Art exhibition gives life to declining Little Penguins on Kangaroo Island

When Art and Nature Come Together


Image Source: Peter Whyte

By Tia Ewen


Tasmanian ceramic artist Jane Bamford has created an artificial nest to support the diminishing population of Little Penguins on South Australia’s Kangaroo Island.

The project is deeply rooted in a collaboration between Bamford and researchers in the field to ensure the survival of a beloved native species.

“We have so many species that are either critically endangered, thinning or at risk,” Bamford said.

Little Penguins, whose scientific name is Eudyptula minor, are a small flightless bird found in New Zealand and along the coast of southern Australia. It is believed that South Australia is home to an estimated 100 Little Penguin colonies. However, in recent decades dozens of colonies are thought to have diminished.

The Nesting Module is designed to improve the breeding success of the native species and reduce nest predation.

It’s an opportunity to change some conditions the birds experience on land and provide them with better environmental surroundings and thermal regulation.

The module is carefully designed with features including ladders at the entry to deter predators and a lid which ensures researchers have the ability to collect data and observe the Little Penguins’ use of the burrow. The functionality allows natural ventilation of sea breezes and prevailing winds to reduce heat stress.

While the project is still in its early stages, its future is dependent on the research and data collected after the modules are placed in nature.

Dr Diane Colombelli-Négrel is a lecturer in Animal Behaviour at Flinders University in Adelaide, and a principal investigator of the Birdlab research group. She has been working with the penguin colonies for nearly 10 years and is unclear as to why the population is declining.

“Unfortunately it’s not an easy answer. All the colonies are facing different threats, some facing more than one threat, so trying to identify all those factors for the different locations is a very challenging task.”

Dr Colombelli-Négrel says her research has shown several penguin colonies on Kangaroo Island declined over the past two decades by 80 per cent, with some colonies becoming extinct.

“The research has shown that goannas predate on Little Penguins. There hasn’t been any measures put in place, partly because goannas are native predators and also because Little Penguins are facing other threats such as introduced predators. That has been the main focus.”

However, some penguin colonies have shown a decrease in population due to environmental factors, which impacts the success of breeding.

“Little Penguins are sensitive to change in temperature, not just the water but the air.”

The module will be fitted with ibuttons to measure temperature and humidity when placed in the penguins’ habitat.

Jane Bamford hopes this project will create a dialogue about the benefits of cooperation between art and science.

“I believe artists are uniquely placed to transform conversation between species extinction and translate this into work.

“I’m interested in the way this gallery experience can give the community an opportunity to buy work that will go directly into the habitat.”

The Nesting Module is currently being exhibited at Crafted Technology at the Jam Factory gallery in Adelaide, with two modules for sale.

“The module is put into the gallery with the idea the community might be able to buy it, not take it home, but actually gift into research and into Little colonies to support this project.”

Bamford has been invited to the Kangaroo Island Wildlife Carnival later this year, where she will make a third nesting module on site.