Saturday, September 20, 2014

Little penguins under threat from proposed Mangles Bay marina development

Little Penguins  
Photo: Dr Cannell believes the Little Penguins are under threat from the new marina.
The proposed Mangles Bay marina development, south of Perth, could further erode the little penguins' habitats, an expert says.
Dr Belinda Cannell of Murdoch University has been studying the little penguin colonies on Garden and Penguin Islands, off the coast of Rockingham, for 20 years.
The conservation biologist believes the planned marina, which would accommodate up to 500 boat pens and a residential and tourism development, could further impact the penguins' home.
"We don't have penguin colonies any further north in WA than here," she said.
"They are also genetically distinct so this is a very important colony to maintain."
Dr Cannell believed the species was already struggling because the adult penguins were travelling further afield to find food, leaving their chicks for long periods.
"They are doing some amazingly long trips," she said.
"One [penguin went] to Margaret River, who was away for 14, 15 days."
Dr Cannell has been monitoring the penguins' movements using GPS tracking devices as part of a three-year research program.
She cites cases where chicks in nests on Penguin Island have died of starvation while their parents travel well beyond their traditional foraging grounds.
Increased sea surface temperatures linked to strong La Nina conditions in 2011 were thought to be the cause for a decline in the stocks of fish that the penguins feed on.

Little penguins under threat from boats and jet-skis

Dr Cannell said she is also concerned about the number of penguins being hit by boats and jet-skis.
"We often find birds that have got propeller cuts along their backs, birds with broken bones, broken skulls and fractured necks," she said.
Dr Cannell was concerned the new Mangles Bay marina being developed by Cedar Woods Properties Ltd, which was approved by the Environmental Protection Authority earlier this year, will increase boat traffic.
In an appeal against the EPA's decision, Dr Cannell called for the development not to be approved "to ensure the protection of the little penguin population on Garden Island".
She said the abundance of fish that the penguins feed on, is likely to be affected by the seagrass lost during construction.
"I've been looking at foraging habitat for these penguins since 2007 and those areas are so important for those penguins," she said.
"That area, the southern half of Cockburn Sound, is used exclusively by the little penguins on Garden Island while they are raising their chicks so it's a very important area for these penguins."
The development is currently before Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt for approval.
Cedar Woods Properties Ltd managing director Paul Sadleir said it would be operating under strict conditions set down by the EPA.
"There will be marine fauna observers there to inspect the construction site before we start," he said.
"The spoil from the dredging will be taken onshore so there won't be clouding and sediment all through the Sound."
Among other conditions, the proponents are also required to re-plant twice the area of seagrass lost during construction.
"I think it's also worth noting that the 5.6 hectares of sea grass that will be removed as part of the marina project is about point one of one per cent of the total southern part of Cockburn Sound," Mr Sadleir said.
However, Dr Cannell was unconvinced by the conditions and said not enough was known about the penguins' habitat to ensure it would not be affected by the development.
"Really these penguins are an indicator of how healthy the whole coastal eco system is and if they end up dying out, then that means our whole coastal eco system is dying as well," she said.


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