Little Penguin Parade Australia's Phillip Island

| January 15, 2014

Lauren Jones, a ranger and Penguin Foundation officer at the Phillip Island Nature Parks in Australia, has come full circle since first seeing penguins as a toddler. She now works with the wild little penguin colony on Phillip Island. Here she shares her experience with Cox & Kings…

Eco or family tour

A natural wonder, which has occurred every evening for thousands years, is slowly unfolding around me. The dry, summer heat has just been sent on its way by a salty sea breeze. The sun falls slowly behind the coastal cliffs that surround the boardwalk I’m standing on, bathing the sky in wonderful pink and lavender hues. Waves are gently rolling on to the sand a short distance away, and a pair of wallabies bounce over to nibble the surrounding shrubbery. I begin to explain to a young Victorian family and two Scandinavian travellers why the party starts here at sunset.

As the wallabies continue their meal, little balls of chocolate-brown fluff emerge from the sand dunes. With bright blue eyes and soft pink feet that seem just a tad too big, these tiny little penguin chicks are waiting, chirping impatiently for their dinner. Luckily, a meal is soon delivered by their devoted little penguin parents.

As the moon appears and the Milky Way twinkles above, I’m joined on the boardwalks by my fellow rangers, plus more excited visitors from across the world – we’re all here to see the nightly Penguin Parade happen on Phillip Island, Australia.

I first experienced the magic of the little penguin’s sunset pilgrimage as a five year old. Like the tip of a male little penguin’s beak, I was hooked. Our family returned every school holiday break. Prepped with warm jackets and binoculars, we would wait under the stars, eyes fixed ahead of us, all in competition as to who could spot the first penguins to tumble out of the whitewash and on to the sand. After watching group after group of these 33cm-tall fellows emerge from the sea and march across the beach, we made our way to the surrounding boardwalks to follow their journey back to their burrows. That was the 80s – nowadays my time at Phillip Island is spent sharing the experience with visitors across the world, and helping protect the little penguins.

Phillip Island’s little penguin colony today is strong, with 32,000 breeding pairs living across the Summerland Peninsula. However, it was a very different situation in the 80s when humans and little penguins shared the same backyard. The Summerland Peninsula was home to 183 residences, businesses and a museum. With humans came cars, dogs and cats, household rubbish that attracted foxes, invasive weeds and waste run-off – this had a devastating effect on the last surviving little penguin colony. Nine other colonies on the island had already been wiped out since the 1900s for the same reasons. Studies in 1985 by the nature parks’ research manager, Dr Peter Dann, estimated that this last surviving colony on Phillip Island would be gone by the mid-90s if this habitat destruction continued at Summerlands. Dr Dann and his team presented a paper to the state government on a comprehensive plan to turn this perilous situation around and, remarkably, a housing buyback scheme was established to purchase and remove all houses and infrastructure from the colony over 25 years. A fox eradication program was also established, which had a very positive influence on the penguin population as well as other wildlife. These intensive conservation efforts over the last 25 years have seen Summerlands revegetated back to pristine little penguin real estate – and it’s now difficult to find a trace of what it once was.

The Penguin Parade is a truly unique experience. There are very few places in the world where you can easily see penguins, let alone wild penguins, up close. We’re also home to world-leading penguin researchers and biologists. Phillip Island Nature Parks have done an extraordinary job as a not-for-profit organisation in building the Penguin Parade into an award-winning ecotourism operation. The Penguin Parade is visited by close to half a million people each year, using ecotourism to fund conservation work so that the penguin population is healthy, while also educating visitors about the value of our wildlife and importance of environmental protection.

It is for these reasons, as well as my fascination of the natural world, that I consider myself incredibly lucky to work for Phillip Island Nature Parks. By day, I raise funds and awareness for little penguin conservation, research and rehabilitation through my work with the Penguin Foundation. As a not-for-profit we rely on support from sponsors, grants and the public – our ‘Adopt-a-Penguin’ programme is a very popular way to support the little penguins here. By night, I am a Penguin Parade Ranger, which involves ensuring visitors enjoy a fantastic time here and keeping an eye on the penguins. We have a number of advanced ecotourism experiences available for guests at the Penguin Parade now, including several guided ranger tours where you receive a guided tour through the colony. It’s gratifying to be able to share the experience with visitors and speak with Penguin Foundation supporters and have them know they are playing a role in helping the species thrive on Phillip Island. It’s very special.

You can visit Phillip Island on a private holiday with Cox & Kings.

Click here to learn more about the Penguin Foundation and the Phillip Island Nature Parks.

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