Over 800 students from Northern Beaches schools started training at Taronga Zoo on Sunday to assist the local Little Penguin colonies. This was a 40 percent increase on last year’s program, 10 schools now involved and more wanting to join in. Project Penguin is a community education program developed by Taronga’s Education Department in partnership with the Department of Environment and Climate Change (DECC), Manly Environment Centre and the Northern Beaches Learning Alliance. This is the project’s third year, expanding from 544 students from six schools in 2008 to over 800 students from 10 schools this year. Coastcare has joined in as a sponsor, providing expertise and funding. Through Project Penguin, Northern Beaches Primary and High school students are taught how to help protect the local Little Penguin colonies and the coastal environment that is vital to the species’ survival. Students will learn about Little Penguin breeding, rehabilitation and release at Taronga’s Wildlife Hospital, as well as how to tell the community what the Penguins need and how to do a beach audit for the best habitat and caring for coastal bushland. Training for Project Penguin started at Taronga on Sunday with 60 students from Mackellar Girls Campus staying overnight for their mentor training. Three high schools will be trained as mentors to the primary school students. This peer based learning develops strong ‘peer support’ relationships to increase the engagement of students during the middle years of schooling. Zoo Education Officer, Rochelle Bishop, said: “We are overwhelmed with the amount of interest that we have been receiving. Students are so excited about being a part of the project and when we visit the schools, younger students tell us that they cannot wait until they are in Year 5 so that they can participate. This kind of reaction is just so encouraging and humbling”. Training, project and zoo presentations days for all the students will run from June 10. These activities will assist them with the development, designing and production of their own ‘Community Awareness Programs’ which they will showcase at the Expo Day on July 09 at Taronga Zoo. “The students receive information, advice and presentations from the Department of the Environment and Climate Change , the Manly Environment Centre, Coastcare and Taronga Zoo staff explaining about Little Penguin colonies and the coastal environment that they live in as well as how to get this information across to the community. The students use activity books and reflection diaries to develop their ideas and produce community awareness campaigns that they are accessed on”. The schools will also run their own Expo Days after July 9 in their community to share their knowledge and passion and to raise awareness and inspire people to take action and responsibility for their local Little Penguin colonies. Project Penguin was made possible by the generosity of Coastcare, Electroboard, the Clitheroe Foundation, Sony and the Northern Beaches Learning Alliance. It is the first of six projects directly supporting the zoos’ conservation programs in the wild across NSW including Malleefowl and Brushtailed Rock Wallabies. FactsProject Penguin800 school students; Three High Schools: Balgowlah Boys Campus, Mackellar Girls Campus and Manly Selective Campus These high schools are campuses of the Northern Beaches Secondary College Seven Primary Schools; Narraweena, Harbord, Manly Village, Balgowlah North, Manly Vale, Beacon Hill and Curl Curl North Public Schools. Little PenguinThe Little Penguin, also known as the Blue or Fairy Penguin, is the only penguin native to Australia. Although once fairly common in the Sydney area, numbers have diminished through a combination of reasons including coastal development, pollution, the presence of more people and attacks by domestic pets. The hardy little birds were once very common in Sydney and can still occasionally be glimpsed in the Harbour but shoreside development and domestic pets have driven most colonies away from metropolitan Sydney and its beaches. Little Penguins range around the southern Australian coast, including Bass Strait and Tasmania, and are found as far north as Port Macquarie. They are great swimmers with young birds found to have made journeys of over 1200 km. These aquatic acrobats spend most of the daylight hours at sea, fishing, returning to their burrows at dusk, except when moulting prevents them going to sea. They are capable of climbing steep, rocky ground to reach their burrows. As recently as 20 years ago, Taronga Zoo received calls from Northern Beaches residents about the birds’ cries which were loud and sounded unearthly as they set off for the ocean in the pre-dawn gloom. The Zoo’s Wildlife Hospital annually treats about 40 Little Penguins brought in by the community suffering from malnutrition and injuries. Most are successfully rehabilitated. Things You Can Do at the Beach to Help Little Penguins: Keep dogs on leashes Don’t discard rubbish Don’t throw away tangled fishing lines which can snare penguins Do protect beach trees and plants.