Aussie penguins may help save seabirds from plastic nets

The number of seabirds killed annually by encounters with trawlers could be dramatically reduced by simply changing the colour of fishing nets, according to new research. And the little penguins from Australia’s Melbourne Zoo played a big role in helping bring this about. 

Scientists from the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS), the University of Tasmania and Zoos Victoria teamed up to test a variety of coloured nets – green, orange and clear – in the penguin pool at the Melbourne Zoo. 

They found that the penguins collided with the orange nets much less often than they did with the green and clear nets. This showed that penguins could detect the orange nets from a distance and avoid swimming into and being caught in them. 

Penguins are just one species of bird affected by fishing gillnets. With 400,000 seabirds killed worldwide very year, this research may be a step towards finding a solution to the problem of bycatch. 

The next step would be trialling these different coloured nets out at sea, and working with industry partners to potentially change fishing practices.  

The research, led by Roshan Hanamseth, is described in a paper in the journal Aquatic Conservation.

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