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Shorebirds Talk Toondah Recording

Tuesday 11th August 2020, 6:00pm

Questions answered during the session:

Responses to unanswered questions from the Shorebirds Talk Toondah Recording session

The serious decline in the populations of some shorebird species is certainly concerning. The key reason for severe declines in several migratory shorebird species that use coastal tidal flat habitats on the East Asian Australasian Flyway is the substantial habitat loss that occurred at critical staging sites in the Yellow Sea. Tidal flats occupied 1.12 million hectares in the Yellow Sea in the mid-1950s, but up to 65% of this has been lost over 50 years (Murray et al. 2014 Tracking the rapid loss of tidal wetlands in the Yellow Sea. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 12: 267-272). Migratory shorebirds that are most dependent on the Yellow Sea for staging have suffered the most severe population declines (Studd et al. 2017 Rapid population decline in migratory shorebirds relying on the Yellow Sea tidal mudflats as stopover sites. Nature Communications 8:14895, DOI: 10.1038/ncomms14895). Australia has the fourth largest area of tidal flats of any country in the world (Murray et al. 2019 The global distribution and trajectory of tidal flats), yet, has likely lost less than one per cent of this area to development. The choke point for these declining species is tidal flat habitat loss in the staging areas in south-east Asia, not due to issues in Australia.

Re-creating or rehabilitating feeding habitat has not been discounted as part of an offsets strategy. However, it may not be the best conservation outcome for shorebirds in Moreton Bay. The offset strategy will be guided by the available science and will focus on delivering on-ground management actions to address some of the identified key threats to migratory shorebirds in Moreton Bay. In particular, the management actions will be informed by the threat analysis and key recommendations of a draft report prepared by Fuller et al. (2019 Managing Threats to Migratory Shorebirds in Moreton Bay. Draft report prepared for Health Land and Water by the University of Queensland), which assessed the threats to migratory shorebirds in Moreton Bay. A particular focus will be on restoring and enhancing the suitability of key roost sites and improving the availability of roost sites closer to feeding habitat areas.

The EPBC Act Environmental Offsets Policy contains 10 principles on which all offsets must be based. The first principle states ‘deliver an overall conservation outcome that improves or maintains the viability of the aspect of the environment that is protected by national environment law and affected by the proposed action’. Like for like habitat replacement is not a requirement of the EPBC Act however the project must directly contribute to the ongoing viability of shorebirds in Moreton Bay and demonstrate a conservation outcome for the matter.

Development has been approved within or adjacent to a Ramsar Sites previously (see above response). In many international examples, development has occurred with limited regard for impacts on the Ramsar wetlands. The Ramsar Convention have released several guidelines for assessing impacts on wetlands including:

  • Handbook 16 – Impact assessment: Guidelines on biodiversity-inclusive environmental impact assessment and strategic environmental assessment.
  • Ramsar Conference of the Parties 11 Resolution XI.9 – An integrated framework and guidelines for avoiding, mitigating and compensating for wetland loss.

However, both of these documents provide a framework for developing impact assessment processes rather than stepping out a detailed assessment method. There is also a handbook providing guidance on wise use of wetlands which provides some guidance for addressing impacts on the ecological character of a wetland. Again, this only provides broad advice and not a detailed method.

For the project to receive an approval, it will need to develop an offset strategy that directly contributes to the ongoing viability of migratory shorebirds impacted by the project, is based on scientifically robust information and delivers an overall conservation outcome that improves or maintains the viability of migratory shorebirds as compared to what is likely to have occurred under the status quo, that is, if neither the project nor the outcome had taken place.

Botany Bay was referred to as an example of a project that successfully created/restored a small area of tidal flat feeding habitat that was used by small numbers of migratory shorebirds, but at great cost. It was not meant as an example of tidal flat feeding habitat restoration for Eastern Curlew specifically.

This question does not identify where the Eastern Curlew were filmed. A group size of 18 birds in winter were presumably roosting, either at a mid-tide or high tide roost. Roost sites attract larger number of birds than are observed feeding at low tide.

Alternatives are being considered in the EIS.

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