The penguin protection fence is doing just what it was designed to do say the West Coast Penguin Trust, keeping penguins from straying onto the state highway and being killed.
The three kilometres of fence installed by the Trust north of Punakaiki, mostly in 2014 and extended past Seal Island in 2015, protects four colonies of blue penguins. Numbers of penguin tracks seen on the beaches in those areas are reported to be increasing by local residents. The Trust has arranged for the colonies to be surveyed later this year to confirm numbers, but, for now, statistics are telling a very positive story.
The Trust has worked with DOC to record penguin mortality since 2006 and, before the fence was installed, 56% of all reported deaths were caused by vehicles (154 of a total of 273 dead penguins for eight years). 75% of those deaths on the roads were in Buller (116), largely on the Coast Road.
When compared to the six years after the fence was installed, the proportion of penguins being killed on the roads dropped to 37% (49 of 131) and half of those were in the Buller confirming the assumption that the penguin protection fence is working.
Looking at the numbers as opposed to percentages, it is clear that penguins are much better off. Without a fence, and based on the figures before the fence was installed, it is likely that around 87 penguins would have been killed on the roads in the Buller between 2014 and 2019 but the actual number is 25. 25 too many of course, but that’s as many as 60 penguins saved.
West Coast Penguin Trust Manager, Inger Perkins, is delighted.
“The figures really do tell a success story. We knew that six to eight penguins were being killed on the Coast Road every year in this area and we knew we had to do something about it. With support from the community and a variety of businesses and organisations including the NZ Transport Authority, we installed a fence that is saving penguins’ lives. We’re also very grateful to the NZTA for continued support towards its maintenance with the help of WestReef.”
The statistics also show that the proportion of penguins killed by dogs has remained at around 20% of reported penguin deaths, but numbers are slightly down. In the eight years to 2014, 52 blue penguins were killed by dogs, around 6-7 a year. Since 2014, there have been 28 blue penguins killed by dogs, under 5 a year.
“It’s distressing to know that dogs are still killing penguins despite our efforts over many years to encourage the West Coast community to think penguins and not allow dogs to roam in coastal areas. However, we have been working with all three District Councils and DOC on a new awareness campaign – coming soon – and we appeal to all dog owners to keep their dogs safe and secure when at home. That will keep both dogs and penguins safe.”