A photo taken at Little Island — a small uninhabited sandbank situated in the Marmion Marine Park just off the coast of Hillarys Boat Harbour in Perth — shows a man standing with two children on the prohibited island, metres away from a bright yellow "no access" sign clearly visible in the water. Within close proximity of the group are two "rare and protected" sea lions.
Marmion Marine Park is zoned to help ensure the biodiversity values of the marine park are conserved and protected. Little Island is one of the three "sanctuary zones" which are "look but don’t take" areas to ensure the highest level of protection for marine habitat and wildlife, and it's off-limits to visitors.
But local woman Babs Lushey told Yahoo News Australia it's "sad" to see "there are always people walking there" — and it's mostly locals who should know better.
"I take my boat around the island almost every weekend and there are always people walking there, so sad. Many animals depend on this island to breed," she said. The only access to the island is people using boats, kayaks or jetskis making Lushey think it's rarely tourists.
"I think those people are mostly locals as you need to have your own boat to get there. And yes, people ignore these signs all time," she added. "They have no idea how much damage they are causing to birds and sea animals by getting that close."
Close proximity to sea lions is prohibited
Many sea lions are known to inhabit the area for most of the year and they fish and swim in nearby waters. According to Parks and Wildlife, sea lions are wild and unpredictable. Swimming with sea lions can be dangerous as they have been known to bite and there is a potential risk of aerial disease transfer such as tuberculosis.
A spokesperson from WA's Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions confirmed to Yahoo there's a "legal separation distance" in place between people, and sea lions or seals. On land, the minimum distance is 10 metres while swimming is 50 metres. Whereas those on a vessel must keep a distance of at least 100 metres.
"Little Island is an important haul-out site for Australian sea lions, which are a threatened species, a spokesperson said. "People need to observe the ‘no access’ markers and stay off the island, as it’s also an important site for seabirds including fairy terns, crested terns and Caspian terns."
Locals rage over trespassers on Little Island
Lushey shared the image on social media this week in the hope it would help educate the masses. "No access means NO ACCESS, please don’t be this kind of person. No hate here just trying to educate those who doesn’t know," she wrote.
The post attracted criticism from other locals who fears this kind of behaviour could have a devastating impact on the area.
"There's a lot of wildlife regeneration work and nest planting happening at the moment and animals are being displaced by people doing this. It is important to note there's good reasons for the signs," one pointed out.
"Do we want to protect and respect vulnerable and natural wildlife that is under constant threat, or are we happy for the next generation to have nothing to marvel at and enjoy," another questioned. While a third fumed, "it's so sad to see bad habits being passed on to children".
Sad scenes witnessed at nearby beach
Many locals, including Lushey, noted a similar scenario playing out at nearby Point Walter on the Swan River in Perth. Dog owners have been warned to stay clear of the area due to vulnerable fairy tern birds nesting.
Originally, volunteers from environmental conservation organisation River Guardians counted 240 nests created by fairy terns. But when they returned this week, they only found roughly 100 nests remaining “with evidence of human and dog activity along the sandbar”.
"Birds who are nesting and feel scared about something can fly away and never return to the nest as we saw happening in Point Water recently," Lushey told Yahoo. "Little Island is also is also home to many birds, and every time someone walks there you see hundreds of birds flying away."
"People just don't give a toss as we have very recently seen with people and dogs destroying a vital fairy tern nesting place which has very clear signs why the site shouldn't be accessed," another on Facebook blasted.
Those concerned about a seal's condition, or if one is seriously injured or entangled, are encouraged to call the Wildcare Helpline on 9474 9055.
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