Skip to main content

Fairy Terns

The Rous Head Fairy Tern Sanctuary is an ongoing voluntary project on reclaimed land comprising design, construction and operation of a managed conservation area for a listed threatened bird species, the Australian Fairy Tern.

The sanctuary was the most successful breeding site for Fairy Terns in the Perth metropolitan area during the 2017-18 summer mating season yielding more chicks than any other site. Since the area was constructed, the adult breeding population has grown from 90 adult pairs in 2013-14 to 250 adult pairs in 2017-18.

Fairy tern numbers graph

Prior to the creation of the area, Fairy Terns rarely bred at the port in pairs or small groups. Eggs were laid in shallow sand scrapes and vulnerable to destruction from humans, dogs or vehicles.

The success of the conservation area is due to its location and design, based on advice from Australian conservation authorities and particularly the Western Australian Museum. The site was elevated and located with direct ocean access where Fairy Tern prey (bait fish) are abundant and close.

Fremantle Ports engaged with the community and users of the port area to consider site design options and to garner community support for the site. Fremantle Community Men's Shed painted model replicas of the terns which were planted at the site to encourage prospecting terns to land. Birdlife Australia contributed to the development of interpretive signage drawing on its national experience.

The birds make their nests in a scrape in shelly sand and lay one to two speckled eggs between November and March. We used sandy material dredged in the Inner Harbour deepening of 2010 to create the breeding conditions favoured by the fairy terns. The breeding sanctuary is fenced to protect the nesting colony from intrusion and to prevent the chicks from straying onto the adjacent pedestrian and cycle pathway. The site was replenished with shelly sand before the 2017-18 breeding season.

The Conservation Council of WA and Murdoch University are involved in ongoing conservation research at the site including the South West Fairy Tern Project and pHD research on requirements for colony formation.

The chicks on site in January 2018 were banded as part of the Conservation Council’s Fairy Tern Network Monitoring Program to understand more about fairy tern movements, relationships and population health.

Fremantle Ports has supported the creation of a Fairy Tern Network, including a Facebook page to encourage and coordinate community involvement.

International recognition

PIANC, the World Association for Waterborne Transport Infrastructure, has given the fairy tern sanctuary an official Working with Nature Certificate of Recognition. Fremantle is the first Australian port to receive PIANC Working with Nature accreditation.

Three fairy terns standing on a rock by the ocean

Find out how you can explore the port or get ferry and cruise info...