Posted on 12/05/2023 by Phillip Island Nature Parks

Welcome to the quarterly conservation wrap up that takes you behind the scenes at the Nature Parks as our team shares key updates on projects, research and the amazing work being done to support conservation on Phillip Island (Millowl).


Marine Species


By Paula Wasiak, Senior Research Officer - Penguins

Penguin breeding season 2022-23 in brief

Although some chicks remain in the colony, the penguin breeding season is ending with an average breeding success of one chick per breeding pair. It improved from the beginning of the season when many chicks died due to a harsh Antarctic storm that hit in early spring. This storm made it challenging for penguins to find food, and the number of penguins crossing the Penguin Parade decreased in November by 52% compared to 2021 (1444 vs 2453 penguins per night, see Fig 1).

Fig1 Average penguins crossing Parade

Conditions improved in December, with an average of 2200 penguins crossing the beach each evening. By January, most of the remaining first clutch chicks had fledged, and some adults were incubating second clutches of eggs. Despite the challenging conditions, the average weight of adult penguins remained above the long-term average from November to January (Fig 2).

Fig 2 Average Weight

Image 1 Penguin incubating eggs

Image 1 a Little Penguin incubating eggs in a natural burrow.


Visiting scientists

By Andre Chiaradia, Marine Scientist

This summer, we had the privilege of hosting five European scientists who worked with our penguin colony as part of an international collaboration with French, Norwegian, Italian, and Swedish scientists.

Working with Nature Parks from September to January, the scientists helped us conduct research during the penguin breeding season. Together, we tracked penguin movements at sea and ran an energetics experiment with Zoos Victoria captive penguins as part of a collaborative project with the Zoos.

V2 Visiting Scientists

Figure 3 visiting scientists.


Artificial intelligence on penguin research – is it the start of "ChatPEG"?

By Andre Chiaradia, Marine Scientist

Chatbots are popular artificial intelligence (AI) tools used to condense a large amount of information. At Nature Parks, we are using AI to automate detection of penguin foraging behaviour at sea. We have developed and tested an AI tool using little penguins from Phillip Island in a joint study with scientists worldwide.

To better understand penguin life at sea, we have been using Fitbit-like loggers. We have created an AI tool to deal with large datasets as manual data analysis has become increasingly complex and time consuming. This tool provides robust, fast, and powerful results and is helping our scientists understand how penguins might adapt to environmental changes in the future. Our study was published in the journal "Scientific Reports"

Fig 4. ChatPEG AI

Figure 4 Using artificial intelligence to reveal foraging patterns of Little Penguins. 

A novel sailing drone using sound to explore penguin food

By Andre Chiaradia, Marine Scientist

Imagine looking straight down to the bottom of the sea after lifting off the reflective surface. What would you see? Now imagine you can close your eyes, shout, and use an echo-sounder or fish finder to get an image of all the creatures in the ocean in milliseconds. Thanks to the ‘Sailbuoy’ we have the capability to do just that. The Sailbuoy, a novel sailing drone with a fish finder, allows us to discover the fish availability for little penguins in their foraging grounds off Phillip Island.

The Sailbuoy is an autonomous vessel transforming how ocean data is collected, making science more efficient, safe, and sustainable. The project is an international collaboration involving Nature Parks, the French National Centre for Scientific Research, and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. The Penguin Foundation has provided funding for this project, which will improve our understanding of penguins and other marine species. This knowledge is essential for marine spatial planning and conservation.

Read on here.


Img 3. Sailbuoy launch

Image 3 Sailing drone official launch day at Newhaven pier.
From left to right: Catherine Basterfield, Jonas Hentati Sundberg, Mayor Michael Wheelan, Jane Jobe, Kevin Love, Ambassador Jean Pierre Thebaur, Jordan Crugnale, Andre Chiaradia


Soundscapes and seals

By Rebecca McIntosh, Marine Scientist and Jessalyn Taylor, PhD Candidate

Jessalyn Taylor’s PhD (University of Sydney) studying vessel visitation at Seal Rocks and stress in the fur seals has entered its second year.

Pup sampling

The third season of pup sampling was completed to examine their health. The team captured 80 pups in three days at Seal Rocks and recorded their length and weight to determine their body condition (how fat they are) as well as taking a small blood sample to test for toxicants, inflammation, and stress.

