Red-necked avocets roosting at a river-side wetland
Australia’s endemic red-necked avocet feeds only in shallow salt or fresh water wetlands. Photo: ©Tony Neilson

Australian shorebird habitat destruction continues

Coastal redevelopment probably heads off climate change as the major global threat to migratory wading birds, and other creatures with an aquatic or benthic dependence.

And while large-scale destruction of wetlands in East Asia draws most environmental criticism, Australia is by no means exempt.

Indeed, the Australian Department of the Environment and Energy is on record as saying urbanisation and coastal development for farming and industry are a major pressure on terrestrial and marine biodiversity. Not forgetting environmental quality, water resources, air quality, and cultural and natural heritage.

Drastic decline

The department says the decline of Australia’s inland wetlands is identified as a significant contributor to the drastic drop in shorebirds (73% and 81% declines for migratory and resident shorebirds, respectively) between 1983 and 2006. (And if anything, the situation is now worse.)

In far North Queensland, where this writer lives, there is ample evidence of continuing environmental damage and destruction – coastal and otherwise. But for now, we have highlighted two examples of why we think Aussies should be very concerned, and one piece of good news.

Marina, Airlie Beach, Queensland
The cost of mud disposal could yet scupper the Toondah Harbour marina proposal. Photo: ©Tony Neilson

Toondah Harbour

The proposed Toondah Harbour redevelopment is on Moreton Bay, just north of Brisbane. Spread over 30 years, if approved the $1.39 billion scheme would deliver an 800-berth marina, hotel, port facilities and 3600 residential units.

But there is a major environmental snag: the scheme would take over part of Moreton Bay’s internationally significant Ramsar wetland.

Birdlife Southern Queensland convenor Judith Hoyle told the ABC last April that the coastline was being “nibbled away” by projects such as Toondah.

Some face extinction

“Right along the eastern seaboard this is happening and if we don’t start to say ‘every little piece of habitat matters’ then [some wading] birds will become extinct in my life time,” she said.

The Queensland Government declared the Toondah Harbour project a Priority Development Area in June 2013. But the Queensland Department of Environment and Energy and the Walker Group (developer) have recently deferred for the sixth time federal referral of the scheme under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act until mid-2017.

At risk if approved are feeding grounds for large flocks of wading and water birds, plus mangrove and seagrass beds, fish nurseries, koala habitat and corals.

Image of pied cormorant skimming across a calm lake
It is ‘red line’ time for many global wetlands. Photo: ©Tony Neilson

Furious opposition

On the other side of the country, there is furious community opposition to bulldozing of an internationally important wetland to make way for a new highway in Perth.

The $1.9 billion Roe 8 extension to the Perth Freight Link is being built through the Beeliar wetlands. Community groups have fought it unsuccessfully in the courts, and the local council and state Labor and Greens politicians are against it.

But demolition work continues despite large ongoing protests and numerous arrests. Turtle nests are reported among the latest casualties of bush and wetland bulldozing.

But there is hope. The WA state election is on 11 March and early polling suggests the incumbent Liberal government will lose in a landslide. If so, the Labor opposition says it will scrap the project.

Restoring the Esplanade

The Cairns Esplanade – internationally recognised as one of the world’s best places to easily observe migratory wading birds at close range – was until recently heading for environmental ignominy.

Imprudent dispersal of sand over several years along the Trinity Bay foreshore by the city’s regional council had choked the life out of the adjoining, organism-rich mudflats. As a result, the daily spectacle of thousands of waders flying in t feed and roost on the high tide became a trickle.

Birders with scopes and binocular on the Cairns Esplanades
Things are looking up for international birdwatchers on the Cairns Esplanade. Photo: ©Tony Neilson

Unhappy birds and birders

Inland wetland loss and global reduction in shorebird numbers may also have contributed to the Cairns catastrophe. But the net result was unhappy birds and visiting bird watchers; both groups having travelled vast distances in the expectation of enjoying the special conditions that the Esplanade was known for.

However, there is better news. The Cairns council, acting on expert advice from local environmental and birding groups, has begun a program to make good some of the damage, and to restore the Esplanade as a wader-friendly location.

Sanding along the foreshore has been greatly reduced, new barriers are being erected to discourage public access to sensitive roosting areas, stormwater outlets are being redirected and bird-friendly information signage is on the way.

This level of quiet cooperation between conservation interests and local government is rare, and should be celebrated when it happens.

Story ©Natural Images 2017

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

©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.

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