Sunday, February 6, 2011

An Encounter with the Little Penguins at the Phillip Islands Nature Parks

Located 90 minutes drive from the city of Melbourne, the not-for-profit ‘Phillip Island Nature Parks’ is the renowned home of Australia’s most popular natural wildlife attraction, the iconic Penguin Parade, where during every sunset hundreds to over a thousand wild Little Penguins (Eudyptula minor) emerge from the sea and march across the beach to their sand dune burrows. It is the best place in the world to experience this completely natural phenomenon and I have been fortunate enough to witness it twice during my visits to Australia.


The Little Penguin is the smallest of 17 species of penguins recorded; growing to only 35 cm or 13 inches and the adult weighs just over one kilogram. In comparison the Emperor Penguin, this is the largest penguin in the world, stands over 110 cm and can weigh 30 kg. The Little Penguin is the only Penguin to breed in Australia. Its dark feathers are not black like other penguins. They are a deep rich blue. Their colour camouflages them from above and below the surface of the ocean. Only males undertake burrow construction. Courtship follows, with the male seeking to impress the female with the prepared burrow. The female chooses the burrow she likes best and that male will be her mate for the year. Nest building begins around April with the first chicks emerging in June. The adults attend to the chicks until they fledge which usually begins in August. It is not uncommon for adults to raise two sets of chicks so there are chicks in the colony until January. Following nesting the adults go out to sea to feed prior to the moulting season, which occurs between December and February. Moulting is followed by another feeding period prior to commencing breeding again. Summerlands Peninsula on the south-western coast of Phillip Island is home to over 28,000 breeding Little Penguins making it one of the largest colonies of that species in the world.

The Phillip Island Nature Parks is part of the UNESCO Mornington Peninsula and Western Port Biosphere Reserve and encompasses wildlife sanctuaries, wetlands, woodlands and breathtaking coastlines which are protected and managed by quality environmental and research programs. Other than being a home to a significant population of Little Penguins it also hosts Hooded Plovers, Short-tailed Shearwaters, and other migratory bird species and mammals such as koalas, possums, wallabies, Australian Fur Seals and bats. The Parks also protects a range of plant communities which includes over 330 native species. Sections of the Nature Parks also fall within or are adjacent to wetlands protected under the intergovernmental Ramsar Convention as wetlands of international importance.

Created by the State Government in 1996, the Phillip Island Nature Parks is the only ‘Nature Park’ in Victoria. The term means that all conservation areas (1, 805 ha or 25% of the island) are managed under the Crown Land (Reserves) Act 1978 and is managed by a Board of Management that is appointed by the Minister responsible for the Crown Land (Reserves) Act 1978. The Nature Parks’ vision is to be a world leader in environmental, economic and socially sustainable nature based and ecotourism experiences. The Nature Parks does not receive ongoing funding from the state or federal government and is self-funded by revenue generated from four main attractions (Penguin Parade, Koala Conservation Centre, Churchill Island Heritage Farm and Nobbies Centre) the Parks was visited by around 1 million people in 2009/10. These visitors came from both around Australia (48%) and internationally (52%). According to an independent economic impact study, the Nature Parks contributes AUD $107 million dollars per annum in direct expenditure to the Victorian economy and AUD $56 million per annum in indirect expenditure. Since the formation of the Nature Parks, funds raised through its commercial operations has been used to protect Phillip Island’s wildlife and their habitat. Conservation projects the Nature Parks undertakes include re-vegetation, habitat restoration, eradication of feral animals and wildlife rehabilitation. In 2009/10, over 60,000 trees were planted on Phillip Island through Nature Parks’ programs. It has an exciting volunteer program which is open to the public, in which the volunteers can assist the Nature Parks with conservation, environment and education projects. Further the Penguin Foundation provides dedicated source of funding for penguin research, rehabilitation, and protection and rescue projects to ensure the ongoing survival of the Little Penguin colony on Phillip Island. By Adopting a Penguin, becoming a Foundation member or making a donation, people have the opportunity to follow the life of a Little Penguin and to play an important role in the conservation of these unique creatures.

Acknowledgment: Ms Sue Davies, Communications Executive of the Phillip Island Nature Parks for providing inputs and photographs of penguins, as photography is prohibited outside the visitor center at the Penguin Parade. More information can be obtained from

Reported by Nishanthi Perera