Underwater recorders

Passive underwater recorders were deployed in December and retrieved in January. Hydrophones recorded the sounds of the ocean continuously for one month to listen to both vessel visitation and how the seals communicate. The study compared these sounds over winter and summer, representing the quiet and busy seasons for people visiting the colony in boats and jetskis.

Seal Rocks has approach limits of 20m for permitted tour boats and 60m for recreational boats and 260m for jetskis. Many visitors likely aren’t aware of the regulations and there are regular breaches. We are exploring whether this is impacting the fur seals at Seal Rocks.

As part of the Soundscapes study, Jessalyn performed playback experiments from a boat at Seal Rocks where she plays vessel noise at a set volume to the seals and records on camera their behavioral response to the noise for later analyses.

Jessalyn is supervised by Dr Rachael Gray (Sydney School of Veterinary Science, University of Sydney), Dr Isabelle Charrier (Université Paris-Saclay and French National Centre for Scientific Research, Paris (CNRS)) and Dr Rebecca McIntosh (Phillip Island Nature Parks).

This project is funded by the Penguin Foundation, the Holsworth Wildlife Research Endowment from Ecological Society of Australia, the Foundation for Australia’s Most Endangered Species (FAME), the Paddy Pallin Science Grant from Royal Zoological Society of NSW, the Sydney School of Veterinary Science, University of Sydney, Phillip Island Nature Parks and the French National Centre for Scientific Research, Paris (CNRS) - IRP program SocNetMM.

Img 4. Aus Fur Seal MarcusSalton

Image 4 Australian fur seal (Arctocephalus pusillus doriferus) pup at Seal Rocks.

Img 5. Jessalyn Seal Rocks hut

Image: 5 doing the lab work after a day catching pups – in the hut at Seal Rocks (Juliana Nieves-Rivera left, Jessalyn Taylor left).

Fur seal census

By Rebecca McIntosh, Marine Scientist

Every five years, scientists and managers collaborate to census the fur seals breeding November-December in south-east Australia, focusing on sites in Victoria and Tasmania where most of the pups are born.

From December 2022 to January 2023 trips were made to Cape Bridgewater, Marengo Reef, Seal Rocks, The Skerries and Gabo Island as our contribution to the fur seal census. Live and dead pups were counted where access to the colony was possible, at other sites Remote Piloted Vehicles (drones) were used to survey the pups, adults, and juveniles.

As well as the Australian and long-nosed fur seals, three elephant seals were also observed in Warrnambool, Portland, and Cape Bridgewater.

Img 6. Long nosed fur seal AdamYaney Keller

Image 6 long-nosed fur seal (Arctocephalus forsteri) pup at Gabo Island.

Img 7. Southern elephant seal

Image 7 Southern elephant seal (Mirounga leonina) juvenile male at Warrnambool.

Img 8 . Drone View Seal Rocks

Image 8 image from Seal Rocks drone flight (performed under permit).

Img 9. Transporting drone gear

Image 9 transporting drone gear to beach at Wingan Inlet, Vic to fly drone over The Skerries seal colony.
(Adam Yaney-Keller left, Bec McIntosh right)

Impact of marine plastic entanglement on fur seals

By Rebecca McIntosh, Marine Scientist and Adam Yaney-keller PhD Candidate

Adam Yaney-Keller has begun the field work for his PhD (Monash University), using RPAs (drones) to improve detection of fur seals entangled in marine plastic debris. Drones place less stress on the colony when doing this research as compared to landing in a boat, as well as allowing for access to less accessible areas of the colony.

As part of this study, thermal sensors are being used to identify the fur seals at breeding and resting (haul-out) sites. Once seals are identified, the sensors are fine-tuned to detect neck-wounds caused by plastic material such as nets and fishing line.

In this quarter four entangled seals were observed at Seal Rocks, with two of them captured and released from their entanglement. Behavioural observations were also performed to compare healthy (or unaffected seals) to the entangled seals to understand how entanglements impact individuals.

Img 10. Entanglement JTaylor

Image 10 juvenile male Australian fur seal at Seal Rocks entangled in plastic marine debris (trawl netting). This seal was successfully captured and released.



