Towra bird habitat in decline

Funding denied: Phil Straw, of BirdLife Australia, and Professor  Joan Dawes, at Towra Point Nature Reserve. Picture: John Veage
Funding denied: Phil Straw, of BirdLife Australia, and Professor Joan Dawes, at Towra Point Nature Reserve. Picture: John Veage

A DECLINE in migratory birds using Towra Point Nature Reserve because of weed infestation and shoreline changes is an international embarrassment to Australia, experts say.

The reserve is in danger of receiving a second Grey Globe award, which is given to Ramsar Convention-protected wetlands throughout the world, which are considered to be "under threat".

This award, which is at the opposite end of the spectrum to the Blue Globe that is awarded to sites in outstanding condition, was given to Towra Point at the last World Wetland Network conference in Bucharest in 2012.

Australasian Wader Studies Group of BirdLife Australia vice-chairman Phil Straw said Towra Point was likely to be nominated again in the lead-up to the next meeting in Uruguay in 2015.

"The reserve was awarded special protection when it was listed by the federal government as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention in 1984," he said. "It is managed by the state government, with funding provided by the federal government."

Better times: Little terns nesting at Towra Point in 2007. Picture: Lisa McMahon

Better times: Little terns nesting at Towra Point in 2007. Picture: Lisa McMahon

Mr Straw said the first Grey Globe shocked both governments and led to an on-site meeting between officials and group members.

"During the meeting, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, which administers the reserve, was encouraged to submit an application for funding to restore the ecological character of the site to what it was when the reserve was proposed as a Ramsar site," he said.

"An application was submitted for a federal government Caring for Our Country grant, which is specifically set up for such cases.

"Much to the dismay of all, the application failed to attract any funding. This means the state of the Ramsar site and conditions for migratory birds will continue to deteriorate."

He said with swift federal action there was still time to initiate on-ground action and report progress to next year's international conference.

"However, we cannot stress too strongly that all delays make effective restoration of Towra Point more difficult and therefore more expensive," he said. "If we wait too long the effects on the migratory birds and other species is likely to be irreversible."

‘GREAT CONCERN’

 A decline in the  number of migratory waders (shorebirds) using Botany Bay was causing great concern, Phil Straw said.

‘‘These birds travel between their breeding grounds in Siberia and Alaska and Australia and New Zealand,’’ he said.

‘‘The bay has been one of the most important sites in Australia where migratory waders spend their non-breeding season and they stay for up to seven months of the year.

Joan Dawes, NSW conservation officer for the Australasian Wader Studies Group, said the latest season was the worst on record for numbers of waders in Botany Bay.

The little tern colony was deserted shortly after the birds returned from their migration north, resulting in not a single chick being reared.

Professor Dawes said sand movement had resulted in Taren Point Island, where the little terns used to nest, becoming linked to the mainland, allowing foxes to prey.

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