Boulders Beach

General Information


Global IBA (A1, A4ii)


Western Cape


Fully Protected


40 ha



Additional Info

  • Site description

    Boulders Beach is situated in Simon’s Town on the False Bay coast of the Cape Peninsula, 35 km south of Cape Town. The site consists of small beaches with granite boulders. The vegetation at Boulders consists mainly of thickets of coastal strandveld that cover approximately 3 ha. The IBA boundaries coincide with the Boulders Beach portion of the Table Mountain National Park and include the section of land to the south known as Burghers’ Walk.


    African Penguin Spheniscus demersus colonised Boulders Beach in 1985 when two breeding pairs were recorded. The colony has increased steadily: there were approximately 700 active nests in 1997 and in 2014 more than 800 breeding pairs were present, representing approximately 6% of the global population. This is one of only three mainland breeding sites in the world. The penguins use the vegetation for shelter while breeding and moulting. Small numbers of Crowned Cormorant Phalacrocorax coronatus occasionally roost on the rocks. Cape Cormorant P. capensis, however, can now be seen roosting in very large numbers and has been included as an IBA trigger species. African Black Oystercatcher Haematopus moquini often occurs on the beach and an estimated two breeding pairs use the site regularly. Cape Spurfowl Pternistis capensis and Cape Bulbul Pycnonotus capensis are strandveld residents. Cape Sugarbird Promerops cafer occasionally visits from the slopes above the beach.

    IBA trigger species

    Globally threatened species are African Penguin (3 078 individuals and 962 breeding pairs; this and the following figures from regular SANParks census counts, 2014), African Black Oystercatcher (two breeding pairs) and Cape Cormorant (10 000 individuals).

    Other biodiversity

    The largest mammal found along this section of coast is the Cape clawless otter Aonyx capensis. Other mammals frequently seen include the Cape grey mongoose Galerella pulverulenta, water mongoose Atilax paludinosus, large-spotted genet Genetta tigrina and rock hyrax Procavia capensis. The most common mammal is the rock hyrax, which prefers the granite rocky outcrops surrounded by dense vegetation. Reptiles seen along this coastline include southern rock agama Agama atra, red-sided skink Trachylepis homalocephala, Cape skink T. capensis, short-legged seps Tetradactylus seps, Knox's desert lizard Meroles knoxii, marbled leaf-toed gecko Afrogecko porphyreus, Cape cobra Naja nivea, puff adder Bitis arietans and boomslang Dispholidus typus.

    Conservation issues


    The threats to Boulders Beach are synonymous with the threats to the African Penguin across its range as this is the primary trigger species for this IBA. Competition with commercial fisheries, especially purse-seining for surface-shoaling fish such as pilchard Sardinops sagax, has been implicated as one of the most significant factors causing the global population decline of African Penguin.

    Another problem is chronic pollution. Difficult to predict or control, it occurs when tankers break open, wash their tanks, dump cargo or pump bilge and crude oil or other environmental pollutants into the sea. Penguins are affected particularly badly by such spills and a single oil disaster can severely affect populations. The Apollo Sea oil-spill disaster in June 1994 resulted in many penguin deaths in and around the Cape Peninsula.

    Land-based threats at Boulders include predation by feral cats Felis catus and small-spotted genet Genetta genetta. Disturbance due to uncontrolled tourism and recreational use in areas adjacent to Table Mountain National Park is a problem. As a result of strict management measures at Boulders, the penguins at this site are remarkably accustomed to people and the colony continues to increase in numbers and size, despite its exposure to large numbers of visitors. Road-kills, due to the colony’s proximity to a major road, do occur but these have reduced in number since the appointment of dedicated penguin monitors. Speeding vehicles, however, remain an ongoing threat to the safety of penguins on the road.

    Conservation action

    A portion of this IBA is a declared national park and therefore receives full legislative protection under the management of SANParks. In line with this declaration, a comprehensive management plan exists, which guides the implementation of the necessary conservation actions required at the site. However, the Burghers’ Walk section of the IBA, which is managed by the City of Cape Town, does not enjoy the same protection or conservation status.

    Conservation actions at Boulders include the control of tourism activities; raising visitors’ and local residents’ awareness about the penguins; dedicated monitors patrolling adjacent areas to reduce disturbance; the monitoring of stressed birds and the appropriate response protocol when necessary; and a chick-bolstering project to raise additional birds to further supplement the population.

    A Threatened Species Management Plan, involving all stakeholders, has also been produced specifically for the African Penguin to guide conservation efforts for this species across its range.

    Related webpages


    If you have any information about the IBA, such as a new threat that could impact on it, please send an e-mail to or call BirdLife South Africa +27 (11) 789 1122.

    Page last updated

    Monday, 19 January 2015

    Further Reading

    Adams NJ. 1991. Patterns and impacts of oiling of African Penguins Spheniscus demersus 1981–1991. Biological Conservation 68: 35–41.

    Cooper J, Williams AJ, Britton PL. 1984. Distribution, population sizes and conservation of breeding seabirds in the Afrotropical region. ICBP Technical Publication No. 2.

    Crawford RJM. 1995. Conservation of southern Africa’s breeding seabirds. Birding in Southern Africa 47: 106–109.

