafood Watch!


African penguins aren’t our only marine species;  we’re also home to Little One the polar bear, common murres, puffins, king penguins, and more! The world’s oceans support a huge diversity of species, and one common trend that affects at least 800 of those species is plastic pollution. It’s not hard to see how ubiquitous plastic is in our daily lives – just about everything from chip bags to disposable water bottles to grocery bags to drinking straws are made of plastic. However, what might not be as obvious are the ways this plastic ends up in our oceans. Only 9% of the plastic produced is recycled, which means that a lot gets thrown away. When plastic is discarded in the environment, rain often carries it into the nearest river or stream. In the case of Cincinnati, plastic that ends up in the Ohio River is carried downstream into the Mississippi River, and eventually into the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean. Thus, only about 20% of marine debris (most of which is plastic) originates from at-sea disposal, while 80% originates as land-based trash. Plastic that ends up in the ocean harms wildlife that mistake it for food or get entangled in it. Plastics also leach potentially toxic chemicals like bisphenol a (BPA) and polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which can interfere with the reproductive systems of animals and humans. 


While the problem may seem daunting, it’s important to remember that if we all work to reduce our own plastic consumption, we can collectively make a large impact. Start small by thinking about one single-use plastic item (in other words, an item you use once and then recycle or throw away) you commonly buy or receive, such as plastic water bottles or straws. Make a note of it every time you use that item, and after a few weeks, you’ll see just how quickly it can add up. Once you have a good idea of how often you use that type of plastic, try switching to a reusable alternative – you’ll be able to see how large of an impact you’re having every month! If you’d like to support the Zoo while passing on plastic, you can even purchase a reusable water bottle at our online shop here! Feel free to take a selfie with your reusable alternative and share it with us on Twitter @CincinnatiZoo!