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Wildlife Conservation Plan for Migratory Shorebirds
Sutherland Shire Environment Centre supports the decision by the Department of Environment and Heritage to develop a Wildlife Conservation Plan for Migratory Shorebirds. In particular, we note the importance of habitat protection for migratory birds, and the problems caused by urban development and introduced species.
The Department will, no doubt, receive expert advice and comment on Migratory Shorebirds and their habitat throughout Australia in general. Our organisation has a special interest in the Southern Sydney region, in particular the fragmented wetlands of Botany Bay : Penrhyn Estuary, Towra Point and Taren Point. We will, therefore, be restricting our comment to what we know of this area.
General threats to migratory bird species in Australia are:
loss of habitat;
degradation of habitat;
hunting of the birds and collection of eggs;
unchecked human intervention in pursuit of natural resources for economic gain.
For the last fifty years, Botany Bay has been under siege from many quarters: the development of Caltex Oil Refinery, Port Botany, Kingsford-Smith Airport and petro-chemcial storages in Banksmeadow, to name the main ones. The proposed expansion of Port Botany, currently the subject of a Commission of Inquiry, poses a new major threat to vital migratory shorebird habitat in Botany Bay . In the unthinkable event that the proposal is approved, expansion of the port would involve reclaiming 60 hectares of the Bay directly adjacent to Penrhyn Estuary; an increased number of larger container ships moving within the Bay (not to mention what this will mean for land-based traffic) and increased noise and pollution levels that will result from this extra activity.
Its threat to migratory birds will occur through alteration and destruction of vital, remnant habitat within the Bay. Other threats are changes to wave energies, circulating pollutants, destroying sea grass beds and eroding beaches all around the Bay.
Shorebird communities in Botany Bay
The mudflats of Taren Point are considered to be a distinct geological feature in the Botany Bay landscape, having been deposited by ancient alluvial processes via the Georges River . This distinguishes them from other areas within Botany Bay , such as Towra Point, which were formed as a result of deposition of marine sands. Taren Point is vitally important for maintaining the diversity of habitats in Botany Bay for local and migratory bird populations. The mudflats support a range of aquatic vegetation including seagrass and mangrove.
The Taren Point Shorebird Community is the community of shorebirds (also known as waders) that only occurs on the mudflats of the Georges River between Taren Point and Shell Point in Botany Bay . As the habitats adjacent to Taren Point are of different geomorphological origin, they do not provide alternative habitat for the Taren Point Shorebird Community. The Taren Point Shorebird Community is unique in Botany Bay due to the occurrence of the Terek Sandpiper ( Xenus cinereus ), which is listed as a vulnerable species on the schedules of the NSW Threatened Species Conservation Act ; and supports a greater number of the small mudflat feeding shorebirds, such as Red-necked Stint ( Calidris ruficollis ), Ruddy Turnstone ( Arenaria interpres ), Red Knot ( Calidris canutus ), Curlew Sandpiper ( Calidris ferruginea ), Pacific Golden Plover ( Pluvialis fulva ) and Grey-tailed Tattler ( Heteroscelus brevipes ).
The significance of this community is often overshadowed by its internationally recognised Ramsar-listed neighbour, Towra Point. The Taren Point Wetlands Group has been collecting shorebird data between Taren Point and Shell Point for many years, and argue that the greatest diversity of shorebirds occurs around Taren Point. Indeed, in a Draft Plan of Management for Towra Point Nature Reserve (TPNR), National Parks and Wildlife Service recommended that efforts be made to incorporate Taren Point into the Ramsar wetlands of the TPNR.
The Taren Point Shorebird Community is under constant pressure from development in Botany Bay, and the associated alteration to the natural processes within Botany Bay pose significant threats. Over the years, development has been allowed to evolve in non-strategic, unchecked bursts around Shell Point and Taren Point. Aside from the observations of the Taren Point Wetlands Group, little-to-no formal research has been undertaken of the shorebird community in this part of Botany Bay .
The Taren Point Wetlands Group will be making their own submission and will be providing a more detailed insight into the migratory shorebirds at Taren Point.
Towra Point is home to the most important wetland in the Sydney region. It is a Ramsar-listed site of international conservation significance, and is one of the most important breeding sites for the endangered Little Tern on the Australian east coast. It is managed by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service.
The dominant habitats within the Reserve are saltmarsh and open woodland. The Reserve is surrounded by large areas of mudflat, mangroves and seagrass beds. These are habitats of high conservation significance within the region. Towra includes 50% of the remaining mangroves in Sydney and most of the saltmarshes remaining in the Sydney region.
Towra Point is a major breeding, feeding and roosting site for threatened bird species. Thirty-four migratory bird species have been recorded within the Reserve, including the Japanese Snipe. The bird species most under threat at Towra Point are the Little Tern ( Sterna albifrons ) and the Pied Oystercatcher ( Haematopis longirostrus ), which are listed as endangered and threatened, respectively, under the NSW Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995.
