Marine conservationist and shark expert Sophumelela Qoma is adding her voice to the call to save the African penguin from extinction.
The 29-year-old from Ngqushwa in Eastern Cape is the youth ambassador for the #NotOnOurWatch African penguin survival campaign.
Qoma and 17-year-old Keira King were introduced on Friday as the young voices that will be working to raise awareness and funds on the plight of the African penguin. The campaign is supported by the Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation.
The charming African penguin, which is only found in South Africa and Namibia, is facing extinction by 2035 if action is not taken to safeguard the species. A scary thought for Qoma, who is a passionate advocate for marine conservation.
Qoma is also the co-founder of the Sharks Research Unit based in Mossel Bay, Western Cape.
“I cannot imagine a world without the African penguin; not only are they charming but they tell us a lot about the health of the ocean. There’s also a lot of information we cannot access about these species because not enough research exists.”
Qoma, who has been involved in conservation efforts to save the African penguin for almost three years, said it was this relationship that saw her selected as ambassador.
“I have been involved in marine conservation since 2017 as part of my experiential training,” she said.
“I choose to study marine conservation because I love the outdoors.”
She also wants to inspire more black people to show interest and pursue careers in marine sciences, said the Nelson Mandela University graduate.
On October 14 – on International African Penguin Awareness Day – which is supported by the United Nations, Qoma and King will be leading the charge of the biggest international waddle.
The second Saturday of October has been declared International African Penguin Awareness Day since the African penguins were put on the list of endangered species in the US.
The waddles, Qoma said, some of which are happening next week from Tuesday to Thursday are but a part of what people can do to raise awareness about the plight of the African penguin.
About 10 400 breeding pairs remain, down from 1- million pairs in the early 1900s, she said.
“The biggest job is to get policymakers and the fisheries minister to be part of the solution to preserve the African penguins.”
Qoma is also the founder of the iOcean Investment Fund, which develops children’s interest in the marine field through swimming, diving and media-
She is the African regional coordinator for Minorities in Shark Sciences, the biodiversity representative for Africa and deputy secretary for the
International Union for Conservation of Nature’s African Protected Areas Congress youth programme, a dive fellow at the Nature Environment and Wildlife Conservation Trust, and the Keep Fin Alive ambassador.