Posted on 16/08/2021 by

Next time you pop out for a pizza, or get one home-delivered, spare a thought for Phillip Island’s Little Penguins, whose diet also includes the anchovies you may have on your dinner. The impacts of climate change means that the penguins may have to travel further to find their meal.

Since 1968, the Phillip Island Nature Parks’ team, along with their forebears, have been studying Little Penguins on land, making it Australia’s longest continuous study of a seabird.

This has allowed the Nature Parks to use scientific evidence as the basis for all its work, and today the internationally renowned team of scientists uses intricate technology and complex modelling to study wildlife both on land and out at sea to add our piece to solving the global climate change puzzle.

“Through our vision of protecting nature for wildlife, our team of research scientists aims to successfully adapt to change and build resilience in our marine and land ecosystems to both short and long term climatic changes in our natural environment through innovative technologies,” said Conservation Manager Jessica McKelson. “Put simply, we are committed to using science, technology and our long-term research to understand and tackle the current climate crisis head on.”

This Science Week 14-22 August, the Nature Parks’ Dr Andre Chiaradia and Dr Rebecca McIntosh will be sharing their insights and expertise on how the current climate crisis could affect two iconic species if urgent action is not taken; Little Penguins and Australian Fur Seals. Everyone is welcome to join the online event titled: Human Change Not Climate Change – How Phillip Island's Seals, Penguins and People are Adapting. Thursday 19 August 1pm – 2.15pm. This will be streamed live on Phillip Island Nature Parks’ Facebook page.

"We often think about what is happening on the land due to a warming climate, but the whole warming of our planet starts with the oceans," said Dr Andre Chiaradia, Marine Scientist, Phillip Island Nature Parks.

This affects both penguin breeding and feeding because if the fish move away to find colder water, the penguins must travel further to feed. Therefore, foraging takes longer and when they return to the nest, they may find that their chicks have died.

Warning signs also exist for the world’s largest breeding colony of Australian Fur Seals just off the coast at Seal Rocks. “This area is a place of rest, a place for raising their young - a haven. Yet the seals' current breeding habitat is predicted to be inundated by the combined increase in sea level and storm surge in the longer term," said Dr Rebecca McIntosh, Marine Scientist, Phillip Island Nature Parks. “In 2013, for the first time in many years, we saw a reduction in the number of pups being born at many of the larger colonies. We are in uncharted territory as far as understanding the population and the impact of climate change. This might be a tipping point. Perhaps the seals are going to give up on the place that has been their haven. Under climate change, seals may have to move further south to survive and are expected to become refugees in Bass Strait. These are concerning signals that we need to take notice of and act on.”

The power of knowledge gained through science at Phillip Island will help us to identify and tackle the challenges of climate change head-on and for us to achieve our mission of protecting nature for wildlife.

So, grab a pizza and settle into some science this week. Oh, and hold the anchovies…