Shoalwater Islands Marine Park - and a few little penguins...

So two blogs today about marine parks and sanctuary zones in the Perth metropolitan area. Later on, I’ll be talking about monitoring and Marmion Marine Park in Perth’s northern suburbs, but I wanted to tell you about my visit to Penguin Island and the surrounding Shoalwater Islands Marine Park on Tuesday. It was a wonderful place!

I took myself down to the southern tip of the Perth area, through industrial suburbs, to Rockingham, where I was ready for the 10am ferry with Rockingham Wild Encounters to Penguin Island. This is the northernmost breeding colony for little penguins, no more than 30-40cm high, which breed in the vegetation from June until September. These penguins are really struggling due to warming oceans driving their food further away from this colony, so good management of the human activitites around the marine park to minimise local disturbance is especially important.

Penguin Island Panorama, looking back towards Rockingham and mainland

Penguin Island Panorama, looking back towards Rockingham and mainland

40,000 years ago, the set of islands in the marine Park, including Penguin Island, Seal Island (for its sealions that haul out), Bird Island (for the various seabird species that breed), formed part of mainland WA. Today, the park protects the reef systems, seagrass meadows and limestone platforms, as well as the breeding seabirds and sealions.

Great signage as you face the marine park.

Great signage as you face the marine park.

Managing Shoalwater is a challenge and a dilemma for the WA Government. The income that Penguin Island draws from visitors is hughly significant, not just for funding Shoalwater but other marine parks. We all need more people from all walks of life to experience and enjoy marine biodiversity, and Penguin Island in particular is perfect for this, within a metropolitan area and with the cute (so cute!) draw of penguins. Yet, it feels like the golden goose is in danger of being cooked at times. The day before I went, almost a thousand people visitied the island (to be fair, on my day there weren’t too much more than a hundred I’d think), with other boat trips, jet skis, and so on. All of this is allowed inside Sanctuary Zones (within speed limits).

Shoalwater’s sanctuary zones

Shoalwater’s sanctuary zones

Later that evening, over Pancakes for Pancake day, I had the good fortune to discuss this with Mel Evans, the Marine Parks Coordinator for the Perth area, including Shoalwater, and Roanna Baker, the Marine Conservation Officer in the WA Parks and Wildlife Service. Great choice of meeting!

Mel’s only too aware of this balance, and that the sanctuary zones in the park are pretty small in size to be effective. There are other “special purpose zones” for wildlife conservation that allow recreational fishing, but it’s far from the 30%+ that WA generally aims for from a science perspective. I was fascinated by Mel’s journey from conservation planning to marine park management, and the plain truth (which politicians and others mostly fail to pick up) that MPA management is just plain hard! You need the people on board, resources to back it up, deals to be made with industries, an adaptive approach. You need to do it properly or not at all, and back it up with monitoring to show that it’s working or not.

I think Mel would admit that the Perth marine parks have a way to go to reach best practice, and that Shoalwater Islands’ management plan is due an update (having been written in 2007). All in all, a great start to the fellowship proper.

I took some nice photos of the wildlife at https://www.marine-reserves.com/#/part-twenty/ too - check them out :) #nofilterneeded

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