Stephen Hedges calls on locals to help protect the Granite Island penguins

PROTECTION: Penguin lover and researcher Stephen Hedges with a bag of feathers, left behind by the birds, he collected to send to DEWNR.
PROTECTION: Penguin lover and researcher Stephen Hedges with a bag of feathers, left behind by the birds, he collected to send to DEWNR.

Three recent sightings of deceased penguins on local shores has left avid bird lover Stephen Hedges determined to educate locals on the role they play in protecting the vulnerable species.

Mr Hodges has been a tour guide on Granite Island for many years and said there were multiple factors that could have led to the penguins’ sad deaths.

“We’re coming to the end of a long breeding season, which means we have young chicks heading off for their first tough year and sometimes they don’t all survive the year,” he said.

He said stresses imposed on the penguins by humans can also put the birds at risk.

“When people notice them, they often rush up too close, take flash photos and make a fair bit of noise which all can scare the penguins,” he said. “Wanderers often frighten them unintentionally.”

Despite the signs, Mr Hodges said people were still taking their dogs across the causeway and, in turn, threatening the future of the penguin population.

“People don’t realise that even just taking your dog across the bridge could leave a scent that would attract other predators like foxes,” he said.

“We could lose our entire colony to dogs.”

Mr Hodges undertakes research and monitoring for Flinders University and said it was paramount that those who find these penguins washed up on the beaches report it to the Department for Environment, Water and Natural Resources (DEWNR).

“Birds can be collected and sent to the SA Museum, which leads to gathering information about their death,” he said. “This is very helpful to saving our penguins.”

The dedicated community man is also a member of the Friends of Granite Island (FOGI), a group he fears will struggle to continue if it cannot not attract more members.

“FOGI helps with the plants and wildlife on the island, which take into account the penguins’ welfare, and they’re a great volunteer group that usually meets once a fortnight,” he said.

To express interest in joining FOGI, contact Stephen on 0419 943 054.