Day 32: Penguins and rewilding
Phillip Island in Victoria is something to behold. It’s an easily-accessible seabird colony that has been invaded by humans. The island is connected to the mainland with a bridge. Quite a few people have settled in homes or farms on the island. The neat thing about it is at least two developments have been wiped off the map and those areas have been purposefully rewilded to benefit seabirds and, incidentally, lots of other critters. The first area was called Summerland. Remains of neighborhood streets in Summerland are visible on Google Earth, minus the houses. The area was subject to a compulsory buy-back scheme as too many penguins were being struck by automobiles. To make maters worse, in the 1970s, according to an informant, red foxes were naturalized on the island and wreaked havoc on the wildlife. As a result, Phillip Island was the site of the largest fox extermination campaign on the planet. Supposedly, it is fox free in December 2022.
One of the most magical places on the island is a business called Penguin Parade, even though it is a gaudy ecotourist trap planted smack dab in the middle of an incredible seabird colony. Penguins are about as charismatic as a bird can get! On the night that Kaia and I went, easily 1000 paying customers (AUD$30=USD$20) were present. Supposedly, all the proceeds get funneled into research and habitat enhancement or preservation on the island. The endeavor is operated by a non-profit organization on land which is owned by the local shire government (the equivalent of a county government in California). Good and commendable. It was a stroke a genius to mint a goldmine to the benefit of wildlife. Except, for two biologists like Kaia and me, the whole experience was tainted because of the throng of people and their noises which competed with the cacophony of the penguins. And, along with the penguins, come thousands upon thousands of short-tailed shearwaters. In fact, a half million short-tailed shearwater breed on the island. A careful assessment of Google Earth images confirmed dozens of other colonies are present along the southern shore of Phillip Island. We asked a few questions of the rangers and received a list of places that would be better for a more intimate experience studying the seabirds. But alas we lacked the time to explore more throughly.