2018 Photo Contest, Environment, 3rd prize

Back in Time


Thomas P. Peschak

11 March, 2017

A historic photograph of an African penguin colony, taken in the late 1890s, is a stark contrast to the declining numbers seen in 2017 in the same location, on Halifax Island, Namibia. The colony once numbered more than 100,000 penguins.

The African penguin, once southern Africa’s most abundant seabird, is now listed as endangered. Overall, the African penguin population is just 2.5 percent of its level 80 years ago; research conducted on Halifax Island by the University of Cape Town indicates the population has more than halved in the past 30 years. Historically, the demand for guano (bird excrement used for fertilizer) was a cause of the decline: the birds burrow into deposits of guano to nest. Human consumption of eggs and overfishing of surrounding waters are also seen as causes. In the seas around Halifax Island sardine and anchovy—the chief prey of the African penguin—are now almost absent.

About the photographer

Thomas P. Peschak

Thomas P. Peschak is a National Geographic Photographer and National Geographic Explorer who specializes in documenting both the beauty and fragility of the world's oceans, i...

Technical information

Shutter Speed
Focal length
23.0 mm

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