Perils for penguins

Ellie HoneyboneSound Telegraph

A study into the health of the little penguin colonies that call Cockburn Sound home says increased boat traffic from a future Mangles Bay marina could have a negative impact on the species.

Murdoch University scientist Dr Belinda Cannell has been researching the aquatic seabirds on Penguin Island for more than 20 years.

She recently completed a three-year study of the foraging habits and resilience of the little penguin colonies at Penguin Island and has previously studied the foraging habitats of the Garden Island colony.

Dr Cannell found that 25 per cent of known penguin mortality in the State was linked to injuries from collisions with watercraft.

“Penguins travel in the top 1m of the water and are very difficult to identify when at sea,” she said.

“It is likely that the occupants of watercraft are unaware the penguins are close by and unaware of any collisions.

“An increase in traffic in the area will have a big impact on the penguin population, especially the colony at Garden Island as they rely on Cockburn Sound entirely for food. Some of the penguins from Penguin Island also feed in Cockburn Sound.”

In the event of the construction of a marina, Dr Cannell said skipper education would be important.

“Penguins don’t stick to any boundaries, so slow speeds will be the most appropriate way forward, although slow speeds are still usually much faster than the speed at which the penguins swim,” she said.

The Mangles Bay marina proposal is a joint venture between Cedar Woods and LandCorp.

LandCorp general manager John Hackett said there were a number of strategies in place to ensure penguin colonies at Garden and Penguin islands would be better off as a result of the Mangles Bay project.

“Improved management of boating practices and increased public awareness and education will reduce the impacts on the penguin colonies,” he said.

Dr Cannell found that many of the birds from the Penguin Island colony travelled down to Warnbro Sound and Comet Bay when raising chicks, and further to Bunbury and Busselton when incubating eggs.

She also said the distances the penguins were travelling in search of food was affecting breeding rates at the colony.

“The Garden Island colony is faring better than Penguin Island because they don’t have to travel as far to feed,” she said.

Dr Cannell also said a big issue for penguins was climate change, which was affecting fish availability.

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