By Rebecca Fox on Mon, 3 Aug 2009
News: Dunedin | Conservation
Yellow-eyed penguins are nesting in greater number at Sandfly Bay, giving the Department of Conservation hope its programmes to reduce human impact on the endangered species are working.
At Saturday's Yellow-eyed Penguin Symposium at University College in Dunedin, Doc Coastal Otago community relations programme manager David Mules said recent work to reduce the impact of humans on wildlife at the Otago Peninsula beach - such as more signs and interpretation panels, an extension of the hide and a volunteer programme - was hopefully starting to have an effect.
Visitor numbers had increased at the beach, adversely affecting its penguin population, research had shown.
Eleven volunteers had spent a total of 136 days last summer encouraging visitors to the beach to respect the wildlife.
The number of nesting pairs of yellow-eyed penguins on the beach had risen from eight in 2007-08, when the volunteer programme started, to 15 in 2008-09.
"We'd like to think it's trending in the right direction. We are heartened by what we are seeing," Mr Mules said.
It would take about five years before there was a clearer picture of the impact of the programmes, he said.
Doc believed it was vital to sustain the breeding population on the beach, as only four beaches in Otago had public hides from which to view penguins.
"Failure to sustain Sandfly Bay means the public will go elsewhere where there isn't protection, so it's key we hold on to this population."
Sandfly Bay was popular due to it being a freely accessible public beach just 20 minutes from Dunedin.
"It's inevitable it will be targeted by those who want to independently see wildlife."
The beach received at least 25,000 visitors annually.
Numbers peaked in January at more than 200 a day.
However, visitor numbers for the 2008-09 summer were 20% down on the year before, he said.
"This decrease has helped to give us a bit of a breather before the next onslaught as economic conditions improve."
With only 50% of visitors reading the interpretation panels, more signs were was needed and it was hoped these would go up before summer.