Granite Island (South Australia)
Granite Island, also known by the Ramindjeri people as Nulcoowarra, is a small island next to Victor Harbor, South Australia, not far from South Australia's capital city, Adelaide. Although there are no permanent residents, there are buildings and shelters on the island, including a cafe. It is a popular tourist attraction, particularly for people wishing to see little penguins (commonly called "fairy penguins") which live there. The island also supported resident wallabies in the 1980s which captivated visiting tourists.
Little penguin colony
In 1987 a joint State and local government committee was formed "to consider improvements to Granite Island." The Committee recommended that the island's tourism potential be maximised, while protecting its environment. The Committee also specifically recommended the "protection of the fairy penguin population."
In 1989, the island's rat and rabbit populations were subjected to culling, with poison used to reduce rat numbers. Rats are known to raid the nests of little penguins. The island's wallaby population was also reduced, with animals relocated as far afield as Cummins on Eyre Peninsula.
In 1990, the wider Encounter Bay little penguin population was estimated to be between 5000 and 7000 penguins. At this time, the colony's breeding season was considered to span July through January, followed by molting season January through March.
In July 1991, the National Parks & Wildlife Service estimated the Encounter Bay area (which includes Granite, West and Wright Islands) population of little penguins to total 7,000 birds.
A general population count conducted in early December of 1991 found 571 penguins on Granite Island. Penguins were also counted on West Island and Wright Island, and the total number of penguins in the Encounter Bay area was in excess of 2600.
In 1992, the island's population was believed to be stable and was estimated to total between 1000 and 1500 little penguins. Nocturnal tours of the penguin colony commenced that year as a joint initiative of the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Victor Harbor Council.
Fox predation and development concerns
Anne Boulter, a local resident who made regular private counts along a limited section of the island, believed the colony to also be stable in 1994. That year, a fox killed 75 penguins on Granite Island in three days and was eventually killed. Her records of the population which commenced in 1989, showed that the penguins were moulting later each year and most of the penguins were only breeding once a year.
In 1995, another fox crossed the Causeway from the mainland and killed 17 penguins on Granite Island. At that time the population was estimated at 1500 animals, and was being surveyed by the Greater Granite Island Development Company, which was also establishing new burrows to support the population. The company commenced the development of a Penguin Interpretive Centre on the island in 1995 and was expected to be completed in 1996.
Concerns were raised by Victor Harbor residents that construction of new infrastructure on Granite Island could disturb or harm the penguin colony, including the transportation of heavy construction equipment to the island after dark. Students of the Victor Harbor High School were among those who expressed concern about the extent and the impact of the proposed tourism development on the penguin colony.
In January 1995 a single Fjordland penguin (a species native to New Zealand) came ashore on Granite Island. It was relocated by Parks and Wildlife staff to West Island so that the animal could moult away from human disturbance.
Granite Island's little penguin colony has declined dramatically since the 1990s. In 2001, the population count was 1,548 penguins. A count conducted in October 2013 totalled 38 penguins. In 2013 the decline prompted the mayor of Victor Harbor, Graham Philp, to commence a fundraising drive to gather funds for research into the genetics of the population and the causes of the decline.
Speculation abounds regarding the cause of the decline, with possible factors including New Zealand fur seal predation and overfishing. Flinders University intends to establish a centre at which animals can be captively studied, bred and potentially released back to the wild.
Similarly dramatic declines have been noted nearby at West Island and at colonies across Backstairs Passage on Kangaroo Island, including closely monitored populations at Penneshaw and Kingscote. The nearest little penguin colony to Granite Island is on Wright Island which lies between it and The Bluff. As of June 2011, its status is unknown.
- "The Mail" (Adelaide, SA : 1912 - 1954), Saturday 18 December 1926, Page 8 of 40
- "Letters to the editor Granite Island". Times. 1988-10-21. p. 2. Retrieved 2015-07-22.
- "Council to cull wildlife". Times. 1989-03-03. p. 3. Retrieved 2015-07-22.
- "Penguins: No cause for alarm". Times. 1990-05-02. p. 5. Retrieved 2015-07-22.
- "Island's penguins to be protected". Times. 1990-02-23. p. 4. Retrieved 2015-07-22.
- "Bay penguin colonies success". Times. 1991-07-05. p. 1. Retrieved 2015-08-17.
- "Council News in Brief Penguin numbers". Times. 1991-02-08. p. 3. Retrieved 2015-07-22.
- "Letters to the Editor Penguins". Times. 1992-05-08. p. 2. Retrieved 2015-07-22.
- "Island tours begin soon". Times. 1992-11-20. p. 7. Retrieved 2015-07-22.
- Boulter, Anne (1994-11-01). "The Way I See It". Times. Retrieved 2015-07-22 – via Trove.
- "Letters to the editor Island penguins". Times. 1995-10-06. p. 2. Retrieved 2015-07-22.
- "Penguin lady fears for feathered friends". Times. 1995-04-25. p. 9. Retrieved 2015-07-22.
- "Premier's answers on island". Times. 1995-05-02. p. 5. Retrieved 2015-07-22.
- "Project Information, May 1995 Penguin Interpretive Centre". Times. 1995-05-30. p. 18. Retrieved 2015-07-22.
- "Reef walk begins island work". Times. 1995-08-15. p. 1. Retrieved 2015-07-22.
- "Island talk for students". Times. 1995-06-16. p. 15. Retrieved 2015-07-22.
- "Rare penguin appears". Times. 1995-01-31. p. 5. Retrieved 2015-07-22.
- "More penguins found in Granite Island count" ABC News (2013-10-22). Retrieved 2014-01-20.
- Hegarty, Adam "Granite Island penguins face extinction" The Advertiser, South Australia (2013-06-01). Retrieved 2014-01-20.
- Simmons, Michael "Little penguins face extinction" Victor Harbor Times (2013-01-31). Retrieved 2014-01-20.
- Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources webpage
- Granite Island recreation and nature park
- Granite Island Webcam Image updated each minute
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