On a small island off the New South Wales South Coast researchers are finding a colony of little penguins is thriving, when others along the state’s east coast are in decline. 

Key points:

  • Researchers are monitoring penguin numbers in a first-time statewide conservation initiative
  • Penguins in the Snapper Island colony off Batemans Bay are ‘thriving’ compared with other declining colonies
  • The project aims to help improve the breeding rates of little penguins across the state

The Snapper Island colony off Batemans Bay is among several penguin clusters the Department of Planning and Environment, local councils, and citizen scientists have begun monitoring for population changes.

This month has been the first time researchers, including citizen scientists, have camped out on the island after sunset until the early hours of the morning to count how many penguins are landing on the island.

Eurobodalla Shire Council’s invasive species supervisor, Paul Martin, said the monitoring would be crucial in improving the penguins’ chance of survival on the island.

“We wanted to get more robust data on that, so we started out with fewer than 90 nests out there and now we have over 100 birds arriving each night,” Mr Martin said.

“It is quite unique in that it’s the most successful colony on the east coast of New South Wales and it’s thriving as well.”

A group of researchers pose for a photo.
Researchers and citizen scientists have been camping out near penguin colonies to count how many land on various islands statewide.(Supplied: Eurobodalla Shire Council)

This makes the Snapper Island penguins special given other penguin colonies on the east coast of NSW, such as the ones in Manly and Lion Island in Sydney, are in decline and there is hope this research will help struggling populations.

The growth of the little penguin colony has not been entirely by chance, with the department monitoring marine debris and restoring penguin habitats and adding artificial burrows to create more nesting opportunities.

“One of the big things that we’ve done is where we’ve removed invasive weeds we’ve replanted native vegetation,” Mr Martin said.

A penguin and its chick in a burrow.
The data collected on the little penguin population will be used to inform future conservation efforts across the state.(Supplied: Eurobodalla Shire Council)

A senior scientist with the NSW DPE, Nicholas Carlile, said part of the reason why Snapper Island had such a healthy population of penguins was because it was a no-landing site and is not disturbed by humans or their pets.

“The little penguins are breeding well and producing the fattest chicks I’ve ever seen,” he said.

Mr Carlile and his team of penguin researchers had been working with Council’s environment team over the past few years.

“This increased monitoring will really help us to understand population trends and how to best tailor habitat restoration efforts to benefit these cute little guys,” Mr Carlile said.

“A GPS tracking study to look at the movements of the birds may also be carried out.”

The data collected on the little penguin population will be used to inform future conservation efforts across the state, as researchers work to preserve their habitats while recording their numbers.