The new programme is a collaboration between the Kaikoura Coastguard and the Kaikoura Ocean Research Institute (KORI).
Founded in 2012, KORI is a network of researchers and educators conducting research on Kaikoura marine life and environment. KORI aims to create a database of marine animals sightings to be used by researchers and students, and to integrate the research into the community through school programmes, field courses and public events. The organisation's two flagship projects are a Kaikoura's Dolphins and Whales Catalogue and PEAP.
PEAP is focused on educating residents and visitors about the fascinating lives of the little blue penguin and on increasing awareness of their needs and threats to their survival.
A big part of this is inviting schools to come and visit the colony to learn about the penguins and see them in the dedicated viewing area underneath the Coastguard building. Fourteen school groups took part in PEAP this season. Penguin sponsorship has also been popular.
PEAP co-ordinator Alastair Judkins said Kaikoura was lucky to be home to the penguin, the smallest in the world.
"Being so small means they are really vulnerable to threats such as roaming dogs, cats and disturbances to their habitat, so letting people know what they can do to help is important."
Last Friday Mr Judkins managed to relocate two adult penguins that were moulting amongst the boulders about to be moved as part of the improvements to the South Bay marina. They are now safely below the Coastguard building.
Over the last month 10 penguins have been undergoing their moult in the Coastguard building. Nine of these are resident breeding adult birds, and the other is a previously unknown juvenile. When the penguins moult they remain on land in their burrows or boxes for about two weeks while their old feathers fall out and are replaced by new ones. During this period they are unable to head out to sea to feed, though the penguins do put on weight prior to the moult to ensure they don't starve. One of the penguins in the building began its moult on January 27 weighing in at a hefty 2.02 kilograms, the heaviest recorded in Kaikoura. As of February 12 he weighed 1.24kg and is still losing weight.
The penguins are very vulnerable at this stage because they are not feeding, and need to conserve their energy. If you find a penguin moulting around Kaikoura, please do not disturb it as it can be a stressful time for them. If you think it may be injured or at risk, you can call the Department of Conservation on 03 319 5641 or in an emergency 0800 362 468.
On Sunday February 10, a penguin census of the Kaikoura peninsula was conducted to locate little penguin moulting sites and to identify any individuals found. During this census no little penguins were found, further suggesting that the small colony in South Bay is a very important breeding and moulting area.
To find out more about PEAP and marine sightings off Kaikoura, check out the KORI Facebook page and subscribe to their newsfeed: Kaikoura Ocean Research Institute -KORI. If you would like to experience a PEAP before the end of the season, call KORI at 027 937 4833.