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Phillip Island Nature Parks National Grant Update

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Phillip Island Nature Parks National Grant Update

Phillip Island is home to a colony of over 1.4 million native short-tailed shearwaters! This migratory bird is protected and managed by Phillip Island Nature Parks, 2021 WIRES National Grants Program recipients. 

During April-May, the shearwater fledglings are preparing to start their first migration north to the Aleutian Islands off the coast of Alaska. They will stay there for 5-7 years until they return to Phillip Island as mature adults and begin breeding. 

During this time, the fledglings are often found on roads at night, where they are at risk of motor vehicle collisions. The rangers play an important role in ensuring their safety. WIRES recently had the opportunity to join a night patrol and meet with deputy research director Dr Duncan Sutherland. Dr Sutherland explained how they support the colony by monitoring the birds in artificial burrows and tracking their flights across the world using specially designed light-sensitive geolocators. They can gather important data on how best to protect the species, and how the colony is responding to environmental changes. 

WIRES was able to support this program by providing funding to assist with: 

  • expanding breeding habitat, through weed removal and revegetation with Bunurong Land Council Aboriginal Associated
  • ongoing research into migratory patterns and colony health to better inform rescue and conservation activities 
  • expanding rescue operations during the fledging season 
  • raising community awareness through a ‘lights off’ campaign, encouraging local businesses to turn their lights off at night so fledgling shearwaters don’t become disoriented as they leave on their first migration. 

There are an estimated 1 million shearwater burrows on the island, and the birds play an important ecological role by connecting marine and terrestrial habitats and distributing essential marine nutrients across their nesting grounds. The species is in decline globally due to environmental changes from climate change impacting their migratory routes, and anthropogenic influences such as light pollution and introduced predators.

WIRES contributed $49,811 to this work and the research on the short-tailed shearwater colony on Phillip Island as part of the 2021 WIRES National Grants Program. Applications for the next round of National Grants will be opening in July 2022. Stay tuned!