Antarctic penguins in decline
New research by UNSW's Climate Change Research Centre reveals the staggering decline of Adelie penguin numbers at Cape Denison in Antarctica, following the grounding of a 97km iceberg in Commonwealth Bay.
Mawland, which runs the Quarantine Station site at North Head in Manly, has applied for a raft of variations to its planning controls, including playing music in an outdoor area metres away from penguin nests, boosting visitor numbers and carrying out environmental audits less frequently.
The submission also includes a request to remove the NSW Parks and Wildlife Service as co-proponents of the site, which would mean that Mawland would accept primary responsibility for implementing the conditions of planning approval.
Little penguins at Manly Sea Life Sanctuary in Manly. Photo: Janie Barrett JEMBut environmentalists are concerned that such changes will threaten the endangered penguin colony, which is still struggling to recover from the loss of more than two dozen penguins killed by a fox last year.
Dr Judy Lambert, a committee member on the North Head Sanctuary Foundation, said she was concerned the proposed change to co-proponency would largely leave the care of the Little Penguin colony in the hands of a company that runs for profit with no environmental expertise. Another group, Friends of Quarantine Station, is also concerned.
"The population is threatened with extinction. They are right on the borderline of survival," said Dr Lambert. "The change to the co-proponency linked with the other proposed changes are a major concern because Mawland is first and foremost a hotel operator not an environmental manager."
Dr Judy Lambert, a committee member on the North Head Sanctuary Foundation, is concerned that changes to how the Quarantine Station in Manly is run could impact the endangered penguin colony. Photo: Peter RaeA spokesman for the Parks and Wildlife Service, which initiated the change to the clause, said the government body would remain the determining authority on the site and hold responsibility for all cultural and environment management issues.
"With the site now fully operational, with building and adaptive reuse works substantially complete, the proposed removal of co-proponency references will better reflect the lessor/lessee responsibilities at the Q Station," the spokesman said.
The historic 36-hectare historic site has been managed by Mawland for nearly 10 years, after the company was controversially granted approval for the adaptive re-use of the site in 2003.
The Little Penguin colony at North Head is the last remaining penguin colony on the NSW mainland. Photo: Peter Rae
Mawland's submission, which drew upon studies of penguin colonies at St Kilda and Port Phillip Island in Victoria, said it was "unlikely" the dining music would have any adverse impacts on the penguins.
The nest penguins would be monitored and if there were any consequences a sound barrier could be installed, music would be lowered, stopped or directed away from the penguins.
A director at the company, Suzanne Stanton, said the changes would allow the site to be shown to visitors in the best way and nothing would be done to upset the penguins.
"I think this has been blown out of proportion because the music we are talking about is very quiet, ambient dining music," Ms Stanton said. "It will just be a little tinkling, quiet, cool jazz. I doubt the penguins will even be able to hear it where they are."
But Tony Garman, the co-ordinator of the Penguin Wardens program, questioned whether there was any reason to take the risk.
"When there are penguins that are already nesting in a quiet, secluded area we don't know what's going to happen if they suddenly get more noise and activity and they may be fine and they may not and that's a risk," Mr Garman said.
Mr Garman was also concerned by the company's proposal to drop environmental audits from every five years to every eight years. Mawland says it scored an 'outstanding' in its first audit and the current frequency requirement was a drain on resources.
Public submissions on the plan have now closed. It will be the Department of Planning and Environment that will determine whether the changes are approved.