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I severely underestimated what it would be like to walk 130 kilometres from Gansbaai to Boulders Beach as it doesn’t seem that long when you are whizzing along by car. I reassured myself that it was just 25km a day – easy as pie. I hike all the time, I’m not drastically unfit, and I have no major injuries; really, how hard could it be?

Waddle for penguins

It turns out it’s hard. Very hard. Well, it was for me at least. By the third day I was in a state of mental torment and suffering the wrath of my feet with every passing kilometre. The blisters were also racking up faster than Eskom’s excuses for load shedding.

A week long waddle for penguins

I now have a completely different perspective of long distance walking, but I also have a newfound respect for a little seabird that was my inspiration for taking part in the week long Waddle.

The African penguin (Spheniscus demersus) is endemic to the Southern African coastline. There are 27 breeding colonies, eight islands and one mainland site along the coast of southern Namibia, ten islands and two mainland sites along the coast of the Western Cape in South Africa, and six islands in Algoa Bay in the Eastern Cape.

For the love of penguins

waddle walk 2015

However, this little guy is in serious trouble. The minimum viable population is estimated to be 50,000 pairs and the current population is less than half of this critical threshold. The critical decline equates to having lost 1,600 birds per week (more than two birds per hour) over the past century, which is all the more reason why we need to start taking action to reverse this while we still can.

Educating children about penguins

South Africa has a long history of environmental activism for the preservation of our natural resources. The South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) was formed in 1996, and in 2011 Greenpeace South Africa activists protested dependence on coal before the country hosted a global conference on climate change. In 2012 and 2013 anti-fracking protesters marched to Shell head offices, calling on all South Africans to take a stand against oil and gas pollution. In 2014 dozens of animal rights activists gathered outside the Japanese embassy to protest against the slaughter of dolphins and small whales in Japan. Ocean activist, Conn Bertish, even did a performance piece where he hacked the fin off a surfboard outside the Chinese consulate to protest against shark finning. These were all campaigns that brought an issue into the public arena, but what effect do online campaigns have?

There is a debate whether online environmental activism promotes a certain ‘slacktivism’, where people show support for a cause but only superficially. I use this word lightly because I’ve been called this before and it irks me as it depends on the project and isn’t always fair. In each case, it is necessary to examine the effect that the click of a button could have on a larger scale. The same could be argued of honking a car horn, which we were requesting of motorists.

Hoot for penguins

Save the penguins

The journalist Alexander White perfectly summarises my feelings perfectly:

“Motivating people is not like a switch — either on or off — but a spectrum. People grow in passion and commitment, and causes build up over time. Lots of small actions contribute to massive change. Grassroots movements have a rich and potent history demonstrating that the big wins were only achieved through lots of people doing lots of little things over a long period of time. The labour movement throughout the world, the anti-war movements, women’s rights and suffrage movements, anti-Apartheid and civil rights. Each of these has been ‘social’, built around face-to-face, personal contact. And each of these disruptive movements has used the latest technology to get their message out and raise their voice in the town square. Whether the printing press, telegrams and telephones, handbills, fax machines or more recently text messages, email and Twitter. Taking online action offline isn’t easy, but the entire reason for engaging with activism online is to work at having a real-world impact, even if only a small one.”

To affect any meaningful change we should always look to be planting seeds in the public consciousness in any way, whether this be in the form of robust action, covert films or shock tactics. Or simply going for a walk.

Walking 130km for penguins

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Linda is working as a freelance a photojournalist, travel and fiction writer. She considers herself to be the better looking half of Moving Sushi and the only one who is ever online. She blogs on behalf of Moving Sushi for various online magazines and writes travel guides for Buggl.com. Her main loves are writing about travel, the natural world around us and how we as people interact with it, as long as it’s not anything to do with snakes. Snakes give her the willies. Follow along @moving_sushi.