By Lachlan Sipthorp

The Bluegum Koala Trail has opened at the Koala Conservation Reserve. This is a penned walking trail that showcases four koalas (one male and three females). It can be found at the back of the Koala Conservation Reserve, and features large eucalypts, acacias and other native vegetation. Take a seat on the boundary and peer in at the resident koalas or take a wander at ground level.

Img 11. Koala BlueGum2

Image 11 Koala in Bluegum Trail.


Ongoing plantation management continues to support husbandry of Phillip Island Nature Parks Koalas. These plantations contain tree species with foliage preferred by koalas and occur onsite at the Koala Conservation Reserve and offsite through our partnership with King Road Treatment Plant - Westernport Water.


Wildlife Rehab

By Kim Noy, Wildlife Rehabilitation Manager

Over the past three months, the Phillip Island Nature Parks Wildlife Clinic responded to 338 wildlife calls across 45 different species. Of these, little penguins, swamp wallabies and Cape Barren geese were the most common species responded to.

In the world of penguins, there was a downturn in fish productivity close to shore, which led to adult penguins travelling further for fish. This translated into an increase of malnourished chicks and juveniles being taken into the clinic.

These three young penguins were able to be released into a burrow together, ready to find their way out to the ocean.

Img 12. Penguins in Box

Image 12 Penguins in a nesting box.

Work on the new small mammal enclosures was completed, which gives the Wildlife Clinic increased capacity.

We celebrated the successful rehabilitation and release of a Pacific gull that had ingested a hook and had surgery.

Img 13. Pacific Gull Release

Image 13 Release of a Pacific gull that had ingested a hook and had surgery.

Threatened Species

Bush-stone curlew successful breeding

By Jessica McKelson, Conservation Manager

The Bush-stone curlew is critically endangered in Victoria, and locally extinct here on Millowl. We were excited to announce the successful breeding of two pairs, resulting in two chicks which hatched at the Koala Conservation Reserve.

The chicks will form part of a broader recovery program for the threatened species in Victoria.

Img 14 BushstoneCurlewChick 2022 2 1Img 15 BushstoneCurlewChick 2022 4 1

Image 14 and 15. Bush stone-curlew and chick.

Hooded Plovers

By Vivian Zajicek, Nesting Shorebird Officer

The results of the quarterly hooded plover counts showed lower results than the long-term average.

Most recently the February 2023 count had 40 hooded plovers compared to 45.9  average over the last 10 years. Since starting the quarterly counts in 2001 there has been an overall trend in the population increasing. This plateaued between 2010-20 with a possible carrying capacity (44±2) for the island.

There appears to be a pattern of lower average counts in La Niña years, which will be investigated further to assess whether this drop in population is part of a long-term variation associated with weather patterns.

Despite the hooded plover numbers being overall lower since 2020, the number of pairs participating in breeding has remained steady. There was a positive increase in the fledged per pair rate  (0.47-0.74). This indicates management efforts are resulting in reduced loss of nests and strong breeding success.

During the 2022-23 breeding season, Nature Parks rangers banded five fledglings. There was additionally one red-capped plover fledge.


Image 16 Hooded plover banding – L-R: Viv & Jon Fallaw.

As part of a camera trap study five permitted cameras were set up. Over the last 10 years on Phillip Island only 0.37% of eggs hatch, so this study aims to investigate why so many eggs fail.

Beach Nesting Bird Intern Lucy Wootherspoon captured an amazing photo of a raven stealing an egg on one of the cameras she installed. This raven was banded (122) and it was deducted that it could be the penguin egg thief from 2015 which was observed during a study on ravens as penguin predators.

Img 17. Crow Steals Egg

Image 17 Crow stealing egg.

Threatened flora

By Susan Spicer, Environment Ranger

Threatened and rare flora

Yellow Sea-lavender

Local environmental consultant, Alison Oates, recently came across two new populations of Yellow Sea-lavender (Limonium australe var. australe) at Newhaven. These plants have naturally established themselves in habitat similar to other known locations along the Westernport stretch of coast. The smaller population of approximately 15 is within the Nature Parks boundary whilst the larger group of about 25 is on Bass Coast Shire managed coastline. The Yellow Sea-lavender is an endangered indigenous plant that grows in mangrove and saltmarsh plant communities.

