Science students from the Parndana campus of Kangaroo Island Community Education are learning about what it takes to protect hooded plovers.
A pair of the beach-nesting birds on Snellings Beach have already lost two nests so far this breeding season, possibly due to vehicles or unrestrained dogs on the beach.
As part of their science curriculum with teacher Shaheen Bradford, the Parndana Year 5/6 class on November 6 visited Snellings where they conducted pit-fall trapping and collecting of invertebrates along the high water mark.
Local entomologist Richard Glatz kindly took the specimens and identified more than 20 different potential hooded plover prey items.
Also working with the students on the Snellings activity was Caroline Paterson, Beach-Nesting Bird Program volunteer at Birdlife Australia and parent of one of the students.
"We set up a mock nest to show how easy it is to accidentally crush eggs and talked about natural and introduced threats," Miss Paterson said.
"At the end of the day we detected the pair at the eastern end of the beach and used the spotting scope and binoculars to establish nesting behaviour."
Ms Paterson said she was despondent about this year's breeding success of the pair of hooded plovers at Snellings Beach.
Both the failed nests were located at the far end of the beach at the base of the dune at the mouth of the Middle River estuary, which at least allowed for most of the beach to be utilised for recreation without it being a major disruption to locals or visitors.
After the first nest attempt for the season in September, she went to monitor the pair, which had been incubating three eggs, and there were dog prints passing directly through the middle of the fence and across the nest location.
The eggs were gone and the adults foraging in the middle of the beach. She removed the fence and sign, which had not been interfered with and the human and dog prints around the edge of the fence-line, indicated most people were doing the right thing.
After the class visit detected breeding in November, Ms Paterson returned with her daughter and a friend from the Year 5/6 class.
They located the new nest which had three eggs and put up a new fence and signs. The Year 5/6 class was due to return with the Year 1 class to share their learnings on November 29, so she went down early in the week to check the progress.
She was devastated to see that the adults were on the beach but the nest near the riverside dune was gone.
There were fresh vehicle tracks that had driven around the fence and turned around within a metre of the nest site and human and dog tracks in the area.
"It is possible that the nest failed on the hottest recorded November day the week before," she said. "But it is also likely that the adult birds had an increased level of disturbance that left their eggs exposed to the heat or predators.
"Hoodies will stand over the eggs and try to shade them, even in extreme heat but as passive nest defenders they will leave the nest to draw threats away.
"I left the nest and sign in place and asked Mrs Bradford to show to the kids what had happened remove the fence on the excursion."
Miss Paterson is hoping to spread the word about the beach-nesting birds and encourage the local community to "share the beach" during breeding season.
"Maybe if people realise that our local kids are trying to help these iconic threatened birds, they might try a bit harder to manage their dogs and vehicle use near nest sites, or call let people know the impacts of doing the wrong thing," she said.
"With our peak visitor season and beach recreation season here, the disturbance levels will only increase and without the support of our community and coastal land managers, nests in high impact locations around the Island are at a high risk.
"Hooded plovers may be commonly seen around our coast but their breeding success is very low - only around 25 per cent of eggs hatch and 25 per cent of chicks make it fledging - but only half of those will survive to be breeding adults."
In better news, the nesting hoodies at Hog Bay Beach at Penneshaw have already fledged one set of chicks, according to BirdLife volunteer Les Montanjees.
The Kangaroo Island Council has however put off any decision on revised beach access signs until staff can review costs and designs.