Saturday, March 26, 2016

Flinders University census results show decimated Granite Island little penguin population may be recovering

Little penguins may be making a recovery on Granite Island, Victor Harbor. Picture: Nedra Haines.
FIVE little penguin chicks from five breeding pairs on Granite Island at Victor Harbor represent a ray of hope for the colony after years of decline, a Flinders University researcher says.

Ecologist Dr Diane Colombelli-Négrel has released the results of the latest penguin census, which suggests numbers on Granite Island have stabilised. “There used to be hundreds of little penguins when community counts began in 2001,” she said. “The 2001 census found an estimated 1548 adults, so the decline has been steep. Estimates fell from 828 in 2002, to only 102 in 2011 and 26 penguins in 2012.”

But since then, numbers have been fairly steady. In 2013 there were 38 little penguins, in 2014 there were 32. The last count, in October, found an estimated 22 penguins including five breeding pairs. From those, five chicks fledged last year.
Dr Colombelli-Négrel said the future for the little penguins was “still uncertain, to be honest” because they were dealing with so many threats, including predation on land and at sea, food shortages and more parasites and diseases from warmer water with climate change. “You can’t just point the finger at the seal and ‘that’s it’,” she said.

But there is hope for the penguin colony, if factors decreasing their number were removed they can come up again, Dr Colombelli-Négrel said. “It could be that numbers are just returning to a normal level because in the past there weren’t that many penguins on Granite Island,” Dr Colombelli-Négrel said. “We have information that in the 1980s that there were 500 to 600 penguins on the island, so it seems there has been a boom around 2000-2001. Penguins are opportunistic, if they find a good spot they take advantage of it.”

National Parks SA Fleurieu district ranger in charge Paul Unsworth said Easter was a good time to remind visitors that dogs were not allowed on the island. “This is a protective measure for penguins as well as the other birds and animals that call the island home,” he said.

It is also important to be careful with torches because bright lights can blind penguins for hours and make them vulnerable to attack.


No comments: