For the last few years Eurobodalla Council’s sustainability team have been joined by volunteers at Snapper Island; keeping invasive weeds in check and removing marine debris. The work helps the little penguins who use this Clyde Estuary (Bhundoo) island as a safe place to nest and raise chicks.
More recently, seabird scientists Lisa O’Neill and Nicholas Carlile have been helping the team manage the colony. The researchers have caught and microchipped the penguins for the last two breeding seasons, which will allow the birds to be tracked over time.
Council’s supervisor of natural resources Heidi Thomson said little penguins began breeding at around three years of age and had a seven-year lifespan.
“We expect at least one third of the penguin chicks that fledge from Snapper Island to return there to nest themselves once mature,” Ms Thomson said.
“The microchips allow us to monitor the number of returning birds and estimate the number of birds generally. Should numbers drop, that’s an indicator of something wrong at the colony and maybe within the estuary itself.
“It also means that if a Snapper Island penguin ends up at a different monitored colony, researchers there will let us know, providing important data on penguin dispersion.”
Due to predation, including by dogs and cats, little penguins no longer breed on the NSW south coast mainland. Keeping island populations healthy is vital for the penguins’ future and they act as an indicator of estuary health generally and food-source availability specifically. Ms Thomson said the Snapper Island penguins appeared to be thriving.
“Last nesting season was a good one with many well-fed chicks fledging successfully,” she said.
“With the breeding season done, work will resume to clear invasive weeds and remove the harmful litter that washes into the estuary from the storm-water drains of nearby towns and villages. We’ll also install more artificial nest boxes, which are favoured by the birds for nesting.”
To protect the sensitive ecosystem and breeding site, Snapper Island has a no landing policy. To keep interested community members – particularly school-aged children – up-to-date with little penguin happenings on Snapper Island, Eurobodalla Council has information on the Clyde the Little Penguin project, with information, fact sheets, activities and videos, at https://www.esc.nsw.gov.au/environment/resources-for-schools/primary-school
Above: Seabird ecologist Lisa O’Neill microchipping a little penguin chick at Snapper Island in the Clyde Estuary.