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Lights go out on Phillip Island to aid shearwater fledglings on their migration to Alaska

Shearwater fledglings take flight

Businesses on Phillip Island have been turning out their lights at night to help prevent shearwater fledglings from becoming disorientated as they embark on their annual migration to Alaska — a 15,000-kilometre journey. 

As part of the 'Dark skies so shearwaters fly' campaign, 23 businesses turned off their lights in the evening so shearwaters taking off from breeding colonies on the island, 140 kilometres south of Melbourne, did not become distracted.

Phillip Island Nature Parks deputy research manager, Duncan Sutherland, said the campaign was aimed at saving the birds, which tended to fly towards lights and land, often on roads.

"When they do land on roads, they run the very real risk of being struck by motorists, which obviously is not very good for their chances of successfully migrating, but also causes a danger to motorists as well."

The Phillip Island shearwaters are an essential part of the island's ecology. (Supplied: Phillip Island Nature Parks)

The last of the shearwaters, which Mr Sutherland said were vital to the island's ecology, took off at the weekend, when the winds were up.

Westernport Water communications and engagement manager Geoff Russell said the initiative was important to the island's businesses and residents.

"It’s about community. I’ve personally had to pick a few chicks off the road. You know each year to sort of do our bit," Mr Russell said.

Volunteers and nature park staff regularly rescue shearwater fledglings from roads. (Supplied: Phillip Island Nature Parks)

Rescue mission a success

The staff and volunteers at Phillip Island Nature Parks have also participated in rescue missions as part of this project to save as many shearwater chicks as possible.

"There are staff and volunteers from the nature parks that remove those fledglings before they get hit by motorists," Mr Sutherland said.

"We've had lots of support from VicRoads, who have helped by turning lights off on the bridge that connects Phillip Island to the mainland."

Mr Sutherland stressed how important it was for park rangers and communities to protect the shearwater species into the future.

"As the environment changes, they're also going to change so all the incredible influence that they have on islands and marine systems are likely to change too," he said.

Shearwater birds have to travel an incredible distance, requiring a very efficient flying technique. (Supplied: Phillip Island Nature Parks)

30,000km migration round-trip

Every year the shearwaters — also known as mutton birds — make a 15,000km journey from the northern hemisphere to breeding sites in Victoria and Bass Strait. Then, once the fledglings are strong enough, the great migration north begins.

Shearwaters follow an astonishing 30,000km round trip every year and rely on strong winds. (Supplied: Venus Bay Observation Project)

This year shearwater fledglings 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 flying technique that relies on very strong winds.

He said the shearwaters were an essential part of Phillip Island's ecology as well as providing great opportunities for monitoring and research for the nature parks' researchers.

"They actually bring lots 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 some of the vegetation communities," he said.

"They have the fifth largest impact amongst the sea birds in terms of their role in as a predator in the marine environment," he said.

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Dive Deeper:
Lights out, eyes open. The annual bird migration has begun. Birding pros offer hope and advice
CHICAGO -- Peggy Stenger casually admits to having a freezer of dead birds.
12 places in Wales which make you feel like you're abroad
With a heatwave on the way, destinations like these will show you that you don't need to travel afar for…
Rain easing over saturated Queensland as flood alert remains for Gympie, Warwick, BOM says
South-east Queensland is bracing for another day of heavy rain and possible flash flooding as the Bureau of Meteorology warns…
A deep dive into the world of freshwater jellyfish
A recent sighting of jellyfish in Burrinjuck Dam was no joke - the freshwater invertebrates have been spotted from Australia's…
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Shift your vibe! 60 quick ways to make yourself slightly happier
Things feeling a bit stale? These small tweaks to your routine will turn things around, boost your mood and could…
Queensland's wet weather expected to ease, flood level of Mary River at Gympie to fall
Heavy rain falling across a widespread area of Queensland's south-east has mostly dissipated on Sunday afternoon, but the Bureau of…
Get all your news in one place