Saturday, October 30, 2010

Tourists pay up as penguins feather their nests

Tourists pay up as penguins feather their nests

High-paying tourists are helping national park rangers to complete a survey of fairy penguin breeding habits on the NSW south coast. 

Visitors pay $690 to take part in a three-day, two-night program in the Montague Island nature reserve to record the nesting habits and growth rates of fairy penguin chicks.
The project measures breeding success and whether the penguins are producing a second clutch of chicks in the one season.
It represents both the boom sector of tourism globally and the trend by national parks services around Australia to harness commercial opportunities to help fund infrastructure and research.
The hands-on wildlife project on Montague builds on the island's successful conservation tourism program but is a first involving the island's protected inhabitants.
NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service acting head Alistair Henchman said there was an increasing focus on attracting more people into parks to help get more things done.
"We are not saying we are Australia wonderland," Mr Henchman said.
"We are saying you can come learn about the environment and help out and have a great experience."
The strategy is in line with a trend identified at an international eco-tourism conference in Noosa, Queensland, which was told the growth areas were nature-based experience travel and last-minute bookings.
Conservation Volunteers Australia national program manager Jo Davies said National Parks was increasingly looking to commercial opportunities.
CVA is a national not-for-profit, non-government organisation that helps about 15,000 people a year connect with the environment, often in partnership with National Parks throughout Australia, from Broome to Tasmania.
Montague Island tour co-ordinator Mark Westwood said: "Visitors leave as ambassadors for the island and their money helps to fund the research project."
For National Parks, the old lighthouse buildings on Montague are both an asset and a financial liability.
"We want people to come and see what a nature reserve is and to appreciate why it is a nature reserve," Mr Westwood said. "We are taking advantage of people's financial contributions in tourism to fund research which was previously collected as part of a PhD thesis. Visitors provide the manpower, we provide the education and we receive good data."
Mr Westwood said the fairy penguin breeding records would be collected for 50 years.
Visitors have previously helped with maintenance and revegetation projects, but this is the first involving research and close contact with the island's wildlife.
Mr Henchman said the Montague penguin project was a model for what National Parks would like to do in other places.


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