2015 Project Highlight – Protecting Little Penguins On Phillip Island, Australia

by isvolunteers on Thursday, 21 January 2016

ISV Project Leader, Michelle Durkan, shares her experience leading a conservation project that improves penguin habitats in Australia with ISV partner, Phillip Island Nature Park.

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Phillip Island is home to an estimated 32,000 little penguins. Current estimates put the total Little Penguin population at one million. (c) David Gray

Phillip Island Nature Park (PINP) is a world renowned park in southeast Melbourne (Australia) responsible for the conservation and protection 4,460 acres (1800 hectares) of reserves and coastal lands, as well as hundreds of native animals and plants.

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Phillip Island Nature Park is responsible for the conservation and protection 4,460 acres (1800 hectares) of reserves and coastal lands, as well as hundreds of native animals and plants. (c) ISV

Approximately 90% of Phillip Island has been cleared and 75% of the island is now farmland or urban area. The remainder consists of delicate ecosystems including dunes, mangroves, saltmarsh wetlands, woodlands and recently revegetated areas – all of which provide significant habitat for wildlife.

The long term goals of this project are to rehabilitate parts of the island that have been infested with weeds and degraded over time, as well as maintaining the natural areas for the many birds and animals that live there.

Phillip Island is famous for hosting one of the largest colonies of Little Penguins in the world, but it’s also home to hooded plovers, short-tailed shearwaters and other international migratory bird species and mammals such as koalas, possums, wallabies, Australian fur seals and bats.

The park was created in 1996 and is owned by the Victorian State Government. However, it’s completely self-funded and relies on visitor attractions such as the Penguin Parade and the Koala Conservation Centre to fund ongoing conservation work.

ISV volunteers helping penguins

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Our wonderful team at one of our many spectacular work sites on the island. (c) ISV

ISV has been partnering with PINP for over six years and has seen countless volunteers contribute to important conservation work. Rangers rely on our groups to perform tasks that require ‘many hands’ such as habitat rehabilitation, establishing penguin nesting sites, wildlife protection, revegetation, weed control and the propagation of native plants in the nursery.

A total of ten volunteers arrived at Phillip Island in June 2015 – nine from various states in USA and one from Malaysia. All signed up for various reasons – to meet new people, make a positive impact on our environment, contribute to conservation and learn more about Australian flora, fauna and culture.

ISV volunteers worked with PINP rangers in diverse environments across the island including sand dunes and beaches, penguin habitats, Cape Woolamai and Churchill Island – all of which provide spectacular views throughout the work day.

A day on project

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Our volunteers planted over 7,000 grasses/trees and eradicated weeds in penguin and shearwater habitats. (c) ISV

A typical day started at 8:30am and ended at around 3-3:30pm with a lunch break in between. Our volunteers planted over 7,000 grasses/trees and eradicated weeds in penguin and shearwater habitats. All of this hard work contributes to the broad conservation goals of the island, providing a source of shelter and food for animals.

Learning to speak “Strine”

Volunteers loved immersing themselves in Australian culture and learning lots of Aussie slang, such as shortening words like “sunnies” (sunglasses), “vollies” (volunteers) or “brekkie” (breakfast), – and learning all new phrases such as “car park” (parking lot), “thongs” (flipflops), and “skip” (pass) or else using Aussie phrases such as “crickey!” (oh wow!), “reckon” (think) and “g’day” (hi).

PINP

Our group helped sort hundreds of penguin jumpers knitted by volunteers. Jumpers are used on penguins affected by oil spills while they are waiting to be cleaned to prevent them ingesting the poisonous oil. (c) Phillip Island Nature Park

The work was tough but the sense of achievement that volunteers felt has been incredibly powerful and I think they’d all agree that their first two weeks within Australia has been a once in a lifetime experience!

“This project is for people who are ready to break out of their comfort zone. I didn’t know I can do all of the things in the conservation project but now I did, I feel a little different inside and nothing could be more awesome than that.” – Tan Jean (Vivien), Yeow, SUNY Buffalo

Learn more about volunteering in Australia

Michelle Durkan, ISV Project Leader

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Celebrating a job well done at the end of our life changing volunteer project. (c) ISV

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