River jewel in trouble

Tuesday, 7 November 2023

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River jewel in trouble

Tasmanian Azure Kingfisher still lacks a formal recovery plan

Once you’ve seen the brilliant blue-and-orange plumage of an Azure Kingfisher lighting up the gloom among the dense, riparian vegetation beside a gently-flowing river, it’s hard not to adopt this bird as a favourite.

However, despite its brilliance, not all is well in the kingfisher’s world, as its population, particularly in Tasmania’s forests, have declined. Indeed, there may be as few as 250 of these diminutive birds surviving on the Apple Isle. Accordingly, it is classified as Endangered. Nevertheless, despite its low population, the Tasmanian Azure Kingfisher is one of the few threatened birds which does not have a recovery plan, either at a national or state level.

According to Sean Dooley, BirdLife Australia’s National Public Affairs Manager, conservation strategies simply cannot be properly implemented without recovery plans.

“If we don’t have something like a recovery plan to guide us, we’re just wandering around in the dark, grasping at solutions willy-nilly,” he said.

There have been suggestions that the bird’s population may have stabilised in recent years, and that the birds mostly occur in protected wilderness areas, and at more sites than we think. However, there have been no studies carried out to provide an accurate population assessment, so these assertions are little more than guesses.

Further, there have been no direct conservation efforts for the kingfishers, other than broader initiatives to protect some areas of habitat which may affect the birds.

Without knowing where the birds are and how many there are, and then inferring what risks are confronting the population, it is impossible to undertake proper conservation measures to protect them. And the prospect of such a study seems an increasingly long way off.

“Unfortunately, the Tasmanian Azure Kingfisher is really at the back of the queue,” said Sean. “And it’s a queue that’s lengthening every year.”

“It probably shouldn’t matter that it is such a dazzlingly beautiful creature but if we can’t get it together to protect those sorts of creatures, what hope have we for the rest of the environment?”

The Aure Kingfisher is one of just 14 birds classified as either endangered or critically endangered, but is not subject to a state or national recovery plan.

BirdLife Australia is campaigning for Australia’s environment laws to be strengthened, so that when a bird is listed as being threatened, the proper protections are enforced.

“We really need much, much stronger, effective nature laws at a federal level that can actually have an impact across local areas where there are populations in crisis,” Sean said.

Click here to find out how you can help Australia achieve stronger nature laws.