Monitoring of the Yellow Sea-lavender was carried out by rangers and volunteers during the flowering period in February to ensure that the populations have not been invaded by the similar looking environmental weed, Sicilian Sea Lavender. There are large infestations of Sicilian Sea Lavender west of Port Phillip but luckily only a few plants have appeared on Phillip Island. Yearly monitoring when the plants are identifiable due to their flowers will continue to ensure the endangered indigenous species does not become infested with the weedy variety.

Rosy hyacinth-orchid

In early 2023 Environment team members, Andrea Love and Blair Kelly, came across a single plant of the Rosy hyancith-orchid in Oswin Roberts Reserve. This was found while conducting a thorough search for the noxious weed, ragwort.

The rosy hyancinth-ochid (Dipodeum roseum) has a flower spike up to a metre tall with up to 50 pink-purple flowers. While reasonably common in some parts of the state, they are locally rare on Phillip Island. There have been a handful of sightings over the years, with the plant not always appearing where they have been seen in the past. This species does not have any leaves making it challenging to find in the wild, it can only be sighted and identified once in bloom. It is a semi-epiphytic plant that gains nutrients from decomposing leaf litter in association with fungi.


Image 18 Rosy hyacinth orchid (Dipodium roseum).


Barb Martin Bushbank Nursery

By James Anderson, Nursery Supervisor

The Barb Martin Bushbank Nursery has busy been propagating record numbers of orders.

The number of grow to order plants for external stakeholders was finalised at 32,000 units, while the season total for grow to order was 56,635k units.  The Bushbank also installed planting trials at the Penguin Parade Visitor Centre, which have been  designed to help prevent erosion.

This quarter also saw an extension to the Bushbank, thereby creating more room for propagation in the future.

Img 19. New extension at Bushbank

Image 19 New extension at Bushbank.


By Mitch Burrows, Environment Ranger

Summer conditions and nesting Short-tailed shearwaters result in a period of no revegetation works between December 2022 and February 2023. Works focused instead on maintenance, monitoring, and management of tree guards at previous revegetation project sites.

A formalised revegetation procedure has been created, which aims to ensure all revegetation operations (habitat creation, habitat enhancement, EVC modification, landscape function modification, and rehabilitation) are guided by ecologically sound and scientifically rigorous principles. This ensures each revegetation project is guided by the steps outlined by the new procedure to ensure continuity and consistency across all revegetation projects (spatially) and seasonally (temporally).

This new procedure supports management decision-making processes, ensures compliance with external reporting requirements, and develops clear objectives with measurables that can be monitored and measured through over time to record the progress of each project. Projects and their objectives will be limited by, or adapted to, the resource constraints and ecological priorities highlighted by the Management Team, Revegetation Team and relevant subject matter experts where required. This will allow for an adaptive management approach to the Nature Parks’ revegetation activities. 


Pest Control (pest animals and pest plants/weed control)

Pest control

By Ash Reed, Environment Ranger

Fox control on the island has begun on the Anderson Peninsula where a mainland buffer zone is maintained. ‘Foxcam’ is permanently mounted on the bridge to monitor for incursions, while any reports of possible fox sightings on the island are followed up with camera monitoring and detection dog surveys.

During this quarter, cat trapping sessions were conducted between Berry’s Beach and Pyramid Rock, Ventnor, Ventnor Koala Reserve, Summerland Peninsula, and on both sides of Rhyll Inlet. There were a total of 1777 trap nights resulting in the removal of ten feral cats from the landscape.

Camera traps were deployed around Newhaven Swamp, Oswin Roberts Reserve, Pyramid Rock Road, Rhyll Inlet, Summerland Peninsula, and the Penguin Parade. They continue to identify the presence of cats in these areas.

As part of our obligation to help protect the Western Port Ramsar Site, pest plant management was undertaken around Rhyll Inlet. This concentrated on controlling Polygala and Marram Grass at Observation Point, in collaboration with Bunurong Land Council Aboriginal Corporation.


Conservation Dogs

By Craig Bester, Senior Vertebrate Pest Officer

Fox detection dog Jazz continued to monitor for fox presence in response to a reported fox sighting, but there has been no positive fox indication to date. These sightings are logged by the public and reports are not always correct due to other animals resembling foxes from afar. 

Macey and Flash, fox detection dog pups are nearly 12 months old and have progressed very well in their training.  Both pups are searching, locating, and indicating fox scats in situ on the mainland.  However, both are still very young and still need a more time (2-4 months) to mature physically and mentally before entering the dog team to start their careers as fox detection dogs.

