Wednesday, 16 January 2008
The Royal Australian Navy is a perfect role model when it comes to being a good neighbour. It recently allocated more funding for a researcher from The University of Western Australia to continue monitoring a colony of Little (or Fairy) Penguins with whom it shares Garden Island, the biggest naval base in Australia. Dr Belinda Cannell from UWA’s School of Animal Biology says that all the RAN’s HMAS Stirling personnel she has met have been keen to help protect the penguins. Dr Cannell said the Department of Defence asked her to monitor the health of the penguin colony several years ago and she pays regular visits to the island, to keep an expert eye on the world’s smallest species of penguins who generally remain faithful to their mates and produce two broods of chicks in years when there is enough food. Sometimes she sees them as often as every second day and is occasionally kitted-out with Navy night-vision goggles. “With more people living and boating in the area, the penguins are under increasing threat,” she said. “However, as far as it can, the Navy has taken up my recommendations of maintaining low speeds and minimising exercises in the small harbour when the penguins are leaving from, or arriving to, their colony. “They are vigilant about cleaning up any oil spills and making sure cats and foxes don’t reach the island. They have also followed my recommendations of prohibiting manoeuvres on the beach in the Small Boats Harbour so they don’t disturb the penguin burrows in the tussock grass or in the rock wall.” The penguins are often more at risk from pleasure craft, fishing boats, wind and kite-surfers and jet-skis than the Navy’s big ships, she said. As well as the danger of colliding with these smaller watercraft, penguins could be harmed by fishing line, heavy metals, over-fishing and destruction of fish nursery sites. The Navy is so proud the colony has chosen Garden Island as a safe site to call home that HMAS Stirling named its environmental certificate of merit “The Little Penguin Award”. With the Navy already helping to ensure the future of its penguins, Dr Cannell is hoping to get the general public on board too, with a monthly penguin column in the Sound Telegraph.
Dr Belinda Cannell 0421 641 050