As the hotter, drier weather attracts people and their pets to beaches to cool off, coastal visitors are being urged to look out for hooded plovers nesting along Mornington Peninsula shorelines and support the birds by giving them plenty of space and keeping dogs away from breeding areas.
Now in its third season, the Conservation Regulator’s Operation Save our Hoodies (SoHo), run in partnership with Parks Victoria and Birdlife Australia, is helping protect this vulnerable beach-nesting bird during their crucial breeding season by educating beachgoers and enforcing rules around nesting sites.
Hooded plovers are tiny, threatened birds which lay eggs in shallow sand scrapes and raise their chicks on beaches between August and March. The species faces significant threats from people trampling nests or scaring them into abandoning their eggs, and from dogs not under control that chase, catch, and kill vulnerable chicks.
Birdlife Australia data shows approximately 764 eggs were laid along Victoria’s coastline in the 2022-23 season, but the combination of human impacts, predators, and harsh environmental factors meant only a quarter of those eggs hatched, and only 43 chicks survived to become juveniles.
Conservation Regulator and Parks Victoria authorised officers are patrolling beaches along the south of the peninsula, including Gunnamatta to Portsea and ocean beaches at Sorrento and Rye, to protect the birds while they are breeding and to give the species their best chance over summer as they face risks from increased beach users. Patrols will occur on both weekends and weekdays.
Birdlife Australia volunteers also have a presence at beaches to monitor hooded plovers and help protection efforts by raising public awareness of the species, installing signage, and fencing-off nesting sites.
The public is encouraged to keep their distance and report any sightings of hooded plovers nesting in unmarked areas to BirdLife Australia on 9347 0757 or firstname.lastname@example.org
From September 2022 to April 2023, authorised officers conducted 232 patrols along the coast, engaging with more than 1500 people, and although most beachgoers were doing the right thing, authorities fined 83 people for various offences, including disturbing birds and dog owners not complying with rules near hooded plover habitat.
Hooded plovers are protected under the Wildlife Act 1975 and it is illegal to disturb, injure or destroy them; damage their habitat; or interfere with warning signage, with maximum penalties ranging between $3846 and $46,154. Dog owners must also be aware of local beach regulations, particularly areas where dogs are prohibited, and always keep pets on-lead or under their control, as they face fines up to $4807 if their dog attacks wildlife.
The Conservation Regulator investigates reports of habitat destruction and dogs harassing hooded plovers. Reports can be made to Crime Stoppers Victoria on 1800 333 000.