Lights go out on Phillip Island to help shearwater chicks as they migrate to Alaska


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.

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.”

Phillip Island’s shearwaters are an essential part of the island’s ecology.(Provided: Phillip Island Nature Parks)

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.

a man in high visibility clothing rescues a small bird from a road at night.
Volunteers and staff from the nature park regularly save young shearwaters from the roads.(Provided: Phillip Island Nature Parks)

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.

Black background, shearwater in flight
Shearwaters have to fly an incredible distance, requiring a very efficient flight technique.(Provided: Phillip Island Nature Parks)

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.

a map showing a route from Melbourne to Alaska.
Shearwaters make an incredible 30,000 km round trip each year and depend on high winds.(Provided: Venus Bay Observation Project)

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.

Post , update


Comments are closed.