Rockingham's penguins face extinction after population plummets to new low

PIC: File

A new report has revealed the penguin population on Rockingham's Penguin Island has again plummeted.

The population census conducted by UWA scientist Belinda Cannell in November 2023 showed there was only 114 little penguins on the island, down from around 300 in 2019.

Founder of Save Rockingham’s Little Penguins campaign Dawn Jecks is calling for an overhaul of penguin management on the island.

“This is a really dark day for our City, whose emblem is a little penguin. It is crushing for our community but it is also enraging because this government has been repeatedly warned that its actions and lack of care have been pushing this population to the brink,” Ms Jecks said.

“As the impacts of climate change are felt more keenly in our region, Penguin Island cannot continue to be managed with tourism and visitation as its main purpose. If we carry on like this, this colony will be extinct in a handful of years.”

In 2007 the penguin population was estimated to be between 1600 and 2000.

Ms Jecks said the population has been hit with marine heatwaves, a rapid increase in island visitors and disturbances, increasing water traffic resulting in fatal boat collisions and building works.

“In recent years we have seen almost continual building works on the island, despite the fact that Environment Minister Reece Whitby ordered plans for a new Penguin Discovery Centre on the island to be scrapped because of the issues its construction and the additional tourists it would attract would cause to the little penguins," Ms Jecks said.

"It beggars’ belief that DBCA have continued with building works anyway, allowing them to be carried out with minimal compliance to environmental protocols, and yet were incredibly slow to introduce interventions like sprinklers for moulting birds. They have overseen this disaster and their actions have hastened it.

“The building works have to stop and longer-term island closures must be considered. A recovery plan led by independent scientists and experts in seabirds needs to be formulated, and DBCA needs to step aside and let conservation specialists lead on saving this population.

Ms Jecks is urging people to email Mr Whitby to help get the message across.

"If he doesn't start listening and fast, this colony is gone for good," she told West Coast Radio.

"We're looking at it becoming extinct under his and the Cook Government's watch." 

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