Various other species of wader bird and migratory species also inhabit Towra Point, such as Plovers, Turnstones, Curlew, Whimbrel, Tattlers, Sandpipers, Greenshank, Snipes, Godwits, Knots, Stints and Sanderlings. About 29.4% of these bird species are listed as vulnerable or endangered under the NSW Threatened Species and Conservation Act 1995, (under schedules 1&2).
Spit Island is managed by National Parks and Wildlife Service as a Little Tern breeding site and as a site for feeding and roosting for migratory waders and other wetlands birds as mentioned above. Other species have also benefited from the Little Tern Management. The island provides a more secure nesting area than mainland sites because of its isolation from foxes and cats. A Little Tern colony, displaced from the northern shores of Botany Bay by airport construction, has been successfully relocated to the island.
The Spit Island area is covered under State Environmental Planning Policy No.39 - Spit Island Bird Habitat, which enables development for the purpose of creating and protecting a bird habitat at Spit Island to be carried out without Council consent being required. However, EIS and approval from NPWS, Fisheries and EPA is required.
There is concern that the island may join up to the mainland. The level of sand movement in the Bay is high and it is estimated that 7000 cubic metres of sand is shifted each year in this area - eventually the island may silt up to the mainland. If this occurs it would be very difficult to maintain protection. One fox could wipe out the whole Little Tern colony in one night.
The Friends of Towra Point Nature Reserve undertake work in the Nature Reserve on at least one Saturday per month. Their activities are varied and include bush regeneration, seed collection, vegetation surveys and habitat creation for the Little Tern. The activities are coordinated by National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS).
Towra Point wetlands are also subject to the impacts of 24-hour sandmining activity occurring directly adjacent to the Reserve. In recent years sandminers have excavated down to 8 metres below ground-level, creating pits that have filled with groundwater. The pits are then filled with VENM (Virgin Excavated Natural Materials), brought in from building sites all over Sydney . The groundwater has thus become contaminated and threatens to upset the delicate balances in place at Towra Point.
Sutherland Shire Environment Centre feels the Federal Government needs to be proactive in its adherence to the requirements of the Ramsar Convention. Contracting Parties (member countries) commit themselves to:
Promote the wise use of all wetlands within their territory through their national land-use planning, including wetland conservation and management;
Promote training in wetland research, management and wise use ;
Consult with other Parties about the implementation of the Convention, especially with regard to transfrontier wetlands, shared water systems, shared species, and development projects that may affect wetlands.
With the continuation of sandmining on the Kurnell Peninsula , and unstrategic, uncoordinated development around Botany Bay , the local community is questioning to what degree the Australian Government is honouring its abovementioned obligations to the Bay's Shorebird wetland habitat.
Penrhyn Estuary, adjacent to Port Botany on the northern side of the Bay, is one of the most important sites for both migratory and over-wintering shorebirds in Botany Bay, accommodating over 37 shorebird species, 14 of which are migratory waders nominated under Japan - Australia Migratory Bird Agreement (JAMBA) and the China - Australia Migratory Bird Agreement (CAMBA).
JAMBA and CAMBA, the bilateral agreements that commit the governments of Australia , Japan and China to protect endangered and migratory bird species listed in the agreements. The extensive mudflats of the estuary, especially during high tide, provide essential foraging habitat for up to 34 species of shorebird. Thirty-two species have also been recorded roosting on the sandflats of the western side. It is one of the two roost sites for the Double-banded Plover, and is an important staging area for up to 80 endangered Little Terns.
The estuary also has Sanderlings, Terek Sandpipers and Pied Oystercatchers, all of which are classified as vulnerable under Schedule 2 of the NSW Threatened Species Act. Unfortunately, Penrhyn Estuary does not have the same protection as Towra Point.
Those who have been visiting Penrhyn estuary over the last ten to twenty years will be fully aware that wader numbers have crashed dramatically over that time. The area is under constant change from public activities including boat launching, jet skis, walking dogs off leash, as well as natural changes such as encroachment of mangroves. This area will continue to become degraded as habitat for waders unless someone is prepared to spend a million or two on restoring the area.
The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) were approached in December 2002 to consider zoning the Penrhyn Estuary as a nature reserve. NPWS gave an explanation of the complex bureaucratic system of NSW Government authorities involved in that area, including Sydney Port Corporation and Waterways NSW, that they were unable to do it as they would need to buy the land from Waterways. Of greatest concern was NPWS explanation they couldn't do anything because of the proposed expansion of Port Botany. If the expansion goes ahead, Penrhyn Estuary would be partly encircled, and subject to the effects of the dredging of approximately 60 ha of the Bay. Although the proposal includes plans to increase the 'natural' habitat of Penrhyn, the increase in noise and traffic that would follow an expansion will impact on the Migratory Shorebird community there.
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Sutherland Shire Environment Centre thanks the DEH for the opportunity to offer a submission. We look forward to viewing the Wildlife Conservation Plan for Migratory Shorebirds when it becomes available.