Penguin Island (Western Australia)
Rockingham, Western Australia
|Time zone||8 (UTC)|
|LGA(s)||City of Rockingham|
Penguin Island is a 12.5 ha island off the coast near Perth, Western Australia, 700 m from Rockingham. It is home to a colony of approximately 1,200 little penguins, the largest population of the birds in Western Australia. The waters surrounding the island make up the Shoalwater Islands Marine Park. (Download a map from here).
Getting to the Island
Regular ferries  carry tourists to and from the island and other marine-park sights, the journey taking 5 minutes from Mersey point. The island can also be reached by private boat, kayaking, swimming, or walking across a tidal sandbar, which is often exposed above sea level at low tide for a large portion of its 700-metre length, however at high tide, most of the sandbar is under varying depths of water. The Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) advises against the sandbar walk as weather conditions can change quickly, making the crossing dangerous, which has resulted in several drownings.
Visitors should take their own supply of food and drink, since none can be purchased on Penguin Island, though there is a picnic area with seating and water taps, and waterless composting toilets.
Litter bins are not provided on the island and all visitors are required to take away their own rubbish. This is to remove potential food sources for destructive animals such as black rats, which have previously led to a reduction in the penguin population. In 2013 a successful baiting program was conducted to eliminate a rat population that had become established on the island.
In addition to the colony of little penguins there are many other sights including nesting seabirds and a 500-strong colony of pelicans.
Significant areas of Penguin Island include North Rock, Pelican Bluff, North Beach, McKenzies Well, South Beach, Abalone Point, and Surfers Beach.
There are numerous lookouts, boardwalks and walkways throughout most of the island. Some areas are fenced off to the public to protect wildlife and lessen dune erosion.
A small population of rescued penguins are kept in a dedicated enclosure on the island (know as the Discovery Centre) which was built by the Department of Environment and Conservation in 1987. As well as being a sanctuary to care for injured wild penguins, it is also the home of the 10 resident penguins that have been badly injured, orphaned as chicks or born in captivity, and it is unlikely that they would survive in the wild. It has been designed to reflect the penguins natural sandy, coastal scrub environment and includes a saltwater pond with viewing panels to watch the little penguins swim. Penguin feedings are held three times daily by a Wildlife ranger.
Little Penguin Population
Spotting wild little penguins at the island is unusual as for most of the year, daylight hours are spent at sea chasing fish, and visitors are strictly prohibited from being on the island except during specified daylight hours from mid-September to early June.
The little penguin population which breeds on Penguin Island is genetically distinct and in decline. In 2007 there were between 1600 and 2000 little penguins on Penguin Island during breeding months. By 2011, the number had dropped to about 1000. Penguins have been observed taking longer foraging trips leading to chick malnutrition and starvation. Prey depletion and climate change are considered to be major pressures on the breeding population. A proposal to construct a marina at Point Peron is also considered a future threat. A number of rescued penguins are kept in a dedicated enclosure for visitors to the island to observe.
Little penguins also breed on nearby Garden Island, 6.5 km to the north. The two colonies are considered as a single meta-population. In 2007, the meta-population was estimated to include a total of 2369 individuals.
Historically, the penguins of Penguin Island have been victims of dog attacks and shooting by holiday-makers. An informal assessment of the Penguin Island colony was made by Vincent Serventy in 1946. After several visits, he estimated the colony to number approximately 500 pairs. In the 1940s concern was expressed for the viability of the penguin colony on Penguin Island, due to combined threats of human landing parties with guns and dogs, occasional fires, and an abundance of rabbits which were denuding the island of its former vegetation and accelerating its erosion. Rabbits were believed to have been introduced to the island in the 1920s, and numbered approximately four to five thousand in the late 1940s. By 1950, it had become an illegal act to take a dog to Penguin Island.
Penguin Island was probably first used by the Aboriginal people who have believed to have been in the area up to 12,000 years ago. A local aboriginal legend tells the story of Singing Rock located just to the north of Penguin Island. Apparently a local girl who ran off with her lover against tribal law was chased and caught. Her lover was speared to death while her punishment was to be imprisoned inside the rock. Legend has it that you can still hear the girl singing out to her lover today.
The first person known to have lived on the Island was an eccentric Canadian by the name of Seaforth McKenzie, who first squatted on the island in 1914.
Paul Seaforth McKenzie was born in Novia Scotia, Canada, in 1853. At 18 he travelled to Australia and in 1876 he married Sarah Stanner in Sydney, with whom he had five children. The family moved to New Zealand, and in 1890 Seaforth went to work one day and instead of returning home, he boarded a boat to Australia and effectively abandoned his family.
His nomadic lifestyle continued and it is unsure of when he arrived in WA, however he is known to have been a builder and built several three-roomed villas in Osborne Park. In 1914 McKenzie first squatted on Penguin Island, and in 1918 was granted a lease of the island. He converted a several of the limestone caves on the island into holiday accommodation, although these were designed with campers in mind - with shelves, fireplaces and rock ledges that were turned into beds. Some of the “rooms” are still visible today
McKenzie would not accept payment for any lodgings or food on the island, preferring a system of favour or barter. As the island became more popular further caves were hollowed out and crudely furnished as a library and a small store where visitors could manage their own account by leaving a fair amount of money or something of equal value. McKenzie also excavated a grand ballroom which was known as the palace, and it was here that he was crowned the 'King of Penguin Island' at a grand ceremony.
McKenzie left the island when his lease expired in 1926.
In 1932 he returned home to his wife Sarah and children in New Zealand after an absence of 45 years. His explanation being that he had been suffering with amnesia and had only just regained his memory of his family.
Today some of the caves and their features are still visible on the island, as is the well dug by McKenzie.
- Two drown as sandbar warning is ignored The Australian/AAP 29 December 2010
- Moodle, Claire (2014-09-22). "Saving the penguins". ABC. Retrieved 2014-11-10.
- Cannell, Belinda (2012-03-05). "Grim reaper cuts swathes through the Little Penguins of Perth". The Conversation. Retrieved 2014-11-10.
- Serventy, Vincent (1950-12-14). "Fairies of the islands". Western Mail. Retrieved 2014-12-07.
- Green, Wallace (1918-02-21). "Destruction of penguins". The West Australian. Retrieved 2014-11-11.
- Serventy, Vincent (1946-01-31). "Haunt of Fairy Penguin". Retrieved 2014-12-07.
- "Penguins Of Penguin Island". South Western Advertiser. 1948-03-05. p. 5. Retrieved 2015-08-21.
- "Search: Scientific name:%22Eudyptula%20minor%22 - within 1.0 km of point(-32.30577,115.69015) | Occurrence records | Atlas of Living Australia". Atlas of Living Australia. Retrieved 2015-08-21.
- "PENGUIN ISLAND.". Western Mail. 1924-10-23. p. 29. Retrieved 2015-08-21.
- "PENGUIN ISLAND A Visitor's Comments". Sunday Times. 1926-03-07. pp. 12 S. Retrieved 2015-08-21.
- "DESTRUCTION OF PENGUINS. To the Editor.". The West Australian. 1918-03-07. p. 6. Retrieved 2015-08-21.
- "Seal caught on Penguin Island". Western Mail. 1917-05-11. p. 28. Retrieved 2015-08-21.
- Crane, Kevin, Carolyn Thomson and Peter Dans. Discovering Penguin Island and the Shoalwater Islands Marine Park. Como, W.A. Dept. of Conservation and Land Management, 1995. ISBN 0-7309-6971-1