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Snapper Island suits Bay penguins

Tuesday 15 October 2019

The Snapper and the Tollgate Islands add scenic beauty to the idyllic seascape of Batemans Bay. Aside from their aesthetic value they hold another surprise which even locals are often unaware – breeding colonies of little penguins.

Eurobodalla Council’s invasive species supervisor Paul Martin said little penguins were the world’s smallest, up to 30cm tall, with an iridescent blue back, snow-white belly, and pink legs and feet.

Paul said the birds could spend days or even weeks at sea before returning to recover and enjoy island time between fishing trips.

“The penguins scrape out their love pads among the low-lying vegetation in early September. Mating, laying eggs, hatching chicks and teaching young penguins the way of the ocean takes until the end of summer,” Paul said.

“Because the eggs and chicks, hidden in vegetation, are so vulnerable to being stepped on, there is a no landing policy on these islands.”

Paul said the penguins local to Batemans Bay were found only on islands, where there were no cats, foxes, dogs or humans.

“About 15 percent of the this population live on Snapper Island, just a stone throw away from the Batemans Bay CBD, so we’re putting a lot of our efforts there,” he said.

“It’s not only the penguins at risk from visiting humans. Sooty oystercatchers – with their black plumage and bright orange bills – also nest on Snapper Island.

Paul said the ‘sooties’ were a threatened species that typically lay two eggs on a flat area just above the high water mark.

“The eggs look exactly like surrounding rocks and are easily stepped on when people walk the tideline around the island,” Paul said.

“The other big risk to both penguins and other shorebirds is entrapment; by plastic pollution like fishing line and drinking bottles or by weeds like kikuyu and turkey rhubarb. These vine-like weeds form loops and birds get entangled and eventually starve to death. That’s not a good way to go in anyone’s book.”

Paul said Council’s sustainability team and Landcare volunteers had commenced work on Snapper Island, clearing environmental weeds and plastic pollution and providing additional nesting opportunities for the little penguins.

“During the summer months, there is nothing better than a kayak paddle around Snapper Island,” Paul said.

“However, to ensure our penguins and oystercatchers continue to breed here, Snapper Island is definitely a look but don’t land affair – take your binoculars for a closer view.”

Watch a video on the Snapper Island little penguins and Council’s work on the island to support them or learn more about the shire’s natural environment and Council’s strategies and programs to protect it.