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QBE Foundation is Future-Proofing Little Penguins from Climate Change

During 2021-2022, the QBE Foundation local grants program is generously supporting the Penguin Foundation with a grant of $25,000. The grant funds Phillip Island Nature Parks "Future-Proofing Little Penguins from Climate Change" project.

In 2021, the QBE Foundation local grants program supported 12 charities with grants of $25,000. Grants focused on three key areas of need that align with QBE’s approach to working in the community, with a key focus being climate action.

The Penguin Foundation was a recipient of one of these grants. As many natural areas around the world start to show the impacts of climate change, the Penguin Foundation works to protect Phillip Island’s (Millowl) natural environment and native wildlife – including penguins.

"We love that this grant not only raises awareness of the impacts of climate change on a beloved animal, but also has the potential to better understand how to deal with increased heat stress and fire risks all around the world – it’s a great project," says QBE Foundation Co-Chair, Jon Fox.

How the QBE Foundation local grant is helping to protect penguins

Lauren Tworkowski is a PhD Student in the Wildlife Conservation Biology and Thermal Ecology Lab from La Trobe University. The QBE Foundation local grant is supporting her project with the Penguin Foundation – vital research on how to save Little Penguins from the ongoing threats of climate change.

"It’s incredibly rewarding to work on this project," says Dr. Peter Dann, Research Director at Phillip Island Nature Parks and Board member of the Penguin Foundation.

"Supporting young scientists like Lauren is so vital. Without the QBE Foundation, it would just be an idea. We have millions of those. But QBE has made this one tangible. And I think it will make a huge difference – it will get results quickly and we are so grateful. Together we can really do some good here."

Tworkowski’s research focuses on penguins in the ‘moult’ stage – when they are the most susceptible to heat stress. She hopes to be able to manage their environment to combat the effects of heat on the vulnerable birds.

"One of the biggest potential threats to Little Penguins is climate change," says Tworkowski. "What we are trying to do is gain a better understanding of how Little Penguins are responding to extreme temperatures on land, so that we can look at ways to increase their resilience in the future. So far, this includes modified nest box designs so that we can keep the birds cooler in the short term, as well as planning how we will manage vegetation around them so that there’s more shade available in the long term."

The QBE Foundation local grant funds 140 important data loggers (“ibuttons”) that will monitor the temperatures and humidity that birds are experiencing in different habitats features. They are installed on wire pegs at penguin height (33cm) across the penguin colony and set up in a grid to allow Tworkowski to create a heat map of the island to help researchers and wildlife managers plan for the future of these penguins – including where they need to focus revegetation efforts, where to install new nest boxes or what areas to avoid altogether.

On the hottest days in January, Lauren Tworkowski, Dr. Peter Dann & Dr. Duncan Sutherland (Phillip Island Nature Parks) and two GIS (Global Information Systems) interns (Sarah Clarke and Alex Huggins) were busy installing the “ibuttons” across the breeding areas of Little Penguins on the Summerland Peninsula.

The complicated element of this exercise is finding the small “ibuttons” again in the dense vegetation in order to download the data. To do this, the team is using sophisticated satellite- driven position fixing technology to locate the "ibuttons" again and retrieve the data.

For the QBE Foundation, this project particularly appealed because of the incredible innovation potential. "The community will be the benefactor of this project. We’re so pleased to be supporting the Penguin Foundation who are working to improve the resilience and preparedness of wildlife and our communities as a whole."

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