The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (15:46): I rise today to speak with great sadness and concern about the plight of the little penguins on Granite Island. Our iconic colony of little penguins on Granite Island faces many threats and, devastatingly, their numbers are declining. The current population was estimated last year at some 20 penguins, with a new survey scheduled for the end of the month. Advocates for the little penguins are saying that they are expecting the numbers to be even lower this year. This colony is the last colony on the Fleurieu Peninsula, and the community is rightly worried that the Granite Island penguins might soon be extinct as well.
I had the pleasure of going down to Victor Harbor last week and meeting with some of the dedicated volunteers from the Save the Granite Island Penguins Committee, who are monitoring and fighting to protect this precious and much-loved population of little penguins. The little penguins on Granite Island have been a part of the local environment there for over 100 years. For decades, tourists have come from near and far to see these little penguins, and in that time their population has plummeted.
More than 20 years ago, there were 2,000 penguins on the island. Now, there are barely 20 due to the ongoing threats of climate change, human disturbance and feral animals. There are also concerns that the new causeway will bring a tidal wave of people back to the island which, while great for tourism and the local economy, could lead to further disturbances to the little penguins, and that will affect the colony's ability to breed and survive. These little penguins are a vital part of our state's ecosystem. As we face losing them, we must remember that their loss, even just a further decline in their numbers, can lead to sudden losses and other impacts in our marine ecosystem.
Extinction is forever, but extinction can also be avoided. We know that this little colony's population can bounce back quite well when given the chance. In fact, it had that chance; it was given that chance with the advent of COVID. While people were staying home in 2020 and 2021, the population thrived and bounced back. There were new burrows, penguins roaming, noises, and it looked like there was about to be a bumper breeding season. But then Granite Island was reopened, and we saw a brutal fox attack that set numbers plummeting back down to just 16.
To add to the colony's stresses, this year they have had to contend with the ongoing construction on the island. We know what works and have interstate examples in both WA and Victoria of governments that have stepped in to save their penguin colonies. There are very simple things we can do, including things as basic and long called for by the community as establishing a curfew for visitors on Granite Island around the penguin colony.
We need to be more explicit in our community and tourist education in the area as well. People must keep clear of burrows, with no bright white lights aimed at the penguins. I think, Mr President, you would remember, as I do, when I had my now very adult young children, that people would take their torches and go look for the little penguins. In fact, that torchlight can blind them for an entire day. We need little noise and we definitely need no dogs. We are approaching our last chance to help these little penguins survive.
It is long past time that we needed a strategy to secure the future viability of this population of little penguins in our state. The government and the Department for Environment and Water must step up, and I must say that it is both incredible yet heartbreaking the work that volunteers and academics have had to undertake down there to protect these penguins, with little to no help from the government. Flinders University and the Save the Penguins Group have been paying for signage, research, necropsies for dead birds and for the ongoing monitoring of the colony.
While the department used to contribute some money, it is my understanding that even the paltry funding that they used to get has now been cut. This is not good enough when it comes to the loss of such an iconic and important population of little penguins in our state. There is so much more we could be doing to protect these penguins and I urge the government and the department to consider the following:
implement a curfew for visitors to the island. It does not have to be permanent, but at least two years—not just one year but two years—so that this population, as it did under COVID, can start to bounce back;
the funded scientific reports from the department with the recommendations that still have not been implemented need to be implemented;
increase communication and collaboration with volunteers and researchers who have been monitoring and advocating for these little penguins and, as they said to me last week, 'We just want the government and the department to work with us.'