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No-take zones may protect populations of targeted marine species and restore the integrity of marine ecosystems, but it is unclear whether they benefit top predators that rely on mobile pelagic fishes. In South Africa, foraging effort of breeding African penguins decreased by 30 per cent within three months of closing a 20 km zone to the competing purse-seine fisheries around their largest colony. After the fishing ban, most of the penguins from this island had shifted their feeding effort inside the closed area. Birds breeding at another colony situated 50 km away, whose fishing grounds remained open to fishing, increased their foraging effort during the same period. This demonstrates the immediate benefit of a relatively small no-take zone for a marine top predator relying on pelagic prey. Selecting such small protected areas may be an important first conservation step, minimizing stakeholder conflicts and easing compliance, while ensuring benefit for the ecosystems within these habitats.