Migratory Shorebirds

image - Sharp-tailed Sandpipers
Sharp-tailed Sandpipers
© G. Chapman

XCat Series Race Gold Coast, Broadwater - August 21-23, 2015 Impact on migratory shorebirds and threatened species of Curlew Island

Shorebirds (waders) make up about 10% of Australia's species of birds. Most species breed in the Northern Hemisphere. At the end of the breeding season (August) each year, about 8 million migratory shorebirds (adults and newly fledged chicks) leave before the onset of the northern winter to travel up to 11,000 kilometres along specific flight paths (called flyways) to the warm south in Australia and New Zealand. The reverse flight path is taken back to the melting Arctic snows in the Northern spring (March-April) that signals the hatching of masses of insects. These providing a vital food source for self-feeding chicks when they hatch. And so the yearly cycle goes on.

In 2008, Professor Kingsford, Silke Nebel and John Porter (UNSW School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences) published the results of a long-term, large scale aerial survey of the distribution and abundance of shorebirds of inland central-eastern Australia. They found that migratory shorebird populations in inland central-eastern Australia had plunged by 73 % between 1983 and 2006. At the same time, Australia's 15 species of resident shorebirds - such as avocets and stilts - have decreased by 81 %. A more recent study of coastal shorebird population trends in Moreton Bay by Howard Wilson and colleagues in 2011 found that 7 (of 22) migratory shorebird species were decreasing, while populations of resident breeding species were stable. The species that were decreasing showed significant annual rates of reductions in population of between 2.4 - 9.1 % a year for the last 15 years. This study led to a broad examination of shorebird counts across the entire continent. This study found populations of 10 species of migratory shorebird were decreasing nationally. The species with the greatest decrease had all stopped in the Yellow Sea between China and Korea during their migrations.

It is known that the wetlands and resting places that migratory shorebirds rely on for food and recuperation are shrinking virtually all along the way along their migration path from Australia through Asia into China, Russia and Alaska. Australia has bilateral treaties to conserve migratory birds and their habitats with China, Korea and Japan. The analyses of migratory shorebird population trends show that these agreements are ineffective at reducing habitat loss in these critical coastal wetlands used by shorebirds during their migration.

Our special interest group, Queensland Wader Study Group, makes monthly counts of shorebirds on at least 100 shorebird resting sites (roosts) in Queensland. They also work closely with the other Australian Wader organisations to improve the conservation of shorebirds nationally. Queensland has many regions with important shorebird habitat. In south-east Queensland, Moreton Bay and Great Sandy Strait (Hervey Bay) are important habitats. Both regions are recognized as Ramsar sites as they support internationally-important populations of migratory shorebirds. They form part of an internationally-linked series of wetlands called the East Asian - Australasian Flyway. This flyway is one of the eight major migratory shorebird flyways in the world.

XCat Series Race Gold Coast, Broadwater - August 21-23, 2015 Impact on migratory shorebirds and threatened species of Curlew Island

The XCat series race for high performance catamarans was conducted on the Gold Coast Broadwater from Friday 21 August to Sunday 23 August 2015. Some activities were programmed directly beside Curlew Island, an unofficially named sandy island, and a high tide roost for shorebirds. The race was not planned with environmental considerations in mind and an exclusion zone to include Curlew Island did not appear to eventuate.

Robert Westerman in consultation with Birds Queensland and Birdlife Southern Queensland organised a survey of any impact of the racing on the birds of the island prior, during and the day following the races. Robert provided a comprehensive report (pdf file, 1MB).

A summary of his report:

XCat racing is not an ideal activity to conduct near an ecological sensitive site. It has the potential to have a high impact on residing species. In this instance the impact appeared to be minimal on migratory species but did impact a local resident species, one listed as Vulnerable under the Nature Conservation Act of Queensland.

The race was conducted in August when very low high tides prevail. Large areas of the sandbank extending from the western shore were still exposed at high tide so the Eastern Curlews and Double-banded Plovers had no need to use the higher and more exposed parts of the island as a roost.

Only one summer migrant species, the Critically Endangered Eastern Curlew, is present in August. In this instance the birds were able to roost in area sheltered away from the impacts of the race.

This year the Vulnerable listed Beach Stone-curlew bred and resided on the eastern side of the island, adjacent to the racing and spectator craft. The parents abandoned their young during the race but did return on the Monday following the race. This was a critical time for the juvenile birds as one was injured form entanglement in discarded fishing line.

Sandra Dunglison
September 2015

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