West Australian Environment Minister Reece Whitby has scuttled his government’s plan to build a new $3 million tourist centre on Penguin Island which scientists were concerned would be the death knell for its threatened namesake.
The government had been powering ahead with the project this year after obtaining planning approvals for the centre while the community of Rockingham, which is the closest Perth suburb to the island, protested and lobbied against development.
There is an existing centre on the island, where the penguins nest and is open to tourists, which was coming to its end-of-life which had prompted the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions to explore building a new facility.
But the impact of climate change and warming sea temperatures, which affect the little penguins’ food sources and living conditions in the summer, for one of the state’s largest and most northern colonies has seen their population go from more than 2000 birds to about 300 since 2007.
About $250,000 will be spent out of the penguin centre budget to explore building it on the mainland instead.
The island will also be closed or only partially opened when the temperature reaches 35 degrees or higher while the seasonal winter closure will be extended four weeks for a breeding season which has itself been getting longer.
There will be increased policing of the existing eight knot speed limit around the island, more vegetation rehabilitation and more measures to keep the penguins cool in hot weather.
Previous studies have found more than a quarter of little penguin deaths around Perth are the result of being hit by boat users.