penguin protection fence

Why build a penguin fence?

Where the Coast Road is close to the sea, penguins may choose to nest on the ‘wrong’ side of the road.  Both parents will feed penguin chicks and they often go to sea to forage every day, leaving around dawn and returning after dark.  These small birds don’t stand a chance against vehicles and large numbers of birds have been killed on some sections of the road.  A fence on the sea side of the road was the obvious solution as it restricts the penguins to nesting habitat below the road, preventing them nesting and therefore crossing to the other side of the road.

Why build it here?

The West Coast Penguin Trust has been recording penguin mortality since its inception in 2006.  A few sites along the Coast Road have been found to be hotspots for road kill. Three locations on the Coast Road (SH6) have claimed the lives of over 100 penguins in five years. They are the McCarthy Creek area, the south side of the Fox River Bridge, and Pahautane Beach to Hatters Bay. The annual penguin census, along with scientific studies, suggest that blue penguin numbers on the West Coast are continuing to decline.

In March 2012, the Trust and Conservation Volunteers erected a trial 100 metre long penguin fence south of Punakaiki, which proved very successful and the design was used for the new fences.

The Trust talked to OPUS, NZTA and DOC about building a $40,000 penguin protection fence along 2.6km of coastal highway, stretching from just north of Meybille Bay through to Limestone Creek since 2009.

Fence closing ceremony - Kerry-Jayne, Garry Howard

On 22nd August 2014, the last gate in the new fence was officially closed by Buller Mayor, Garry Howard.




Penguin fence, gate and signA year later, and ahead of the 2015 breeding season, the Trust completed another 300m of fencing along the coast highway near Seal Island, another location where road kills have been recorded. These fences have cut road kills in the area from 6-8 birds annually to zero.



Seal Island penguin fenceWe’re very grateful to the local teams from Fulton Hogan and WestReef, who, with annual support from the NZ Transport Agency, carry out weed spraying and maintenance.  The former ensures that the vegetation does not become too abundant and heavy, which could damage the fence.



Penguin fence constructionThe fence is a deceptively simple black geosynthetic mesh that will prevent penguins straying on to the road. Driveway and beach access has been retained, and the Trust has installed spring-loaded gates.



A similar fence erected by the Friends of Lillico Penguins in Tasmania along a major highway, has been very successful in bringing down the numbers of penguins killed on the road and increasing the penguin population.

June 2020 Update

We published this news story confirming that many penguins have been prevented from being killed on the road by the penguin protection fence:

Over 60 penguins saved – statistics show that fence is protecting penguins

June 2023 Update

With little penguins thriving on the sea side the West Coast Penguin Trust’s penguin protection fence north of Punakaiki, penguins are starting to explore beyond the three colonies that were protected and finding their way past the ends of the fence through gaps.  Sadly one penguin has been killed on the road and others have been rescued and returned to the sea side of the fence.

We’re therefore thrilled to report that one of those gaps in the fence has just been filled, protecting penguins at the northern end of the main fence line just in time for the new breeding season.

Our thanks go to WestReef for getting the work done the minute they were able to including the traffic management and other safety measures, and to Waka Kotahi for both permission and support through an annual grant to help maintain the fence.

We would also like to thank Geofabrics New Zealand for the very generous discount on the special fence mesh.  Geofabrics (then Maccaferri) helped us out in the same way when we first installed the penguin protection fence back in 2014.  The mesh has stood up to the coastal assaults of sun and salt brilliantly, just as expected.

penguin fence installation
WestReef works photo of installation of penguin fence

June 2024 Update

With lots of planning and discussion, a gap near the southern end of the main section of fence was filled in June 2024.

Read that news here.

Installing penguin fence
Westreef team installing a new section of penguin protection fence, June 2024


Hokitika Penguin Protection Fence

With a number of penguins exploring over paddocks or even rugby grounds, onto SH 6 and sadly being killed on the outskirts of Hokitika, Westland Milk Products wanted to help protect little penguins living in this area.  They generously funded the construction of a new penguin protection in that area.

Read that story here.

penguin fencer
John Steele, fencer, and the new penguin protection fence near Houhou Creek, Hokitika, May 2021


How can you help?

The completed fence requires occasional maintenance and costs will be ongoing.

Your donation will help to keep the penguin protection fence working as designed and you can donate via our Donate page.

Also, if you’re driving past the fence and notice any issues, perhaps a gate wedged open or some damage, please close the gate or let us know so that problems can be fixed immediately.

Thank you.

penguin protection fence