Change for Good

Seabird Stopover

The ability of the natural world to recover and repair itself is remarkable. Accompanied by the increasing conservation efforts of people all over the world, there is an extraordinary amount of potential for the future of all organisms to live in safety and harmony. There are many conservation success stories emerging around the world. The recovery of Gould's Petrel and the conservation of offshore islands for seabird conservation is one of these stories. 

Why are islands so important for biodiversity?

Written and compiled by Emily Mowat Bird Life Australia

Islands make up only 5.3% of the Earth's land area but they are home to 19% of all bird species and 17% of flowering plants. So why are they so high in biodiversity? Islands can be thought of as “safe havens” for plants and animals away from the threats they may face on the mainland. For example, seabirds that nest on the ground can’t survive where there are predators such as rats, dogs, foxes or cats that can eat their eggs and chicks.  This means that islands without these predators are the only places most seabirds can successfully breed. Because islands are naturally isolated, animals or plants that live there are separated from other members of their species.  This means that over time they might evolve to become unique species or subspecies. Additionally, islands may also provide important stopping off points for species on migration to rest or feed.


Cabbage Tree Island as seen from Tomaree Headland, Port Stephens NSW

Photo credit: Tim J Keegan

The Amazing Islands of Port Stephens

There are many special islands in Port Stephens. If you look out from the top of Tomaree lookout or Yaccaba Headland, you’ll be able to see some of them in the distance! Have a look at the map below to see where all the islands are located.

The closest islands to Nelson Bay are Cabbage Tree Island, Boondelbah, and Little Island. Further north is Broughton Island, and several smaller nearby islands known as Little Broughton, North Rock and Inner Rock. You can visit Broughton Island (and even camp there!), but all the other islands are highly-protected nature reserves that can only be visited by National Parks staff and scientists with special permits.

The islands of Port Stephens are home to a wide variety of animals and plants.  You will learn all about the Gould’s petrel  – our rarest seabird – in the next section!

The wedge-tailed shearwater and short-tailed shearwater are two species of burrowing seabirds that can be found breeding on many of the Port Stephens islands during summer.  You can hear their moaning calls if you are lucky enough to camp there! A small number of white-faced storm-petrels breed on the tiny islands North Rock and Inner Rock. These are one of our smallest seabird species! Little Penguins can also be found on Broughton, Little Broughton, Boondelbah and Cabbage Tree Islands.

 Link to next section


White-faced storm-petrel

Photo credit: Emily Mowat (BirdLife Australia)

Wedge-tailed shearwater fledgling, Broughton Island

Photo credit: Emily Mowat (BirdLife Australia)


Important islands for seabird conservation, Port Stephens, NSW

Source: Esri, DigitalGlobe, GeoEye, Earthstar Geographics, ONES/Airbus, DS, USDA, USGS, AeroGRID, IGN, and the GIS

Introducing Gould's Petrel

The Gould’s petrel is a small black and white seabird which is endemic to the islands of NSW – this means it breeds nowhere else on earth!  Its scientific name is Pterodroma leucoptera.  The genus Pterodroma means “winged racer”, and the species name leucoptera means “white-winged” because of its white underwings.

The Gould’s petrel is named after John Gould, a natural historian who made a living from collecting large numbers of bird specimens for his taxidermy business. Alongside his wife Elizabeth, he also produced successful illustrated natural history books – you can see their illustration of the Gould’s petrel below.

Like other petrels, the Gould’s petrel spends most of the year at sea, feeding on fish, small squid and krill in the central and eastern Pacific Ocean. It only returns to land for the breeding season, between November and March. It returns to the same breeding island every year, to meet up with the same partner, at the exact same nest site!


Gould's petrel, Cabbage Tree Island, Port Stephens, NSW

Photo credit: Dean Portelli

Lifecycle of Gould's Petrel

Have a look at the diagram below to learn more about the amazing life cycle of this bird.

Gould's petrel life cycle.JPG

Created by Emily Mowat

This project is supported by Hunter Local Land Services through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.

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