Blue penguins and tourism
Efforts by various conservation groups to protect the nesting habitat of blue penguins on the edge of the Oamaru harbour, on the east coast of New Zealand, raised public awareness of this unusually inconspicious penguin.

In an effort to both manage public interest and create a tourist attaction, conservation organisations and the local authority joined forces to create a tourist attraction now known as the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony. Here, the public are able to view the penguins come ashore under lights, cross a "parade" area and return to their burrows.

To observe any potential effects on the penguins, a programme was initiated to monitor breeding success and site fidelity. To date, no negative impacts have been observed.

Urban penguins

The location of the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony is somewhat unusual. It is situated in a former quarry, adjacent to the Oamaru harbour and is right on the edge of the town of Oamaru. In relatively recent times blue penguins moved into the old quarry, using spaces under rocks and timber stacks to nest. Since the quarry has been turned over to the penguins, wooden nest boxes have been placed in mounds of soil and these have been readily adopted by the penguins.

Nest monitoring

In consultation with the Department of Conservation, colony management instituted a weekly nest monitoring programme. Each nest box in the colony area (Quarry) is checked for adult penguins, eggs and chicks. Chicks are also weighed to monitor growth rates. The results are compared to those of a nearby control site (Creek) where the public are excluded.

In order to see if the tourists are discouraging penguins from returning to the Quarry, the number of penguins arriving at the Quarry each evening is counted and night-time searches are done around the wider area.

Breeding success

Eight years of nest monitoring has shown that the breeding success and chick production at the Quarry has been amongst the highest recorded for the species. Little difference has been detected between the Quarry and the Creek, although the Quarry birds did slightly better than their Creek counterparts.

Site fidelity

No breeding adult has moved away from the Quarry area and only 1.3% of the 1000 chicks banded there have been recovered from outside the area. Most of these have been found within 1km of the Quarry, however 1 has travelled more than 80km to breed.

The bottom line

High breeding success, double breeding, high site fidelity and protection from predators have assisted the Quarry population in increasing from 14 to 105 breeding pairs over 9 years. Peak numbers of penguins arriving ashore have risen from 42 to 203 over the same period.

What penguins do for tourism

Because blue penguins come ashore after dark and that is the only time they can be viewed, visitors wishing to see the penguins must stay overnight. This has had a significant impact on the accommodation industry in Oamaru with more than 32,000 people viewing the penguins in 2000/01. It has been calculated that at least $3.5 millon was contributed to the local economy by penguin colony visitors in that year.

Blue penguin
Breeding pairs
Penguin arrivals

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