Lights out for shearwater seabird migration success

April 13th, 2024: Phillip Island Nature Parks is enlisting the help of local businesses and communities to protect short-tailed shearwater chicks on their first migration north. This year, the annual campaign, Dark Sky So Shearwaters Fly, will run from 19 April to 10 May, and will ask residents and businesses in the bird flight path to switch off their lights for up to 10 nights to minimise risks to the seabirds and to motorists.

Each year, shearwater chicks make their 14,000km first flight to Alaska in late April or early May. Bright manmade light sources can be a fatal attraction for the young seabirds as they learn to fly. They are drawn to street lighting and land on roads, becoming a hazard to themselves and to motorists, particularly on the San Remo bridge.

Phillip Island Nature Parks Senior Scientist Dr Duncan Sutherland said it had been a tough year for shearwater breeding, so all help was needed to ensure the fledglings made a safe,
the successful trip north.

“Monitoring of our research nest boxes in February suggested it would be a less productive breeding season this year,” Dr Sutherland said. “Not only were there fewer eggs laid in December than the past few years, but the hatching success of those eggs was also lower.

This means there are likely to be fewer chicks migrating this April.”

Last year, 419 short-tailed shearwater birds were rescued from roads, of which two had to later be euthanised due to extensive injury. Another 237 birds were found dead on the roads
after being hit by cars.

Cape Woolamai and the Penguin Parade were hotspots for live rescues, while dead seabirds were retrieved at Forrest Caves and the start of The Esplanade in Surf Beach, with the sites accounting for more than half of the deceased birds in the area.

To minimise casualties and fatalities of the chicks, Phillip Island Nature Parks has partnered with the Department of Transport and Planning, Bass Coast Shire Council, AusNet, WE-EF LIGHTING, Bunurong Land Council Aboriginal Corporation, the Victorian Ornithological Research Group and the local community as part of the Shearwater Rescue Program.

“Our target is to have 35 businesses sign up to our campaign and pledge to turn their lights off in the interest of keeping the shearwater chicks and the community safe,” Dr Sutherland

“Turning off artificial light sources at night and being vigilant when driving during this short period will give young shearwater chicks the best chance of a safe departure this year.”

AusNet Services will switch off the lights on the San Remo bridge for up to 10 nights during the peak departure period to minimise the number of birds flocking to the bridge, causing a hazard to drivers.

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