Penguins in St Kilda, Melbourne

With over 50% of the world’s population living in urban areas, urbanization is one of the main threats to biodiversity. Some plant and animal species may thrive in urban areas, whereas others find the pressures of urbanization challenging. Urbanization has been linked with local extinctions.

The little penguin (Eudyptula minor) (AKA blue or fairy penguins) has colonized an area by the St Kilda breakwater in Melbourne harbour. The colony is only a few kilometres from Melbourne’s CBD. The birds are believed to have colonized the area after the construction of the breakwater for the 1956 Melbourne Olympic games. The penguins are believed to have come from Philip Island, over 100 km away to the south-east. The birds have been attracted by the safe hiding places, lack of predators, and plentiful supply of food. The plentiful supply of food is believed to be the main factor. The diet of the St Kilda penguins consists mainly of anchovies obtained in Melbourne harbour. There is a plentiful supply of anchovies and pilchards in Melbourne Bay in winter and so the penguins exert less energy is trying to find food. In contrast, penguins from Philip Island may travel hundreds of kilometres over a period of weeks in order to find food. As a result, St Kilda penguins breed earlier than their counterparts in Philip Island, and they use the same nest site each year.

On the other hand, they face numerous challenges such as the noise, light, pollution and presence of humans, oil pollution, dog-walkers, boating activity, fishing equipment and litter. It is possible that in future, over-fishing by humans may reduce the stocks of anchovies and pilchards. A recently constructed fence has made public access more limited although public access is beneficial for raising awareness and generating funding for conservation.

Research has shown that there are more breeding pairs of penguins in the areas where human presence is prohibited than in areas where the public have access.

The population of little penguins on Philip Island has become a major tourist attraction, and the penguins have adapted to the presence of humans and the extra night-time lighting and boardwalks that have been put in. The money raised from tourism helps run the conservation area. Phillip Island has some 16,000 breeding pairs of little penguins, and the conservation area is run by the Philip Island Nature Parks.

Penguins and tourists at St Kilda

Visit the Earthcare website at http://earthcarestkilda.org.au/
And Phillip Islands Nature Parks at https://www.penguins.org.au/conservation/

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