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Conservation Matters

Contact Call | Volume 11 Number 3 | September 2022

Since the National election in May many people have expressed to me that the results have brought a strong sense of optimism; that we seem to have emerged from a dark place. I suspect the source of these views is both social and environmental. It could be seen as an excellent indication of priority in the new Government that such a competent and experienced MP as Tanya Plibersek has been placed in charge of the environment portfolio. There is a huge amount of work to be done to address the many significant issues that Australia’s environment (including its biodiversity) is facing. The fact that the previous Government hid the 2021 State of the Environment (SOE) Report from the electorate underlines the extremely parlous state of our environment. Overall, the state and trend of the environment of Australia is poor and deteriorating because of increasing pressures from climate change, habitat loss, invasive species, pollution and resource extraction. And further, Australia’s heritage and many of our most valued and iconic ecosystems are at risk from climate change and environmental extremes. For example, the Great Barrier Reef has suffered repeated bleaching from unprecedented marine heatwaves. There are so many indicators of the deterioration, it is hard to know where to start. But here is an amazing fact: Australia is burdened by thousands of non-native species introduced deliberately or by accident over the past 200 years and there are now more foreign plant species in Australia than there are native (quotes from SOE Report 2021).

Barn Owl

It is a sad fact that Queensland leads Australia in many destructive practices that impact on the environment and threatened species. For example: nine of the 10 threatened species that have lost the most habitat to clearing occur in Queensland. The impacts from climate change are of a serious nature. An International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) 2020 assessment concluded that no World Heritage properties in Oceania have improved their conservation outlook since 2017, and five properties, all Australian, had deteriorated: the Great Barrier Reef, the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia, the Greater Blue Mountains Area, the Ningaloo Coast and Shark Bay (Gutharraguda).

On another more positive note, the new National Government has committed to join the international global target for protected areas of 30% of land, and 30% of marine habitat in protected areas by 2030. This “30 by 30” goal is an excellent prospect but will take an enormous increase in effort in Queensland because of the very low starting point. Here we have only 8% of our terrestrial environment in protected areas, meaning an additional 22% of the state must enter into some protected area status in the next eight years. I look forward to seeing the plan on how that will be achieved.

The horrendous toll on our wildlife from invasive species, especially feral cats and foxes, contributes to the ever-increasing numbers of threatened species and the growing fear of mass extinctions. Experts consider that there is a good chance we could lose several species of birds in the next 20 years. Climate change increases the numbers of species at risk. The authors of the ground-breaking Action Plan for Australian Birds 2020 note that:

“We estimate that in just one day alone – January 6, 2020 – about half the population of all 16 bird species endemic or largely confined to Kangaroo Island were incinerated, including the tiny Kangaroo Island southern emu-wren.” (The Conversation, December 1, 2021).

Such cruel and devastating losses of wildlife are now the norm in Australia and require urgent comprehensive climate action.

One of our many avoidable activities that is killing birds is the use of so-called second-generation anti-coagulant rodenticides (SGARs) that have been permitted for use in Australia by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicine Authority (APVMA) and are currently sold in retail stores like Bunnings. BirdLife Australia is campaigning to have these SGARs banned, as is the case in some other countries that clearly care more for their wildlife. “SGARs are powerful enough that a single feed can be lethal. But because of the time lag between taking a bait and feeling the effects, rodents can consume a more-than-lethal dose and still be wandering around - like walking time bombs. Predators that naturally eat rodents, like owls and birds of prey, can then easily consume multiple poisoned rodents, in turn becoming poisoned themselves. SGARs don’t break down quickly – some can stay in tissues and organs for months, even years. Unfortunately, this just makes it easier for these bigger animals to get a lethal dose of toxins.”

Apart from lobbying to have these toxic products banned, individuals can ask their retailers to stop stocking these products and restrict themselves to the older first-generation rodenticides like Warfarin. “If the bait contains more harmful SGARs like Brodifacoum, Bromadiolone , Difenacoum, Difethialone, or Flocoumafen, leave it on the shelf.” A young school student in Perth (Poppy Mahon) is working with local Bunnings people to get a change in labels and info. Other people are communicating with both AVPMA and local Bunnings stores to effect change. Everyone could assist with this.

The cumbersome APVMA inquiry continues but the final outcome of the drawn-out process is scheduled for July 2025 by which time much damage to our wildlife will surely have occurred. Direct action and lobbying to our local councils is likely to be much quicker and better for wildlife. While the task of the APVMA is enormous, it is not fit for purpose when it comes to these highly toxic substances threatening our wildlife.

To lobby your Council, visit the BirdLife website:

To end on a positive note, I have been delighted to engage with the Cairns Airport over the re-development of the Jack Barnes Memorial Mangrove Boardwalk. This was a terrific project where the community (led by Denis Walls at CAFNEC and others) reclaimed the boardwalk from the Cairns Regional Council (who had condemned it) and, with cooperation and leadership from the Cairns Airport Corporation, refurbished the boardwalk with ongoing active contributions from Traditional Owners (TOs), especially the Dawul Wuru team who did the actual re-building work and the Yirrganydji Rangers.

It was re-opened on August 19th. Mikey Kudo, our Cairns Coordinator, has also been actively involved with the project. I particularly acknowledge the Airport CEO Richard Barker and the Environmental Officer, Lucy Friend, who have given terrific support and who ensured opportunities for traditional owners were built in. The TOs did wonderful work on every aspect of the boardwalk and will continue with its maintenance.

By Peter Valentine, 23 August 2022


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