Photo: Experts think many locals believe there are no longer penguins on the island. (ABC News: Natalie Whiting)
Against many people's expectations, a determined colony of little penguins in South Australia is fighting back after a decade of population decline.Twenty-two birds were recorded in last year's census, which is roughly the same number recorded in the years since 2012.
The figures are in stark contrast to the year 2000 when there were about 1,600 penguins on the island.
While mystery still surrounds the dramatic drop in bird numbers, and while the population has stabilised and the remaining penguins are breeding well, researchers say they are still in need of protection.
Dr Diane Colombelli-Negrel is a penguin ecologist at Flinders University and has been studying the fall in penguin numbers for three years.
She said a number of factors were thought to have contributed to the decline, including predators such as seals or dogs.
"At the moment, the big emphasis is on parasites because we know that on a small population that can have a drastic impact," she said.
It is also difficult to assess the drop in numbers because of a lack of historical data.
Penguins can be temporarily blinded by torch lightsNow that the colony has stabilised, Dr Colombelli-Negrel said the population needed ongoing protection to rebuild.
"This is very important with a small number to be careful about how people behave with those penguins and to be aware that they're there," she said.
Photo: Dogs are banned on the island but there are fears some people still take them there. (ABC News: Natalie Whiting)
Researchers have been finding that some locals think there are no penguins left and they could be endangering the birds by using torches or disturbing them at night.
The white light from torches can blind penguins for hours.
"Every single day that we're out there working on the penguins, we have comments from people saying, 'There's no penguins left on the island', Dr Colombelli-Negre said.
"We are trying to run some workshops, some public talks, but we are not getting a lot of interest because I think a lot of people think there's no penguins anymore."
While dogs are banned on the island, there are concerns that visitors or locals may still take them there.
Stephen Hedges has been running penguin tours on the island for more than 10 years and believes word is spreading in the community about the remaining penguins.
A group of locals has also been fixing burrows and planting shrubs that penguins use for nesting materials.
Mr Hedges said many locals were interested in helping the penguins.
"I think it's crucial, because of all the factors that are putting them under pressure maybe out at sea, it could be their health, it could be food, it could be climate factors," he said.
"If their home, where their burrows are, if we can do the best we can with that part of their lives, if we can make that part of it successful, then we're doing hopefully all we can."
Photo: As well as running penguin-spotting tours, locals have been looking after the environment the penguins nest in. (ABC News: Natalie Whiting)