Recently I spent some time with my brother Rod, who lives on Phillip Island in Victoria. We went to see the Penguin Parade at Summerlands Beach, something I haven’t done for years. (Considering who my publisher is, it’s no wonder I love penguins!) This parade has been a popular tourist attraction since the 1920’s. Each night at sunset Little Penguins (commonly known as Fairy Penguins) return to shore after a day’s fishing. They surf in, then waddle up the beach to the safety of their homes in the sand dunes. At this time of year they also have chicks to feed. Visitors can watch the world’s smallest penguins from viewing stands and boardwalks without disturbing them. It is a fascinating glimpse into the secret life of a penguin colony. The conservation history of this colony is equally as fascinating.
The first inhabitants of Phillip Island were the aboriginal Bunurong tribe based around Western Port. They lived in harmony with the island’s penguins for many thousands of years. Over the last century of European settlement however, nine of the ten penguin breeding sites on Phillip Island disappeared. The last remaining rookery was on Summerlands Peninsula, on the edge of a residential subdivision. In 1985 the Victorian government made a far-sighted decision – in order to protect the penguins, further development of the subdivision would be prohibited and all the existing properties would be progressively purchased by the state.
So began a twenty-five year effort to protect the Little Penguins of Summerland Peninsula. In June 2010 the government announced that the buy-back programme was complete. All houses on the estate had been removed or demolished. The land was revegetated and added to the Phillip Island Nature Park. As well as being a loveable icon for Victoria, the Penguin Parade generates $100 million dollars per year through tourism. What a perfect example of balancing the economy with the need to protect our environment!