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.
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 at the mouth of the Swan River Estuary 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 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. Fremantle Ports has supported the creation of a Fairy Tern Network, including a Facebook page to encourage and coordinate community involvement at the project site.