Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Flinders University researchers and volunteers confirm there are just 38 fairy penguins left on SA's Granite Island

Fairy penguins being fed at the Granite Island Penguin Centre.
Fairy penguins being fed at the Granite Island Penguin Centre. Source: News Limited
THE number of fairy penguins on Granite Island is slowly but surely improving, according to a new count conducted today. 
Flinders University researchers and volunteers, who conducted the census on the south coast island off Victor Harbor, say there are now a total of 38 penguins living on the island, up from 26 last year.
While the numbers have steadily improved, they are dramatically down from the more than 1500 penguins that inhabited the island in 2001.

Dr Dianne Colombelli-Negrel, of Flinders University's School of Biological Sciences, headed the census funded by the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources. "What we're thinking is the numbers are stabilising," she said. "What we're counting is the number of active burrows - every burrow we count for two penguins (but) we need to make sure there are actually penguins in the burrows."

Her team will be back on the island next week to microchip the penguins and determine what stage of breeding they are at. She said she believed there was a combination of factors why numbers were so low. "(They have) predators on land like dogs and cats ... and fur seals," she said.

"It could be malnutrition if they don't have... enough food. There's also a possibility that they're going somewhere else ... a lot of penguins from Kangaroo Island have been found on Phillip Island."
Since 2011, Natural Resources Adelaide and Mt Lofty Ranges coast and marine manager Tony Flaherty said they had received $400,000 in funding for various conservation projects for the penguins.

He said they needed to figure out why and how the numbers were declining before they could introduce a possible breeding program on the island. "If you do something to reintroduce penguins (now) … you are just going to be releasing animals back into a situation where they may continue to decline," he said.


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