Phillip Island companies have turned off their lights at night to prevent the young shearwaters from becoming disoriented as they embark on their annual migration to Alaska – a 15,000 kilometer journey.
- Phillip Island businesses join campaign to turn off their lights to keep shearwaters away from busy roads
- Shearwaters play an important role in the ecology of Phillip Island while providing research opportunities for Phillip Island Nature Parks
- Every year, shearwater chicks prepare for their epic migration to Alaska
As part of the ‘Dark Skies for Shearwaters to Fly’ campaign, 23 companies turned off their lights in the evening so that shearwaters flying off from breeding colonies on the island, 140 kilometers south of Melbourne, would not be not distracted.
Phillip Island Nature Parks deputy director of research Duncan Sutherland said the campaign was aimed at saving the birds, which tended to fly towards lights and land, often on roads.
“When they land on the roads, they run the very real risk of being hit by motorists, which obviously isn’t very good for their chances of a successful migration, but also poses a hazard to motorists.”
The last of the shearwaters, which Mr Sutherland said was vital to the island’s ecology, took off at the weekend, when the winds picked up.
Westernport Water communications and engagement manager Geoff Russell said the initiative was important to businesses and residents on the island.
“It’s about community. I personally had to pick a few chicks down the road. You know, every year we kind of have to do our part,” Mr Russell said.
Successful rescue mission
Phillip Island Nature Parks staff and volunteers also participated in rescue missions as part of this project to rescue as many shearwater chicks as possible.
“There are nature parks staff and volunteers removing these baby birds before they are hit by motorists,” Mr Sutherland said.
“We had a lot of support from VicRoads, who helped by turning off the lights on the bridge that connects Phillip Island to the mainland.”
Mr Sutherland stressed how important it was for park rangers and communities to protect shearwater species in the future.
“As the environment changes, they will also change, so all the incredible influence they have on islands and marine systems is likely to change as well,” he said.
30,000 km return migration
Each year, shearwaters – also known as sheepbirds – travel 15,000 km from the Northern Hemisphere to breeding grounds in Victoria Strait and Bass. Then, once the chicks are strong enough, the great northward migration begins.
This year, the shearwater chicks had to wait for strong westerly winds to help them on their journey to Alaska.
Due to the length of their migratory route, the birds have developed a very efficient flight technique that relies on very strong winds.
He said the shearwaters were an essential part of Phillip Island’s ecology and provided great monitoring and research opportunities for nature park researchers.
“They actually bring a lot of nutrients from the oceans, and when they come to land, they deposit a lot of those nutrients and that forms really important things like certain plant communities,” he said.
“They have the fifth highest impact among seabirds in terms of predatory role in the marine environment,” he said.
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