By DEE WILSON - The Marlborough Express
Last updated 12:04 26/08/2009
Picton's foreshore could soon become home to a colony of little blue penguins.
Next week, EcoWorld Aquarium will start putting earth on a carpark to the east of the building and building a 1.8-metre-high fence to protect the birds. Wooden nesting boxes will be installed and the area landscaped to encourage breeding in a safe environment.
There was once a large population of the penguins in Picton, but they slowly moved out to avoid people and animals.
However, some have nested under the Picton Ferry Terminal, the Queen Charlotte Yacht Club and baches and wharves, and a few in stormwater drains.
EcoWorld manager Regan Russell said the birds were in decline in the wild, especially where they were not protected from predators.
The aquarium hopes to provide a safe environment for them, and to rehome and rehabilitate injured penguins.
Mr Russell said while the attraction was building up public viewing would cost no more than the usual ticket price but if numbers built to where there were evening penguin parades there could be a separate charge.
Department of Conservation ranger Bill Cash said DOC had been in talks with Ecoworld about the idea, and backed it.
"Once the penguins get under baches, they are very noisy and smelly, so it will be nice to get them to a suitable place to nest," he said.
The nesting boxes would have a tunnel entrance leading to a box room where the penguins could sit on their eggs secure from cats, dogs and people, he said.
DOC Sounds area office programme manager Robin Cox said that when DOC put nesting boxes on Motuara Island in Queen Charlotte Sound, penguins occupied them immediately.
Their antics were extremely popular with visitors, he said.
He saw no conflict between establishing a colony on the Picton foreshore and having one in future at Kaipupu Point Mainland Island in Picton harbour. As Kaipupu Point became predator-free, some penguins would probably find their way there, he said.
Little blue penguins (korora), the smallest penguins in the world, grow 35 to 40 centimetres tall. They weigh about a kilogram. They race through the water at six kilometres an hour. They usually mate for life. The chicks return to breed close to where they were hatched.