Located on the far south coast of New South Wales, Eden was once home to a thriving little penguin colony that held a special place in the hearts of the local community.
Unfortunately, the penguins faced numerous challenges, including predators like dogs, foxes, and sea eagles, as well as habitat erosion. These factors caused a significant decline in the penguin population, ultimately leading to the colony's extinction by the early 1990s.
The Eden community were devastated by the loss and rallied together to raise funds in the hope of resurrecting the penguin colony. However, these funds remained in an account until 2016 when Nicholas Carlile, a senior research scientist at the NSW Department of Planning and Environment, discovered them.
Recognizing the time was perhaps right, Mr. Carlile embarked on a mission to revive Eden's little penguin colony. However, this endeavor was not without its challenges.
Mainland foxes posed a continuous threat, leading to the installation of fences along the cliff top near Eagles Claw Nature Reserve to protect against predators. Additionally, a concrete artificial habitat was constructed with a uniquely designed entrance to deter goannas.
One of the most significant obstacles to reviving the penguin population was that little penguins only tend to congregate in locations where they can hear the calls of other penguins. To address this, the so called "love machine" was introduced. This solar-powered audio system broadcasted recorded mating sounds from penguins on the nearby Montague Island/Baranguba across Twofold Bay during the mating season.
"We're slowly coercing these birds into thinking this is a really good penguin colony site,” Mr Carlile told ABC News.
“The penguins think, 'Oh, there's a party, let's go join it.'"
The "love machine" successfully enticed two mating birds to choose the little sanctuary for nesting this year, birds that may have unwittingly become pioneers in re-establishing a colony that had been locally extinct for 30 years.
Remote-controlled cameras on the reserve captured over 1,000 photos of the penguins as they moved around and built their nest throughout the winter. Eventually, scientists observed the female laying two eggs.
Though one egg rolled away in September, the remaining egg hatched into a healthy little penguin chick this month. It’s the first to be born on mainland New South Wales outside of Sydney in three decades, making Eden only the second mainland breeding colony of little penguins.
The young chick will spend eight weeks in the nest before venturing into the water for the first time. It will then live independently for two years, fending for itself. After reaching maturity, there's a possibility it may return to its birthplace in Eden.
Nicholas Carlile summed up the long-term vision, saying: "The idea is to establish as many pairs as we can, and eventually those pairs will produce enough young that those young will come back and keep the colony going. It's a very slow process to establish a seabird colony."
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