Tiana Preston of Monash University examines one of St Kilda's little penguins.
Bay watchers to track 'forgotten' penguins
October 27, 2008
THEY have been dubbed the "forgotten penguins" of Victoria, but the lives of St Kilda's little penguin colony will soon be far less private.
Researchers and conservationists have teamed up to create a high-tech tracking program for the St Kilda colony, amid fears that the penguins' health has been ignored during the dredging of Port Phillip Bay.
By taping GPS devices weighing just 30 grams to the backs of the birds, researchers will soon be able to trace their exact movements during their daily journey, which is believed to span about 30 kilometres and 12 hours.
A key aim of the project will be to determine how much time the penguins spend swimming and hunting in parts of the bay affected by the dredging, with initial trials suggesting there is significant overlap.
The famous penguins of Phillip Island have been extensively monitored, but environmentalists remain angry that no official measures were implemented for the St Kilda colony.
"The ones at St Kilda are at the coalface. They are the ones which are surrounded by the channel deepening project; they are the ones that are going to be surrounded by any ongoing sediment in the water or any sort of toxins that might be disturbed and spread around the bay," Australian Conservation Foundation spokesman Chris Smyth said.
The ACF has teamed with Monash University PhD student Tiana Preston to conduct the study, which will run for the next month.
Dredging has the potential to affect penguins by creating a turbid plume in the water, which potentially threatens stocks of fish such as anchovies and, in turn, birds that feed on them.
Official monitoring of the Phillip Island penguins through winter showed healthy weights.
But Mr Smyth said the Phillip Island birds were not the best indicator of health in Port Phillip Bay, given their travelling range spreads from Western Port to Warrnambool.
An anchovy study by Fisheries Victoria during winter recorded more than 140,000 anchovies in the bay, but because the study was the first of its kind, officials were wary of using the data to judge the health of stocks.
Ms Preston said there was no evidence at this stage to prove that dredging had harmed the St Kilda birds, but the study would help all aspects of managing and protecting the colony.
Story and photo courtesy of theage.com.au @