Not so happy feet

Penguin Island is home to Western Australia’s largest breeding colony of little penguins, but the rapidly declining population of these flightless birds has become an increased worry for scientists and the surrounding community.

Little penguins are the smallest of the 17 different species of penguins and have seen an 80 per cent decrease in their population numbers between 2007 and 2021.

The main causes for this fast drop in population are directly linked to anthropogenic and natural causes, such as climate change and recreational water activities.

In a briefing report to the City of Rockingham, conservation ecologist Dr Belinda Connell from Murdoch University says the birds are vital for understanding the surrounding environment.

“The seabirds are key bioindicators of coastal marine environmental health as they are relatively easily studied and hence changes to specific variables can be easily determined,” Dr Connell is quoted as saying.

Little penguin populations have significantly decreased since 2007. Photo: Jennifer Gautier.

At a recent Rockingham council meeting, it has been proposed the council needs to take further advocacy along with the State Government to help the conservation of this threatened species.

The Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions currently has the Shoalwater Islands marine park management plan 2007, in place to deal with this issue.

This plan was due to be replaced in 2017 with updated research and information to accommodate the current situation but is still yet to be done.

Infographic: Jennifer Gautier.

Rockingham community advocate Dawn Jecks says the Rockingham council and the DBCA are not doing enough to protect these affected species.

“The DBCA are not managing or supporting our little penguin population. They never have. Our little penguins effectively have zero protection. That’s why the Penguin Island colony has almost been wiped out. The City of Rockingham should have been calling for urgent action a decade ago,” Ms Jecks says on her Facebook page.

With the little penguin not only playing an important role in the surrounding health of the marine environment but also in the City of Rockingham’s identity, as it features on the city’s logo.

Scientists say it is important the public take precautions to promote population growth by putting waste in rubbish bins and staying a safe distance away from nesting and hunting locations while boating and fishing.