By BRITTANY COLES
Flash photography is strictly prohibited when visiting the St Kilda penguin colony, but visitors are now are being encouraged to use their smartphones for something else.
Not-for-profit organisation Earthcare St Kilda, a team of volunteers who work with government bodies to improve the natural resources of the City of Port Phillip, have announced the development of an interactive smartphone application for visitors to view St Kilda’s penguin colony.
The app will be free to download for all visitors of the St Kilda penguin colony, and will allow users to learn and engage with the colony on an interactive level.
As visitors tour the colony, the app will provide an audio guide and display videos, photos and information about the individual penguins they encounter during their visit.
The proposed framework of the app will provide information into users in three sections through a simple design.
The three sections are divided into threats to the penguins, sustainability tips, and protecting the penguins through interactive digital features.
Earthcare St Kilda is responsible for the research and management of the 1400 penguin colony, which appear at the breakwater at the end of St Kilda pier.
The research coordinator of Earthcare St Kilda, Flossy Sperring, said the app will help the group to monitor the safety of both visitors and penguins.
“During summer, the breakwater can be visited by roughly 1000 tourists a night,” Ms Sperring said.
“[Earthcare] doesn’t have enough penguin guides to enforce the rules and regulations, so we hope a digital app will increase the visitors’ experience,” she said.
Every night of the year, an Earthcare St Kilda volunteer is present on the breakwater to monitor the area.
Ms Sperring said, despite the efforts of volunteers to ensure tourists maintain the three-metre distance rule from the penguins and refrain from flash photography, there is a lot of information being missed by tourists.
“It will make our job easier by having users answer questions in the app’s survey section, such as how many people and penguins they see and when people are using flash photography,” she said.
There are currently no restrictions on the number of people who can be at the breakwater at one time.
Bus companies often transport a large number of international tourists to the breakwater daily, which Earthcare St Kilda said has become a major concern.
“We are happy for [the companies] to drop visitors, but we don’t want people to be uninformed,” Ms Sperring said.
“So, if tourists can download our app ahead of their visit, they will receive guided information for free,” she said.
The app development team is planning to make the app accessible for all visitors by featuring information in multiple languages.
The default language of the app will be set to English, but the option for users to change that to Mandarin, Japanese, Spanish and French will be highly likely after language suggestions from visitors are reviewed by the app development team.
Coastcare facilitator of Port Phillip Philip Wierzbowski said there has been an ongoing increase of visitors to the St Kilda penguin colony for a number of years.
“As a result of the increase in popularity, it is really important to engage with as many people as possible to ensure the volunteer effort is aligned,” Mr Wierzbowski said.
“The critical thing this app will bring is citizen science that prioritises the issues of wildlife safety,” he said.
The app was first pitched on community grants website Pick My Project in 2018.
However, when donations from the website weren’t enough, Earthcare St Kilda received a $10,000 grant from Coastcare Victoria to launch the app.
The app is still in the planning stage, and developers are currently seeking creative help.
Earthcare St Kilda said they hope to announce the release date of the free app soon.