A nest of protection

VULNERABLE: DOC hopes nesting boxes will help protect little blue penguins.
VULNERABLE: DOC hopes nesting boxes will help protect little blue penguins.

Little blue penguins coming ashore to nest near Port Tarakohe in Golden Bay are assured of good homes, thanks to a community project led by the Department of Conservation.

About 25 volunteers placed 50 wooden penguin nesting boxes near the tip of the western breakwater on Sunday.
The boxes were buried in soil, to be planted with native flora to make the small entrances less visible and create a more natural environment, said DOC representative Greg Napp.

The coastal area from Pohara to Ligar Bay has long been a habitat for blue penguins but numbers of the birds have declined over the years, Greg said.

As well as building nests in the rocks along the breakwater, the birds nest in the Tarakohe cliffs on the other side of the road.

During the breeding season, June to December, penguins can be seen crossing the road to reach their nests each night, also making the return crossing to the sea at dawn.

Every year some are killed by cars as they cross the road.

"People have brought in dead penguins into the office. We hope the nesting boxes will encourage the birds to nest on the seaward side of the road," said Greg.

The idea is to build a penguin colony at the harbour, similar to the blue penguin colony at Oamaru, which has become a drawcard for tourists, he said.

With their small entrances, the nesting boxes would help protect the penguins from dogs and cats.
At least three pairs of penguins have moved into nesting boxes placed in the area two years ago, he said.

"The project had been well supported by the community, with soil supplied by Bob Butts of Port Tarakohe Ltd and transported free of charge by Sollys."

Colourful road signs by mural artist Chris Finlayson warning drivers to slow down for penguins have been placed in the area.