SCIENTISTS have renewed calls that a canal-marina development at Mangles Bay could have a devastating impact on little penguin colonies on Penguin Island and Garden Island.
Scientists have written an urgent open letter to WA Environment Minister Stephen Dawson to express their concerns.
They called for an urgent review of the project by the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) to allow new information to be considered before approval is granted.
Despite having the highest conservation status of all little penguin colonies in Australia, the Penguin Island colony population has almost halved since 2007 – most likely due to dwindling fish numbers, coastal development, loss of sea grass and boat strikes, which contribute to a quarter of little penguin deaths.
Scientists fear the development has the potential to devastate the penguin colonies.
Threats include dredging their feeding grounds in Mangles Bay, increasing fatal boat strikes by introducing an additional 500 boats to the area and reduced fish numbers due to impacts on water quality.
The development proposal is currently before Planning Minister Rita Saffioti.
Conservation Council of WA director Piers Verstegen said the alarming information must be taken seriously.
“The little penguins, seals, and other marine life around Penguin Island and Point Peron are iconic,” he said.
“They are loved by locals and tourists alike, and must be protected.
“This new information must trigger a re-assessment of the canal proposal by the EPA, before any further planning approvals are given for this unpopular and damaging development.
“Ms Saffioti cannot make a responsible planning decision to approve this project, now that these scientists have warned of important new information that was not considered as part of the environmental assessment for the project conducted by the Barnett government.”
Mr Verstegen predicted the development would be an ongoing environmental headache, claiming it would destroy jobs in fishing, tourism and other industries.
“On the other hand, the popular Coastal Park proposal for Point Peron will create many new sustainable job opportunities while giving the community a wonderful new asset that will be regionally significant.”
WA penguin expert Belinda Cannell, who has studied the bird for more than 20 years, said if the proposed Mangles Bay development went ahead both populations of little penguins could be lost.
“This area is incredibly important for the little penguins while they’re incubating eggs and raising chicks,” she said.
“We’re concerned that the canal-marina will impact the seagrass areas and fish stocks, which could increase how far the little penguins have to travel to feed their young.
“If the chicks don’t eat enough before they leave the nest, they’re unlikely to survive.”
Mangles Bay Marina developer Cedar Woods have been contacted for comment.