The Little Penguin Monitoring project, run by the Warrnambool Coastcare Landcare Group and now in its ninth year, collects important breeding and population data on the Middle Island Little Penguin colony. The Little Penguin, Eudyptula minor, is the world’s smallest penguin and its large range takes in the southern coast of Australia from Fremantle in Western Australia to Port Stevens in New South Whales and down to Tasmania. Colonies and breeding sites are also found in New Zealand.
The Little Penguin breeding season usually occurs from mid-winter and through to summer, where a pair will find a well vegetated sandy or rocky slope to build a nest inside a burrow. Two eggs are laid and the parents take turns to brood while the other forages. Just after dusk and under the cover of darkness, Little Penguins can be seen coming ashore at Middle Island to make their way back to their burrows. Population estimates are made by counting the penguins as they return to the island, and data on the general health of the colony and their breeding success are also gathered.
Fox predation is considered to be the largest land-based threat to the Little Penguin in mainland sites of south-eastern Australia. The location of Middle Island, which lies close to the Warrnambool coastline, means that during low tides the island is easily assessable to foxes and stray dogs. In the recent past the breeding population on the island dropped dramatically from approximately 500-1000 breeding adults to less than 200. In response, the local community and Warrnambool City Council implemented a world first Guardian Dog Program in 2006 by introducing Maremma Dogs to deter foxes. Data collected during the long-running Middle Island Little Penguin Monitoring project helps evaluate the success of the Maremma Guardian Project and also aids in monitoring the status of the Little Penguin across south-eastern Australia.
The Middle Island Little Penguin Monitoring project would not be achievable without the support and assistance of hundreds of community members and volunteers, as well as project partners Department of Environment and Primary Industries, Glenelg Hopkins CMA, Deakin University, Warrnambool Standard, Coastcare and Powercor. The Warrnambool Coastcare Landcare Group has given an extraordinary number of volunteer hours and in-kind support each year and Nature Glenelg Trust is proud to partner the group again this season to co-ordinate the monitoring program. You can also view the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 project pages and archived blog posts. For more information on how you can become involved with the Middle Island Little Penguin Monitoring Project you can view the volunteer guide or email Jess from NGT at