Feral cat detection dogs Milly and Marbee continued to follow-up feral cat sightings and monitored for cat activity/presence across the island.

Untitled design 8

Image 20-21 Pups in training.

Weed Control Works

By Mitch Burrows, Environment Ranger

Smothering grasses such as kikuyu, buffalo and couch grow at this time of year. The annual grasses have died off revealing the bright green of kikuyu and other invasive grass species.

Kikuyu control was carried out by Rangers (Field Service Officers) on PPVC1. Other target areas will continue over the next few months for areas around the Penguin Parade,  Nobbies and Shelley Beach.

Across land managed by Nature Parks, University Volunteers undertook extensive weed control works, totaling over 160 hours.

Large areas on the Summerlands Peninsula and Observation Point saw environmental weed Polygala treated and removed. Sea Spurge was also removed from Cape Woolamai Ocean Beach and Cleeland Bite, while contractors treated large areas of Fishers Wetland for Tall Wheat Grass. Tall Wheat Grass is tolerant of saline conditions thereby threatening the adjacent Salt Marsh and Ramsar areas and control of this species is important to ensure these ecosystems are protected.

Collectively, Nature Parks Rangers and Field Services Officers spent a total of 421 hours treating various introduced woody weeds (49.5%), herbaceous and succulent weeds (33.5%) as well as grasses and sedges (16.8%) across 125 ha of Nature Parks managed land.

Science published

  • Chimienti, M., A. Kato, O. Hicks, F. Angelier, M. Beaulieu, J. Ouled-Cheikh, C. Marciau, T. Raclot, M. Tucker, D. M. Wisniewska, A. Chiaradia and Y. Ropert-Coudert (2022). "The role of individual variability on the predictive performance of machine learning applied to large bio-logging datasets." Scientific Reports12(1): 19737.
  • Gao, J., D. M. Kennedy, T. M. Konlechner, S. McSweeney, A. Chiaradia and M. McGuirk (2022). "Changes in the vegetation cover of transgressive dune fields: A case study in Cape Woolamai, Victoria." Earth Surface Processes and Landforms47(3): 778-792.
  • Gardner, B. R., J. P. Y. Arnould, J. Hufschmid, R. R. McIntosh, A. Fromant, M. Tadepalli, and J. Stenos (2022). “Understanding the zoonotic pathogen, Coxiella burneti in Australian fur seal breeding colonies through environmental DNA and genotyping.” Wildlife Research:
  • M. Wille, M. Klaasen (2023). “No evidence for HPAI H5N1 incursion into Australia in 2022”


By Bhuban Timalsina, Geographic Information Systems Officer

The past quarter saw GIS applications(Web maps) prepared and ready for capturing the exclosures (areas from which unwanted animals are excluded ). These were established in the past to conduct several research projects including assessing the impact of browsing in Summerland. GIS Interns will be using these applications to record spatial and conditional information about exclosures over our park and reserve network.

We have revised and improved GIS application for capturing both Weeds of National Significance(WoNS) and weeds mentioned in the Catchment and Land Protection Act 1994(CALP Act) present in our park and reserve network. This revised application is efficient, user friendly and supports our efforts in weed management.

Our Track management application is now nearing completion, work has commenced on the final stage. This app will help in the management of tracks, boardwalk, and pathways throughout Nature Parks managed land.


Climate Change

By Blair Kelly, Environment Ranger

Climate change is predicted to impact both flora and fauna. In response, the Conservation team has been adapting to prepare the land for these changing conditions.

Late in 2022, a team of Rangers at the Penguin Parade and the Summerlands Peninsula prepared penguin boxes for the summer ahead due to the expected extreme weather.

This involved cutting Melaleuca ericifolia (Swamp Paperbark) from along the fire break tracks to help maintain the fire break. The branches of Melaleuca were then placed on top of the penguin boxes to encourage an already present groundcover Tetragonia implexicoma (Bower spinach) to climb and spread over the boxes.

This insulated the penguin boxes to make them cooler throughout the summer and thereby reduce the numbers of penguins stressed by the heat.

Img 26. Burrow beforeburrowafter2

Image 22 –23 Before and after of works completed on burrow.