Posted on 31/10/2012 by Phillip Island Nature Parks

There's an estimated 32,000 little penguins living in our backyard here at Phillip Island Nature Parks and the large population size has a lot to do with intensive conservation efforts over the last 25 years. We're a not-for-profit organisation and the money raised through ecotourism activities is going into projects to protect the penguins and their habitat.

The Penguin Parade is situated on the Summerland Peninsula in the south-west corner of Phillip Island. In 1927 the peninsula was divided into 774 lots. This estate didn’t take off until after the first bridge was built to the island in 1940, and by 1985 the estate contained 183 houses, a motel, a shop and a museum - all right in the middle of the penguin colony.

A combination of foxes and habitat destruction played a major part in the extinction of nine little penguin colonies around Phillip Island in the 1900s. By the 1970s the little penguin colony on the Summerland Peninsula was the last surviving colony on Phillip Island. By the 1980s this last colony was now seriously threatened, and studies in 1985 estimated that there would be no more penguins crossing the beach at the Penguin Parade by 1997. Major threats included habitat loss, road mortality, dog predation, fires, and weed infestations.

This brought about some drastic action and brave decisions by the then Victorian Government, and a Penguin Protection Plan was initiated in 1985. An integral part of this plan was the Summerland Estate Buyback Program. The government set aside $1 million per year to repurchase the houses and land in the Summerland Estate.

It took until 2010 for this buyback to be completed and the work of returning the peninsula back to the penguins has just begun. In June 2011 the Nature Parks received a $3.4 million grant to rehabilitate the Summerland Peninsula back to little penguin habitat. The project has involved removing and demolishing the remaining houses, putting the power underground and controlling weeds through a number of methods so that revegetation of over 120,000 native plants can take place.

The Summerland Estate Buyback Scheme and other conservation programs funded through our ecotourism activities have ensured the protection of one of Australia's largest little penguin colonies. With continuing conservation we hope generations to come will be able to enjoy the magic of watching wild little penguins return to the burrows at night.

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