It helps the world’s smallest penguins travel safely from their nests to sea.
It’s not everyday you hear about an underpass built just for penguins—but the tiny blue penguins of Oamaru, New Zealand are loved very much by their townspeople.
To protect the blue-feathered friends that populate the land, a tunnel was recently built at Oamaru Harbor, Otago, on the east coast of the South Island. In the early 90s, the“fairy penguins” began nesting in an abandoned rock quarry at the edge of the harbor. Now, 75,000 people visit the colony every year to take in the sites of the 2-pound birds.
With all the hustle and bustle of visitors and traffic, it can be difficult for the penguins to safely navigate from ocean to quarry. The penguins fish at sea but nest on land, and the busy Waterfront Road stands in their way of both destinations. That’s why the city, townspeople and researchers banded together to create an underpass to ensure a safe commute for the beloved birds.
Penguins are habitual creatures, so the underpass was built keeping in mind they would use their same path, regardless of traffic. “It’s a well-used and well-travelled road, particularly in the summer when the penguins have their chicks and their movements are highest,” Jason Gaskill, general manager of the colony, told CNN. “At most of the other places where the penguins come ashore there isn’t the volume of traffic or there are no roads. So it was kind of a special case.”
Power and water supply lines were moved so the 80-foot long underpass would follow the penguins’ usual route. It began construction in September, and by November it was functioning with special lighting to help the birds see their underground route. Cameras were also installed in the tunnel so people could monitor their commute/witness the cuteness firsthand. It’s estimated around 20 penguins use the underpass each night.
Blue-feathered penguins, who live an average of 10 years, only live in New Zealand and along Australia’s south coast. While they are not endangered, their numbers are rapidly declining. Hopefully by creating this underpass, it won’t just make the penguins’ lives easier but save their lives, too. Now what other adorable birds need tunnels?