Wednesday, 20 December 2023
Last month, Australia’s largest private developer, Walker Corporation, submitted its final plans to develop the internationally significant wetlands of Toondah Harbour and build 3,600 apartments on critical habitat for threatened shorebirds. This announcement coincided with the 12th Australasian Ornithological Conference (AOC) ‒ where we collected statements from BirdLife Australia staff and bird experts on why this project must not go ahead.
Australia’s premiere environmental legislation lists a small number of things that are of global significance ‒ this includes Ramsar wetlands. Moreton Bay is a Ramsar wetland and the Toondah harbour development is in the Ramsar wetland. If this development proceeds, then our most significant nature law has failed.
Many of Australia’s most iconic migratory waterbirds, like the Eastern Curlew, are in precipitous decline. The Toondah development directly affects several of these species and will increase the chance they become extinct.
Toondah harbour is part of an internationally significant wetland, and is protected under the Ramsar convention and our own national biodiversity laws. Its mangroves and mudflats support healthy waterways, fisheries, and biodiversity, all of which are already under pressure because of coastal development. It is an important feeding ground for the Critically Endangered Eastern Curlew. None of these facts are contested.
The Australian government has promised us, as Australians, and has promised the world, that it will protect our most significant wetlands, including Moreton Bay. What precedent would it set for the world if Australia reneged on this promise and allowed our most highly protected areas to be able to be ‘unprotected’ for a marina, apartments and shopping facilities?
Irreversible damage to our most important places and threatened biodiversity is not a ‘wise use’ of a protected wetland.
The Eastern Curlew has suffered some of the worst population declines of any shorebird in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway and continues to face pressures from development along the Australian coastline. This species is constrained across the intertidal zone by the availability of habitat, competition for prey resources, and tidal cycles. Eastern Curlew respond to changes in the dynamic tidal environment, and require the protection of foraging and roosting sites across a region to ensure that habitat is available across years to account for variation in food and space resources.
The strength of migratory shorebird conservation is in its agreements and legislative obligations that overcome even international politics and boundaries. Our coastal habitats in Australia offer habitat critical to the survival and the life cycle of this unique suite of birds whose lifespans and breeding outputs are determined by their time spent on our shores. The beauty in protecting migratory species on our shores is in strength in our monitoring and designation of sites of national and international significance. We cannot jeopardise protections of these sites, chip away at their edges, degrade their value, as then we not only sign a death warrant for our migratory shorebirds, but we send the message to our international partners that Australia is not committed to conservation and even in the land of plenty, it is never enough.
The Threatened Species Index is Australia’s national biodiversity indicator reporting on change of threatened and near-threatened species trends. In the same way as a stock market index reports on the health of our economy, the TSX reports on how our imperilled species are faring. The index contains trends for threatened and near-threatened birds, mammals, and plants. The new index for birds was released on 30/11/2023 at the Australian Ornithological Conference in Brisbane. It shows that Australia’s shorebirds have declined by 63% on average between 1985 and 2020. The index includes highly standardised monitoring data on 13 shorebird species such as the Critically Endangered Eastern Curlew, threatened by the Toondah Harbour development. We cannot afford any more critical habitat being destroyed if we want to stop any further extinctions from happening.
Ramsar wetlands are globally important wetlands and are covered under an international agreement to which Australia is a signatory. They range from disturbed to pristine areas, but all share the same international recognition as feeding or roosting sites for trans-equatorial migrant shorebirds, based on rigorous criteria. Under the terms of the Ramsar agreement, Australia has undertaken to protect these sites, including the Moreton Bay Ramsar site, which includes Toondah Harbour. Understandably, people from all over Australia and around the world are asking the Australian government to fulfil their international commitment as signatories to Ramsar and protect Toondah Harbour from damage.
It is important that development proposals are subject to strong and consistent nature laws so that Australia fulfils its international obligations, and our environment is protected for the health of the planet, for human health, and for our unique birds.
The Australian government is being presented with a choice. The first choice is to listen to the rhetoric of a private developer that insists that reclaiming a portion of the Moreton Bay Ramsar site to build 3,600 apartments will ‘enhance’ the integrity of the Ramsar site that is the overwintering home to migratory shorebirds, including the Critically Endangered Eastern Curlew. The second choice is to acknowledge the overwhelming local, regional, national and international opposition to this development. Australia has a hard-earned reputation as a leader in migratory shorebird protection across the East Asian Australasian Flyway. It cannot afford to provide an international example that diminishes the importance of these obligations. And our nature laws surely must protect our most vulnerable species. We urge the Minister to stand by our nature laws and its international obligations protect the entirety of the Ramsar site and declare this as an entirely inappropriate development.
The Queensland Wader Studies Group has been greatly disturbed by the proposed Toondah Harbour development. We feel that the provisions of the Ramsar agreement are being breached and ignored. The government has a responsibility to follow the principal of wise use. The development will have a huge impact on the local area, the biodiversity of the local area, particularly migratory waders, and the standing of the Queensland and Federal governments.
Join our campaign to save Toondah Harbour and the shorebirds that call it home today.
To protect the critically endangered Eastern Curlew and many other threatened species, it is vital that the Federal Government save Toondah Harbour. The Walker Corporation's proposal will permanently destroy many hectares of irreplaceable migratory shorebird feeding habitat.
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