    Crawford RJM, Dyer BM. 1995. Responses by four seabird species to a fluctuating availability of Cape Anchovy Engraulis capensis off South Africa. Ibis 137: 329–339.

    Crawford RJM, Dyer BM, Brooke RK. 1994. Breeding nomadism in southern African seabirds – constraints, causes and conservation. Ostrich 65: 231–246.

    Crawford RJM, Shannon LJ, Whittington PA, Murison G. 2000. Factors influencing growth of the African penguin colony at Boulders, South Africa, 1985–1999. South African Journal of Marine Science 22(1): 111–119.

    Crawford RJM, Shelton PA. 1978. Pelagic fish and seabirds interrelationships off the coasts of South West and South Africa. Biological Conservation 14: 85–109.

    Crawford RJM, Shelton PA. 1981. Population trends for some southern African seabirds related to fish availability. In: Cooper J (ed.), Proceedings of the Symposium on Birds of the Sea and Shore, 1979. Cape Town: African Seabird Group. pp 15–41.

    Crawford RJM, Shelton PA, Brooke RK, Cooper J. 1982b. Taxonomy, distribution, population size and conservation of the Crowned Cormorant Phalacrocorax coronatus. Gerfaut 72: 3–30.

    Crawford RJM, Williams AJ, Hofmeyer JH, Klages NTW, Randall RM, Cooper J, Dyer BM, Chesselet Y. 1995c. Trends in African Penguin Spheniscus demersus populations in the 20th century. South African Journal of Marine Science 16: 101–118.

    Crawford RJM, Williams AJ, Randall RM, Randall BM, Berruti A, Ross GJB. 1990. Recent population trends in Jackass Penguins Spheniscus demersus. Biological Conservation 52: 229–243.

    Frost PGH, Siegfried WR, Cooper J. 1976. Conservation of the Jackass Penguin (Spheniscus demersus). Biological Conservation 9: 79–99.

    Hampton SL, Ryan PG, Underhill LG. 2009. The effect of flipper banding on the breeding success of African Penguins Spheniscus demersus at Boulders Beach, South Africa. Ostrich 80(2): 77–80.

    Hockey PAR. 1983. The distribution, population size, movements and conservation of the African Black Oystercatcher Haematopus moquini. Biological Conservation 25: 233–262.

    Hockey PAR, Hallinan J. 1981. Effects of human disturbance on the breeding of Jackass Penguins Spheniscus demersus. South African Journal of Wildlife Research 11: 59–62.

    Lewis SE. 2011. Valuing an ecotourism resource: a case study of the Boulders Beach African Penguin colony. MSc thesis, Institute of African Ornithology, University of Cape Town, South Africa.

    Lewis SEF, Turpie JK, Ryan PG. 2012. Are African penguins worth saving? The ecotourism value of the Boulders Beach colony. African Journal of Marine Science 34(4): 497–504.

    Morant PD, Cooper J, Randall RM. 1981. The rehabilitation of oiled Jackass Penguins Spheniscus demersus, 1970–1980. In: Cooper J (ed.), Proceedings of the Symposium on Birds of the Sea and Shore, 1979. Cape Town: African Seabird Group. pp 267–301.

    National Parks Board. 1997. Boulders Coastal Park: people, penguins and the environment – a conceptual proposal for the way forward. Internal report.

    Petersen SL, Ryan PG, Gremillet D. 2006. Is food availability limiting African Penguins Spheniscus demersus at Boulders? A comparison of foraging effort at mainland and island colonies. Ibis 148(1): 14–26.

    Petersen W. 1995. Boulders Beach. In: Petersen W, Tripp M (eds), Birds of the south-western Cape and where to watch them. Cape Town: Southern Birds 20. SAOS and the Cape Bird Club. pp 77–78.

    Randall RM, Randall BM, Bevan J. 1980. Oil pollution and penguins – is cleaning justified? Marine Pollution Bulletin 11: 234–237.

    Shelton PA, Crawford RJM, Cooper J, Brooke RK. 1982. Distribution, population size and conservation of the Jackass Penguin Spheniscus demersus. South African Journal of Marine Science 2: 217–257.

    Sherley RB, Ludynia K, Lamont T, Roux JP, Crawford RJ, Underhill LG. 2013. The initial journey of an endangered penguin: implications for seabird conservation. Endangered Species Research 21: 89–95.

    Siegfried WR. 1982. Ecology of the Jackass Penguin Spheniscus demersus, with special reference to conservation of the species. National Geographic Society Research Reports 14: 597–600.

    Summers RW, Cooper J. 1977. The population, ecology and conservation of the African Black Oystercatcher Haematopus moquini. Ostrich 48: 28–40.

    Williams AJ. 1995. Lambert’s Bay Bird Island. In: Petersen W, Tripp M (eds), Birds of the south-western Cape and where to watch them. Cape Town: Southern Birds 20. SAOS and the Cape Bird Club. pp 128–131.

    Wilson RP, Wilson MTP, Duffy DC. 1988. Contemporary and historical patterns of African Penguin Spheniscus demersus: distribution at sea. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 26: 447–458.

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