Little Penguins in Big Study

Victoria’s estimated 100,000 Little Penguins are under the spotlight as researchers conduct the first state-wide survey of the seabirds in more than 30 years.

Melbourne’s The Age newspaper ran an article yesterday on our partnership with Phillip Island Nature Park – and how they’re using GIS technology to map the Little Penguin species, their habitats and their predators.

The scientists from Phillip Island will spend the next three years collecting data from around 40 Victorian seabird colonies in the region, to gauge species numbers and answer questions about why Little Penguins choose certain locations to burrow, breed and rear their chicks.

This data is then generated into an interactive maps, and enables researchers to see relationships and patterns in the data that might otherwise have gone unnoticed.

 The paper interviewed our Victorian Business Manager Jean-Noel Jarnet and Phillip Island Nature Parks Research Biologist Dr Duncan Sutherland.

“GIS stores all of our data about the characteristics of penguin burrows, such as their relation to predators, vegetation and classes of soil, and displays it as layers over a map,” Dr Sutherland said.

 “Having the information visually represented in this manner highlights important issues – for example, we can quickly see that burrows are more likely to be close to the coastline or in areas where there are higher densities of certain types of plants.  We can then surmise why that might be and use our conclusions to develop management strategies that benefit the penguins.” 

The Phillip Island Nature Parks’ choice to deploy GIS positions them at the forefront of conservation practices in the country.

For those who haven’t had a chance to see them – the Little Penguins on Phillip Island provide Victoria with one of its most popular tourist attractions, with the creatures attracting almost 500,000 tourists and adding more than $100 million to the state’s economy annually. Much has been done to protect the animals already, including a large scale residential property buy-back of land within the colony on Phillip Island, as well as intensive research, education and conservation programs.

“Penguins are a valuable indicator of the health of the local marine ecosystem and provide us with an accurate understanding of the state of fish stocks and water quality,” Dr Sutherland said. “They are also a group of marine species that people find easy to identify with. In that sense they are a flagship for environmental causes in general and crucial to delivering other environmental messages.”

 Dr Sutherland said the survey results would be compared to those of the last study, undertaken between 1978 and 1980, and are expected to inform Victorian penguin management policy for decades.

 You can read the article here.

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