New push to save Cairns shorebird habitat
A fresh outbreak of hostilities is looming over a major sand-spreading project that threatens to destroy the internationally renowned shorebird feeding grounds on the Cairns waterfront.
The city’s esplanade in Australia’s Far North has long been a magnet for hungry migrating waders, and for the birdwatchers who come from all over the world to see the birds at close range.
But all that has changed – and in a very short time.
Although not on the same scale as the habitat destruction that has occurred in Southern China and South Korea, where hundreds of thousands of hectares of mudflats have been reclaimed for industrial development, the impact is the same.
Because there is insufficient food to sustain them on their long journeys north and south, migrating shorebird numbers along the Yellow Sea coast have dropped alarmingly.
So, too, in Cairns, where the regional council’s sand-spreading program has rendered barren vast areas of previously organism-rich mudflat. Where just a few years ago wader flocks of several thousand would feed daily on the esplanade, now there are just a couple of hundred – on a good day!
Negotiations over the last two years between Cairns Regional Council (CRC) officials and a small group of local birders and environmental experts appeared to have produced a mutually agreeable solution: No ‘new’ sand would be introduced until independent studies were completed.
That was about eight months ago, but on a regular basis ever since – particularly after rain – the council has added huge quantities of beach sand to the foreshore. Introduced for mainly aesthetic reasons (sand is more attractive to tourists than mud), the feeding grounds are now clogged and unable to support the previous number of shorebirds.
Apparently fed up with being fobbed off, the original action group is now planning to enlist the muscle of powerful government agencies and environmental organisations in a public campaign to force the CRC to clean up the mess it has created.
As a Cairns resident and frequenter of the esplanade, I have seen at first hand the rapid degradation of the inshore mudflats. And as a conservation photographer, I lament the disappearance of so many of our annual visitors (shorebirds and birdwatchers).
The creeping carpet of sand washed off the council’s artificial beaches has enabled people (and their pets) to walk out into the bay over solid ground – inevitably chasing the roosting birds off in the process.
We will continue to watch and support this conservation project.
©Tony Neilson 2018