Popular Western Australia penguin population reel from climate change, human impact

The number of penguins has halved in the past decade, amid rising sea temperatures and changing weather conditions that have affected the species' breeding cycles.
The number of penguins has halved in the past decade, amid rising sea temperatures and changing weather conditions that have affected the species' breeding cycles. PHOTO: FACEBOOK/ROCKINGHAM WILD ENCOUNTERS

SYDNEY (XINHUA) - A major penguin colony that forms a top island attraction in Western Australia and the largest of its kind in that part of the world is being threatened by climate change and human impact, according to latest research.

There are about 1,000 little penguins on the state's popular Penguin Island but the population has already halved in the past decade, amid rising sea temperatures and changing weather conditions that have affected the species' breeding cycles, researcher Belinda Cannell told local media.

"We see a lot of variation in the timing and the success of breeding, but ... the breeding success has been much lower than in previous years," the ABC news channel quoted Cannell as saying on Sunday (Aug 12).

An ocean heatwave that hit the coast seven years ago destroyed several small fish species that make up the penguins' diet and they have had to travel significantly further from the island to find food, said Cannell.

More severe storms are also eroding penguin nesting areas and hotter summers are killing the aquatic birds, the channel quoted marine park coordinator Melissa Evans as saying.

The changing natural conditions may be difficult to mitigate but better managing human activity on the island can help the penguins, which attracts more than 100,000 visitors to the island every year, said Cannell. About one-quarter of the penguin deaths are due to boat injuries, she said.

"Reducing impacts in the water, try and make people aware the penguins are out there and their boating, they need to be slowing down and be aware the penguins are often just a metre under the surface of the water and they're difficult to see."

Environmental authorities are also working with local communities to improve the birds' habitat including reducing the amount of plastics, said Evans.

"Because it's a popular tourist location as well, it's important for us to try to balance people being able to use the island for recreation, but also conserving the environment so the wildlife is still able to use it successfully," she said.