TOONDAH HARBOUR & THE EASTERN CURLEW
The Critically Endangered Eastern Curlew’s population has fallen by more than 80% in the last 30 years as its feeding and roosting habitat in coastal environments comes under increasing pressure from growing human populations.
BirdLife Australia and BirdLife Southern Queensland invited members of the local and broader community to join us in a special event to mark World Migratory Bird Day, 11 May.
And the crowds came out in force, with over 500 people linking arms to ‘draw a line in the mud’ against inappropriate development at Toondah Harbour, south of Brisbane. And this couldn’t have happened without the vision, passion and commitment of our local volunteers.
In an incredible show of support, especially for migratory shorebirds like the Critically Endangered Eastern Curlew, a bird that flies 10,000 km from Russia to fatten up on our shores, the message was clear.
Our political leaders must protect important habitat for the Eastern Curlew and other migratory shorebirds. They must abide by our national and international obligations and say no to a development that will permanently destroy parts of a significant Ramsar wetland.
Losing this habitat will be one of a thousand cuts to our migratory shorebird population and bird lovers will not stand for it.
Moreton Bay in Queensland is acknowledged as one of the world’s most important sites for the Eastern Curlew and has been recognised as a Ramsar site under an international agreement that protects wetlands.
National legislation and international agreements protect Ramsar sites from negative environmental impacts, particularly against destructive developments within their boundaries. So, when a development was proposed within Toondah Harbour, which would have destroyed a substantial area of Eastern Curlew feeding habitat, it was expected that the Federal Minister would declare the proposal as clearly unacceptable under federal law and reject it outright.
However, a decision on this seemingly straightforward case was delayed an unprecedented number of times before eventually being allowed to progress to the next stage in the assessment process.
The decision even went against the expert advice of the Department of Environment that concluded the development proposal would likely have significant impacts on the ecological character of the Ramsar site and these impacts would be difficult to mitigate and offset.
Despite significant domestic and international pressure, our national laws have failed to offer swift protection for Eastern Curlews at this important site. A final decision on this proposal has not yet been made, but the fact that a proposed development within a Ramsar site was not rejected from the outset calls into question the Government’s commitment to upholding its obligations under both domestic legislation and international agreements. If the proposal is allowed to go ahead it sets a dangerous precedent for future developments within Australia’s other 65 Ramsar listed wetlands and indeed Ramsar Wetlands around the world.
The fact that a Minister can ignore the expert scientific advice of their own Department highlights the need for stronger national environmental laws and independent institutions to ensure those laws are applied without political influence.
The proposed new independent National Environmental Protection Agency would be responsible for conducting transparent environmental assessments and would ensure that Australia meets its obligations to conserve important habitat protected under international agreements.
The independent National Sustainability Commission would ensure that Australia has a robust system of biodiversity monitoring, improving our understanding of migratory species’ use of key habitats and ensuring these are not subject to cumulative impacts from multiple projects across the species’ range.
Strengthened environmental legislation must ensure the Federal Government assumes responsibility and leadership for reversing the decline in Australia’s environment. It must prevent the extinction of native species; and protect and recover key biodiversity areas, threatened ecological communities and threatened species including strict protection for their critical habitats.
Above: Eastern Curlew by Duade Paton
Below: Eastern Curlew by Andrew Silcocks