VICTOR HARBOR - The possibility of Little Penguins becoming extinct is becoming the biggest fear of City of Victor Harbor mayor Graham Philp. "Extinction is forever and I am becoming frustrated that the government is not looking at reports of the past and not reacting to the risks associated with Little Penguins on Granite Island and Kangaroo Island," Mr Philp said. "Flinders University were charged with counting Little Penguins on Granite Island, Kangaroo Island and also Troubridge Island and this report is still to be approved for release by the Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges NRM Board."
At the City of Victor Harbor council meeting on Monday, June 23 elected members passed a motion to request the Local Government Association to lobby the state government to initiate a breeding program of Little Penguins from identified populations to ensure longevity of their unique DNA and to introduce a management plan and implement strategies for the control of New Zealand Fur Seals.
Councillors Bob Marshall and Barbara Bond were against the motion and Cr Marshall moved a motion for an adjournment until the next council meeting on July 28, where a presentation could occur from a marine biologist recommended by the Conservation Council of SA. The motion was defeated. "While we do more studies we lose a penguin," councillor Tim Telfer said. "Act now before we lose the lot."
Fifteen years ago there were 1500 Little Penguins on Granite Island, in 2011 it dropped to 102, 2012 to 26 and at the 2013 census, which is yet to be released there was "evidence" of 35. "Since the awareness campaign began, it was soon realised that the Little Penguin populations across South Australia were generally in sharp decline," Mr Philp said. "This has not gone unnoticed as South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI) have instigated three reports on what is happening to our Little Penguins.
These reports were released in 2007, 2010 and 2011. The report in 2007 focused solely on the Little Penguin colony on Granite Island and concluded that the decline could be due primarily to the very significant levels of predation by local New Zealand Fur Seals. "Their population has increased rapidly over the last 20 years."
Mr Philp described the local Little Penguin colony as an iconic species in the region, and a major tourism attraction which brings in significant economic revenue. He said all of SARDI's reports show it is a statewide problem.
A community investigation revealed the penguin colonies in the vicinity of Robe and Kingston have also been reduced dramatically and New Zealand Fur Seals have also increased in numbers in this area, while on the West Coast at Pearson Island, which had 12,000 penguins living on it in 2006, reports are that the population has been decimated. "We are unable to know exactly how far they have declined, but we know that about eight Little Penguin colonies are now extinct on Kangaroo Island," Mr Philp said. "Scientists have attributed this to the increase in the population of New Zealand Fur Seals. "This may have been because the New Zealand Fur Seals eat penguins but may also be attributed to them competing for the same food source. "With the decline so dramatic and their gene pool so limited there needs to be a breeding program put in place to ensure their survival."
The Little Penguin colony on Troubridge Island off the Yorke Peninsula is also under threat according to Mr Philp, with numbers dropping from more than 3000 birds to 1200. "Again SARDI concluded New Zealand Fur Seals are the possible causes of the extinction or decline of many colonies," Mr Philp said. "Dr Dianne Colombelli-Negri, Penguin Ecologist at Flinders University and Professor Sonia Kleindorfer, School of Biological Sciences, Flinders University said the problems for the Little Penguins are at sea and that there is evidence of three major threats and they are predation by fur seals, starvation and parasites."