Sand excavation, Cairns esplanade
Stormwater sand being spread along Cairns Esplanade – ©Tony Neilson

Cairns wader numbers lowest ever recorded

Migratory shorebird populations in the Cairns area of Far North Queensland continue to fall at a dramatic rate.

Although not a site of great significance in the global scheme of wading bird things, it is special for one important reason.

For decades, the city’s esplanade has been a magnet to local and international birders and photographers because the roosting shorebirds can be observed at very close quarters.

Until about 2014 it was common to see 2000 – 3000 waders a day along the Trinity Bay shoreline at high tide. But that is no longer the case.

News got worse

A late September 2016 count in the bay area by local birders produced less than 1000 waders. And the news just got a whole lot worse. A 30 September 2017 survey by roughly the same group identified 650 waders – the lowest ever recorded at that time of year. (Red-necked stints and bar-tailed godwits made up 63%.)

red-necked stints in breeding plumage
Red-necked stints now the most numerous Cairns shorebirds – ©Tony Neilson

External factors such as climate change and massive feeding ground loss along the East Asian-Australasian flyway will have contributed to this disaster. But there is another likely culprit much closer to home.

Massive quantities of sand added (for largely aesthetic reasons) to the esplanade foreshore by the Cairns Regional Council, has degraded the previously nutrient-rich mudflats.

Indications ‘normal’

Accurate counts of shorebird returns at key sites around Australia and New Zealand won’t be available until late November, but early indications are that they are ‘normal’.

That being so, it would be reasonable to assume the Cairns decline is more a case of the waders going elsewhere for food than any of the other external factors.

Local birding groups continue to work with the Cairns council on various remedial initiatives, but progress is slow and full recovery of the vast mudflat ecosystem may ultimately rely on Nature herself.

©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.


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