Ahoy beachcombers and bird lovers – your observation skills needed!

New research to better understand the pressures on WA’s Little Penguins has a citizen science element. Volunteers are sought to walk the Cockburn Sound shoreline to help scientists collect data on the causes of mortality on the area’s Little Penguins.

The project, led by The University of Western Australia, is part of the Western Australian Marine Science Institution Westport Marine Science Program. This is a major collaborative initiative to improve understanding of Cockburn Sound’s unique marine environment.

The penguin data collected will help provide information about the dramatic population decline in the Penguin Island colony, the health of the Garden Island colony and the project provides a great opportunity for the community to get involved.

Little Penguins, protected under Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, are particularly vulnerable to human activities and climate change pressures.

Lead researcher Dr Belinda Cannell from UWA’s Oceans Institute has been monitoring Little Penguins on Penguin and Garden islands for more than 20 years. On Penguin Island, she said, there had been an 80 percent decline in their number in the past decade.

“With the waters becoming warmer, food sources are affected (fish availability) and this, in turn, affects breeding success and fledging survival.”

“Boat strike is another major issue, responsible for about 25 per cent of Little Penguin deaths in this area. – a distressing statistic,” Dr Cannell said .

“The new research will provide further insights into how such pressures have impacted  penguin colonies and will support measures to improve conservation.”

The 15-kilometre beach will be divided into one-kilometre lengths and volunteers will be asked to walk their section at least once a week, over 12 months. There will be further recruiting as needed.

Little Penguin on Penguin Island. Photo credit: Dr Belinda Cannell

Participants will record their penguin encounters via Birdlife Australia’s bird data phone app.

The volunteer program is open to all members of the public, from citizen scientists and community groups to corporate organisations and ocean lovers.

“As well as contributing to our understanding of the health of local penguin colonies, this program offers an excellent opportunity to combine daily fitness with nature,” Dr Cannell said. For further information and to register, please contact Belinda.Cannell@uwa.edu.au

To get involved with other Citizen Science projects, find out more here.