On Phillip Island (Southern Australia), the so called “Penguin Parade” is one of Australia’s most popular tourist attractions in whole Australia that includes wildlife animals. The wildlife reserve itself and the people around can already look back on a history of more than 100 years of learning and improvement, in which the animals themselves have not always been in the foreground. This could in some way symbolize the difficult relationship between humans, nature and wildlife in the early 20th century. Luckily the rangers of the reserve could manage to save the animals through a change of the government´s priorities in the 1980s, which protected the Penguins from their almost extinction.
In the early industrial age, Phillip Island has been a paradise for all resident species, including various plants that were growing in the area. With the landing of the Europeans at the beginning of the 20th century and because of different local decisions, the number of animals on Phillip Island slowly decreased. This development also affected the Penguins that were living on the island since centuries.
The situation at the beginning of the 20th century
The new western arrivals e.g. created the Summerland residential estate on Phillip Island in 1927 that was divided into 774 allotments across the peninsula. At its peak, the estate consisted of 183 houses, a motel, a general store and a shell museum. The ongoing usage of the land lead to a disturbed balance in the preservation of the Penguin Colonies. In the ongoing decades, the numbers of breeding animals were slowly sinking and with this also the numbers of returning penguins in the evenings. Local researches from the 1970s and 1980s demonstrated that the remaining penguin colony was in decline as a long-lasting result of human settlement. It was predicted that unless action was taken, the penguin population would be locally extinct by 1997. With this incredible numbers in mind, the decision to take action towards a pro-active animal wildlife protection was made in 1985. Under the oversight of the Hon. Joan Kirner, the historic “Summerland buy-back scheme” was announced in the same year. The new development was made possible through funding of $48.2 million from the Andrews Labor Government, along with a $10 million contribution from Phillip Island Nature Parks, a self-funded, not for profit organisation. As a result of this change, the last of the houses was removed in 2010 and Summerland Peninsula was formally returned to the animals around. Today Phillip Island houses Australia’s largest colony of Penguins with more than six hectares of restored penguin habitat for further 1,400 breeding penguins.
New Visitor Centre & surrounding area
With the new space on the Summerland Peninsula, the first visitor centre was planned besides the recreation of the land to establish a better basis for the resettlement of the animals and their natural habitat. This visitor centre was used for appr. 30 years and finally, the decision was made that it should get a complete renewal on the spot – a new visitre centre was planned.
The new visitor centre was opened on 25 July 2019. This new centre has not just been planned as a new residence for the visitors, the new centre should go further than this to also demonstrate the importance of the animals as part of the growing economic importance in this area. The new centre was designed to offer a possibility of interactive activities for the whole family to explore the life of the little creature´s habitat and their thrilling life with cinematic projections, a host of fun and interactive interpretive activities, a theatre and an education wing to learn more about the lifes of the penguins.
With this new facility, alongside with a ban of single use plastic in the food outlets, which is an additional step in the direction of sustaining the area and the natural wildlife. One of the additional reasons for this is that the penguins are directly affected by all plastics that lead into the ocean through different waterways.
From 2017-2019 more than 26,000 plants have been put across the site and the surrounding, which is mostly wetland, dune and headland. This allows the landscape and the environment to be the heroes in this environmentally sensitive area. To reach this immense amount of plants, the local Barb Martin Bushbank and volunteers collected local seed and grew the seedlings. Altogether the project used tens of thousands of indigenous plants. In a recent two-day planting blitz, 50 Nature Parks staff and other volunteers managed to get in a staggering 3,000 grasses and creepers, 85 trees and 233 penguin nesting boxes. The entire building project has required careful staging and planning due to the sensitive nature of the site and its little residents.
What makes the new visitor centre so special
The new visitor centre of the Penguin Parade has emerged out of what was once a car park. On its roof, 666 solar panels were installed with an outputting of a total of 206,440kW to focus on renewable energy sources. A water filtration system recycles rainwater for non-potable use and the building itself has increased roof and floor insulation and double-glazed windows. Low carbon building materials have been used throughout the centre’s construction, including sustainably sourced Victorian Ash hardwood for the impressive laminated beams. Throughout the course of the project, over 85% of all construction waste was successfully recycled and diverted from landfill. Furthermore, the design of the visitor centre has been announced as a winner at the 2019 International Architecture Awards, out of a field of over 380 submissions from 41 countries.
“Environmental considerations were paramount during the course of this development and informed all of our actions and decisions as we work towards our ultimate goal of the Nature Parks becoming carbon, energy and waste neutral.”
During the establishing of the new visitor centre, an Environmental Management Plan outlined the mitigation measures put in place to minimise the impacts on wildlife and surrounding habitat before, during and after the completion of the development, and included daily wildlife inspections.
What defines the park and its animals today:
If you will ever have the possibility to be around the metropolitan area of Melbourne, you need to see the little Penguins on Phillip Island. When you enter the spot, you are nearly lost in a world that is focussed on the little creatures and you will even have the possibility to be part of the penguins and their everyday life. The penguins are counted daily on arrival, which is something of a little highlight for the local residents. It almost seems as if the little creatures have become a symbolic figure of the inhabitants, they seem so much rooted in the animals.
At the different viewpoints, the rangers try to carefully explain what the visitors are facing when the animals get out of the water in huge waves. And they also advise how the visitors should behave towards the animals. The reason for this is that you get incredibly close to the animals because the animals have got used to the people and their proximity over the years. Especially children pay attention to this first-hand information of the rangers. Right after the animals got back into their houses, the rangers are busy to explain all the details about the little VIPs. While this you can quickly notice the pride of the rangers to be part of this unique project in Australia, even if they have to do this every evening. Besides this, the park is also partnering with the WWF Australia.
For further information, visit the website of Visit Melbourne