WolfPeak is helping save critically endangered shorebirds

african wagtail
african wagtail

WolfPeak is helping the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service save threatened shorebird species.

Australia’s Eastern Curlew is fighting a battle for survival. The world’s largest shorebird begins life in Russia and north-eastern China, then embarks on an annual summer migration to warm southern feeding grounds. One of those feeding grounds is Pelican Island, located approximately 1km north of Port Macquarie’s CBD on the New South Wales mid-north coast. That’s a journey of more than 10,000km for the remarkable long-haul wading bird.

But the Eastern Curlew is dying. It’s estimated that the global population has declined by about 80 percent over the last 30 years. Local birdwatching group, Hastings Birdwatchers, has seen clear evidence of this decline on Pelican Island – part of the National Parks and Wildlife Service Woregore Nature Reserve. They’ve recorded a 65 percent decline over the past decade, with a 6 percent annual decline rate

The Eastern Curlew is now critically endangered, and one of the Australian Government’s 20 priority bird species. However, it’s not the only endangered species that calls Pelican Island home. The Beach Stone-curlew is also critically endangered in NSW.

Restoring Pelican Island

The odds may be stacked against these two remarkable shorebirds, but the National Parks and Wildlife Service is determined to make Pelican Island a safe haven for many threatened species.

The National Parks and Wildlife Service have commissioned WolfPeak to prepare a Review of Environmental Factors (REF) assessment, and WolfPeak Regional manager David Stubbs, Environmental Consultant Grant Bennett and Ecologist Iris Bleach are all proud to be involved.

“It’s not every day that we get to help save critically endangered species, so it’s very professionally and personally satisfying to be involved,” says David. “The Hastings Birdwatchers have been monitoring and keeping records on all the bird species on Pelican Island for almost 40 years, so the data is quite clear”.

David explains that encroachment of native vegetation (predominately regrowth mangroves and wattles) is impacting the feeding and roosting habitat on Pelican Island, resulting in shorebirds relying on more disturbed surrounding areas. Weed infestation is another threat facing the bird species of Pelican Island: “When the river floods, it carries weeds onto the island, and this has impacted the roosting grounds and foraging habitat available for the many migratory birds there – including the Eastern Curlew and Bar-tailed Godwit. These species also need clear sight lines to spot predators, so some removal of vegetation is going to be required to restore the natural habitat”.

Striking a balance for good

WolfPeak’s Review of Environmental Factors (REF) assessment will examine the impact of the proposed vegetation removal. This involved an in-person site visit to Pelican Island to assess the surrounding ecology.

“We were very fortunate to spot a breeding pair of Beach Stone-curlews on our visit, as well as Eastern Curlews, so we can confirm the species are present on the island,” says Grant. “We also found that the weed infestation was quite established, and some smaller mangroves will need to be removed to restore sight lines. Mangroves are critical to the health of ecosystem wetlands, so it was important for us to assess the impact of removing them”.

This can be quite complex. Avoiding harm to other species is obviously critical, but Grant explains they also needed to assess a range of other factors, including soil stability and ground disturbance.

“There are also social and economic factors to consider,” Grant adds. “The Hastings River is very popular for recreational events, so we looked at any impact the project might have on that too. It’s really trying to look at the whole picture so we can understand the full impact of the project”.

“It’s all about striking a balance,” David concludes. “Removing some smaller mangroves is likely to have a positive impact on the bird species, but we need to be aware of any negative impacts we might have on the surrounding ecology. Thankfully, in this case, we found that removing the vegetation will have no significant negative impacts”.


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