Artwork for new shorebird signs in Cairns
Cairns seeks improved public protection of shorebirds through themed signage. Sign ©CRC

Positive news for a unique bird-watching location

The decimated shorebird population of the Cairns Esplanade in Far North Queensland is about to receive help – from the organisation that threatened them in the first place.

A recent ‘beach’ creation project entailing dispersal of huge quantities of introduced and excavated sand along the city’s Trinity Bay foreshore has had a devastating impact on a habitat that previously supported wader flocks numbering thousands.

Just four years ago there were food-rich inter-tidal mudflats right up to the water’s edge for the birds to feed on – disturbed only by a few idiots who soon found themselves waste deep in mud.

Dogs chasing shorebirds
Cairns council backs wader protection campaign. Photo: ©Tony Neilson

Double impact

The volume of introduced sand was such that it was quickly collected by tides and annual cyclones, and dispersed 100-plus metres into the bay. That had the double impact of massively reducing the nutrient value of the mud and ‘solidifying’ it – enabling more people to wander further out for a ‘selfie’, or to let their dogs loose where the birds once fed or rested in peace.

But there is some good news for the remaining few hundred. The Cairns Regional Council (CRC) has seen the error of its ways and is backing a wader protection campaign.

Sand spreading is being confined to half the previous area until an independent study of dispersal by tidal and storm action is evaluated. Meanwhile, the CRC is funding an educational signage campaign to improve public understanding of the shorebirds and why they should not be disturbed – especially by people, dogs and drones.

'Don't Disturb' bird signage
New story-telling signage will carry a strong ‘Don’t Disturb’ message. Sign ©CRC

Uniqueness of Cairns

The uniqueness of Cairns as a wader watching location was noted by Keith Woodley, manager of the Miranda Shorebird Centre in New Zealand, during a recent visit.
An internationally recognised wader expert and author of several books on the subject, Woodley told Natural Images he had never been anywhere where the waders were so close and approachable as on the Cairns foreshore.

“Having normally skittish birds like godwits and knots walking along the shoreline just a couple of metres away is astonishing in my experience. Most places around the world I go to observe waders you need a powerful scope at the very least,” he said.

(Footnote: A suite of bird-friendly public information signs (examples above) has been designed and is expected to be installed in early 2018.)

©Natural Images 2017

©2018 TONY NEILSON All Rights Reserved. All images are protected by Australian copyright law and cannot be downloaded or reproduced without my permission. Please contact me.


  1. David Mead

    Positive news for the esplanade is a nice change, cross the fingers it is not a smoke screen.
    Also interesting to hear, Mr Woodley (international wader expert), explain what a unique experience we have here in Cairns, with waders being easily viewed at close quarters..

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