In October 2020, several Flinders University students living in the
Victor Harbor area answered the call to join a nightly volunteer roster –
including Lucinda Gray, Maddie Turley and Nicole Fickling. The students
were joined by an enthusiastic collection of local citizen scientists
to monitor the penguins each night – putting the research program back
Dr Diane Colombelli-Négrel (PhD(Biol) ’09), Flinders University Lecturer in Animal Behaviour and South Australia’s only Penguin Ecologist, is thrilled by the volunteers’ enthusiasm.
She has trained them to record specific information about the behaviour of the Little Penguins – including their feeding, moulting and mating cycles – and most importantly to not disturb the birds, especially by not exposing them to white torch light.
‘It’s an important two-way information process. Not only do we assess the behaviour of individual Little Penguins, but the program also has an influence on human behaviour,’ says
Dr Colombelli-Négrel. ‘Through studying the effects of human disturbance on Little Penguins, we can help prevent any further shrinkage of their population.’
The annual public census of the Little Penguins on Granite Island attracted the largest group of volunteers, with 65 helpers – including Flinders students – spending a day to count and locate active burrows all around the island.
What they found is encouraging, noting that the remaining adult Little Penguins on the island are breeding.
‘Our work is making a difference,’ says Dr Colombelli-Négrel, ‘and it shows the input of citizen scientists working at its best.’