Penguin colony planning upgrade

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This year is set to be a busy one at the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony in terms of both visitor numbers and infrastructure development.
The colony, owned by the Waitaki District Council and managed by Tourism Waitaki, is Oamaru’s leading tourist attraction with more than 75,000 visitors each year.
Tourism Waitaki general manager Jason Gaskill said 2015 was an exceptional year for visitor numbers.
“Visitor numbers are up on last year and last year was a really good year.”While exact numbers were not available, he said that for the period between July and December last year, visitor numbers were up 13% on the same period in 2014.
Mr Gaskill believed that was a good sign for the future.
“We’ve seen a lot of interest and enthusiasm for what the colony has to offer … we’re quite excited about what that means for the future years.”The increase in visitor numbers has led to the colony establishing a traffic management system to control people and traffic flow around the colony when penguins are coming ashore.
Research scientist Dr Philippa Agnew said about 150 penguins were coming ashore daily, while there were about 120 breeding pairs and 70 chicks left.
Another 140 penguins had fledged so far.
She said at this time of year penguins could be found in “odd places” and in a “dishevelled state”, which was normal.
Dr Agnew asked people to contact the colony if they had any penguin-related concerns.
Many people converge on Waterfront Rd each evening to catch a glimpse of the penguins, and Mr Gaskill said it was vital all parties were kept safe.
“People will go where people will go. “We’ve employed what used to be volunteers _ we’ve assisted them in the past but we made the decision in the middle of last year to employ them.
“Our interest is to keep traffic, people and penguins separate so traffic can move, people are safe and the penguins can move where they want to, cross the road where they want to and that no behaviour impedes how they go about their natural activities.”Mr Gaskill believes the penguins are best viewed in a “controlled environment”, which means making sure people are not getting too close to the penguins or using flash photography.
“For the most part, things have been a lot smoother than previous years … we probably need to tinker with things here and there, but we’re reasonably comfortable with how things are going at the moment.”An increase in visitor numbers means a development project will take place this year and will involve the extension of the reception area and existing building to better display the work that goes on at the colony through interactive displays.
Other possible developments include a turning bay in the car park, and a culvert so penguins can cross under the road has also been discussed.
The project, to be funded through an internal council loan and Tourism Waitaki, is out for tender.
Mr Gaskill hopes to make an announcement about construction dates and exact costs next month and would like to see the project completed before the height of the next penguin season.

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