05 September 2013

Blue penguin highway death toll rising

Credit: West Coast Blue
Penguin Trust.
NEW ZEALAND – A heart-breaking sight greeted West Coast Blue Penguin Trust supporter and Fox River resident Fiona McDonald last Sunday: yet another little blue penguin road death.

To make matters worse, this penguin was one of just six counted in the area as part of the 2013 blue penguin census. Fiona picked up no less than three penguins killed on this stretch of the coast road last month, adding to the sad statistics for penguin road deaths.

There are three main highway black spots on State Highway 6, the coast road, which have claimed the lives of over 100 penguins in five years. They are the McCarthy Creek area, the south side of the Fox River Bridge and Pahautane Beach at Fox River. Fiona says she has not counted any penguin tracks on Pahautane Beach this year.

“The numbers tell the story, I cannot believe the decline on Pahautane beach over the last few years.”

The annual penguin census this year is one of the lowest on record. These census results, along with scientific studies, suggest that blue penguin numbers on the West Coast are continuing to decline.

Blue Penguin Trust ranger Reuben Lane said the main threats to blue penguin populations are traffic and dogs, but they are also vulnerable to storms, coastal erosion and coastal development, all of which can have a devastating impact on their habitat.

“At this time of year, penguins are nesting and are often out and about exploring, or looking for a mate. Unfortunately, some penguins choose nesting sites where penguins have nested perhaps for millennia, but a road has been developed between the nest site and the sea and, while they are feeding chicks, they will be crossing the road twice a day, putting them at great risk,” he said.

Reuben said that the Trust hopes that motorists will slow down when they see the penguin signage, and if they do have the misfortune to kill one, that they pick it up and take it to any Department of Conservation (DOC) office. Otherwise they should make a note of the time and location and let DOC or the West Coast Blue Penguin Trust know, as this information contributes to an understanding of the issue.

The Blue Penguin Trust works hard to raise public awareness of the plight of blue penguins. It has also been talking to infrastructure consultancy firm Opus and the NZ Transport Agency about building a penguin proof fence.

Reuben said, “It is the only really practical solution to saving penguin lives on the coast road.”

“The plan is for a simple plastic mesh fence that would prevent penguins straying on to the road at several of the major mortality sites”

While the details of a workable agreement are being ironed out, the Trust hopes that residents and the public will get behind the project.

Blue penguin highway death toll rising [press release], 4 September 2013, West Coast Blue Penguin Trust

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