New signage helping protect Southern Sydney shorebirds

Wednesday, 6 September 2023

  • Estimated reading time 10 minutes

In consultation with BirdLife Southern NSW, the Department of Planning and Environment has erected a sign at Boat Harbour in Bate Bay to encourage visitors to value shorebirds and give them undisturbed space to feed and roost safely. Below is the signage under construction and the sign already installed at Boat Harbour in August.

Sign under construction (photo by Grahame Price)

Newly erected sign (photo by Grahame Price)

The importance of southern Sydney for shorebirds

Surprisingly, southern Sydney is a haven for shorebirds. One of only three coastal Ramsar sites in NSW is at Towra Reserve in the heart of Botany Bay. Only the most significant and precious wetlands areas for birdlife receive international Ramsar status.

Southern Sydney is home to three critical shorebird sites: Towra Point Island at Botany Bay (the only safe roost), Boat Harbour in Bate Bay, and the Port Hacking sand flats at Maianbar-Deeban. Observers have recorded eighteen migratory and ten resident shorebirds in southern Sydney, including nine EPBC Act Critically Endangered, Endangered and Vulnerable shorebirds such as the Eastern Curlew, Great Knot, Pied Oystercatcher, Bar-tailed Godwit and Little Tern. 

Interestingly, some shorebirds use Towra Point and the sand flats off Maianbar as a temporary rest and feeding area on their way to their home territories further south. Retention and availability of southern Sydney shorebird habitat is not only vital for the survival of  the resident year-round shorebirds  and the migratory shorebirds who stay there from August to April, but also for those birds who stopover to recuperate in transit.

Eastern Curlew and Bar-tailed Godwits-male left and female right (photos Deb Andrew)

The Southern NSW Branch of BirdLife Australia, along with other conservation groups, supports efforts to protect the shorebirds of Southern Sydney. “Local heroes” such as Deb Andrew, Julie Keating and Ricki Coughlan have spent many years surveying and advocating for the shorebirds. We recognise and thank them  for their untiring efforts. However, habitat loss and continual disturbance of feeding and roosting sites has lead to a steady decrease in the number of shorebirds present, both in species and number.

Risk factors for three most important areas for shorebirds in Southern Sydney

At Towra Point, the roost site is steadily shrinking and must be renourished with sand to mitigate the risk of being washed away by storms. Losing this crucial roost site could lead to losing the area’s Ramsar status. The roost site at the tip of Deeban Spit in Port Hacking washed away last year, and there is a desperate need to have a safe roost island re-established.

Another primary concern in Botany Bay, Boat Harbour and Port Hacking is the continual disturbance of shorebirds by people and their dogs. Shorebirds see dogs as natural predators and are easily frightened by the presence of a perceived threat in their feeding and roosting areas. A dog as far away as a hundred metres or more is enough to cause some shorebirds to take flight.

Why signs are important

Educating people about the importance of safe and undisturbed shorebird feeding and roosting sites is crucial. Signage is one approach, encouraging visitors to stay away from shorebirds and to keep their dogs away from the critical areas.

Migratory shorebirds, such as the Eastern Curlew and Bar-tailed Godwit, travel as far as Siberia and Alaska to breed. Before undertaking this arduous flight north, the birds must put on weight and rest. Continual disturbance by people and dogs interrupts this process, and the birds will not migrate and breed if they cannot rest and build up sufficient weight. Similarly, when they return home to southern Sydney, they are weak and emaciated after their long flights and urgently need to feed and rest. If they cannot recuperate, their lives can be cut short.

BirdLife Southern NSW supports effective action such as these signs to encourage people and dog owners to avoid disturbing shorebirds. We are working to ensure that local councils and the NSW government do more to implement policies that give shorebirds increased protection.