Migratory birds on the wing, too much disturbance by boats and people can exhaust them for their epic flights.
Migratory birds on the wing, too much disturbance by boats and people can exhaust them for their epic flights.

Feathers fly as FIFO visitors threatened by boaties

Boaties near the mouth of the Noosa River are taking a toll on declining migratory shorebirds from northern Asia.

That is according to migratory bird watcher Russ Lamb who has been part of an extensive Noosa Integrated Catchment Association survey which found worrying population declines.

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Mr Lamb said the endangered birds needed to have greater enforcement presence on the islands and sand bank sections of the river mouth.

A drone shot of the Noosa River mouth taken by www.noosafishing.com.au.
A drone shot of the Noosa River mouth taken by www.noosafishing.com.au.

The areas should be strictly off limits to people and boats from the start of October to end of breeding season at the end of March, but Mr Lamb believes the system is failing the exposed fly in, fly out visitors whose destinations can include Siberia.

“No one adequately patrols human interference and dog interference,” Mr Lamb said.

“People take dogs to the breeding islands.

“The last survey we did which was a week ago on Monday, we found a pied oyster catcher nest with two eggs in it, on that same island on previous visits we’ve seen up to six boats parked.”

The bird survey volunteers were dismayed to see children with dogs running around the area.

“There’s absolutely no doubt Australia wide including the Sunshine Coast and Noosa that there’s been a dramatic decline in shorebirds, in migratory waders that visit us on an annual basis from north Asia,” Mr Lamb said.

The red capped plover
The red capped plover

He’s been part of the survey crews for the past two years made up of catchment association and Queensland Bird Wader Study Group members and what he’s observed concurs with his decades of observing southeast Queensland migratory birds.

This includes a decline in the number of species and the actual number of each species.

He is yet to see an eastern curlew, the biggest of the waders, in Noosa.

“That is one of the flagship species of wader decline in southeast Queensland,” he said.

“Any decline in biodiversity in any region diminishes the quality of the environment and that ultimately impacts on humans.

“The change may be long to get to that point but it’s undisputed that a decline in biodiversity results in a poorer quality of life.”

A Pacific golden plover is a visitor to Noosa River's sand shores.
A Pacific golden plover is a visitor to Noosa River's sand shores.

Catchment association president Bruce Hallett said it was well established that waterbirds, and particularly shorebirds, provided an excellent and leading indicator of overall ecosystem health.

Over 14 years, the catchment association conducted 275 surveys of the Noosa River to understand the diversity and abundance of shorebirds visiting the estuary.

The report found 18 of the 37 species of migratory shorebirds that traversed the east-Asian Australasian flyway from the northern hemisphere had frequented the estuary.

Mr Hallett said the abundance of the species had declined 45 per cent over the period however the nine resident shorebird species present had increased in number by about 10 per cent.

Another 32 species of terns, gulls, water birds, wading birds, sea birds and raptors were also observed and recorded in the survey data.

“This is good and bad news” says Mr Hallett.

“On the one hand, resident shorebird species are holding up, however migratory species, of which seven are listed as threatened including three critically endangered, are unfortunately reflecting population declines witnessed elsewhere along the flyway due largely to loss of habitat.

This nest is one of NICA’s finds.
This nest is one of NICA’s finds.

“It is critical Noosa plays its part in preserving healthy and undisturbed habitat for these species along the flyway”.

Mr Hallett said the study was testament to what a community-led organisation like the catchment association could deliver to the community in terms of conservation and scientific endeavour in partnership with key stakeholders.