Newsletter Issue 75

Friends of Stradbroke Island Newsletter

Issue #75 December 2016
In this issue
Straddie’s Summer Birds
The Moreton Bay Ramsar Site and Toondah Harbour
Toondah Harbour plan raises serious questions for the State Government
Both Sibelco and Walker Group Paid Nil Income Tax in 2014/15
Tell-tale sign of…?
Glossy Black Cockatoo Count Day 2016 Report
Moreton Bay Research Station Open Day
Island Fox Control Annual Update
Pelicans at One Mile
Please support FOSI’s ongoing work

Straddie’s Summer Birds

Oriental Dollarbird – displaying its ‘silver dollar’ wing markings, photo by Chris Walker
Stradbroke is expecting many visitors this summer— most will come by ferry or water taxi – but many others will be flying in from international and Australian departure points. But they won’t be landing at the Dunwich airstrip, but touching down in the island’s forest and shores. These are the myriad of birds flying in to spend summer on Minjerribah.
Among the early arrivals are the rollicking green Oriental Dollarbirds, so named for the ‘silver dollar’ that flashes on their underwing. They spend winter in New Guinea and nearby islands and migrate to Australia to breed in tree hollows in spring and summer. A group of three were recently spotted above North Gorge, given away by their acrobatic flight as they pursued flying insects. Also arriving from New Guinea and Sulawesi is the very large Channel-billed Cuckoo whose loud raucous squawks draw attention as it is chased by magpies and crows. The cuckoo is a ‘brood parasite’, laying its eggs in these and other birds’ nests, so it is recognised as a threat and constantly harassed. Another arrival is the fruit-eating Pacific Koel which winters in Timor and Indonesia–also not so popular with the local magpie-larks, friarbirds and figbirds as it lays its eggs in their nests. The koel nestling is then fed and raised by the foster parent birds whose own nestlings are starved and even ejected by the interloper. Known as the Stormbird, the koel’s characteristic loud ‘coo-eee’ call usually starts before dawn and even before the resident kookaburras– an incessant note in the soundscape of birdsong
Over summer, some resident bird populations are swelled by birds who spend winter in other parts of Australia and come to breed on the island. Lively Spectacled Monarchs return from Cape York and PNG. Look for them flitting with their tails fanned around the west coast mangroves and swamps. The numbers of beautiful, multi-coloured Rainbow Bee-eaters increase as they search for a suitable sandbank or slope in which to excavate their nesting tunnel. At least a dozen pairs have been recently spotted hawking for insects and perching on the electricity wires along the Alfred Martin Way to Karboora (Blue Lake).
But some birds will be flying in from much further away – from Russia, Alaska, Mongolia and Canada. These are the fabulous migratory shorebirds who travel along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway to summer in Australia. Moreton Bay is often their first touch-down point on our continent. Unlike many other visiting birds, these migrants breed in the arctic and far north and come to the island only to eat and rest – true holiday makers! Already arrived are the Far Eastern Curlews – the largest wader and notable for its long, curved beak. They can be spotted on the mudflats off One Mile and Amity along with their smaller companions, the Bar-tailed Godwits and Whimbrels. At low tide, day and night, they feed voraciously on worms, insects and crustaceans in the mudflats. At high tide they rest on Bradburys Beach at Dunwich and other protected roosts. Thousands of birds have recently been spotted congregated at high tide on a large sand bank off Amity Point by members of the Queensland Wader Study Group. To help protect these endangered birds, the island’s tidal flats are recognised as Wetlands of International Importance and included in the extensive and diverse Moreton Bay Ramsar site, protected by an international Convention. We all need to play our part in protecting these special birds by allowing them to feed and rest undisturbed by giving them a wide berth if we are walking nearby and keeping dogs on leads, under control and well away from the birds.
The island’s birds are a special focus of Friends of Stradbroke Island’s new ‘Nature Guide to North Stradbroke Island-Minjerribah’ currently at the printers. Over 330 species are recorded on the Island’s bird list updated for the new guide, and 150 of the more common birds are described with photographs. Look out for the Nature Guide on sale at the Point Lookout Newsagent, the Museum at Dunwich and other island and mainland outlets in the new year.
Mary Barram

Flock of Whimbrels, Moreton Bay. Photo by Chris Walker September 2016

The Moreton Bay Ramsar Site and Toondah Harbour

Most people travelling to North Stradbroke Island know Toondah Harbour as the place they wait for ferries and water taxis. If it happens to be low tide, as the boats motor past the series of marker beacons vast expanses of mud flats and seagrass meadows dominate the view while looking back to the shore a mangrove forested coastline is revealed.
For scientists, bird watchers and nature lovers this is a special environment, so special that it comprises a significant element of the bay’s internationally protected wetlands under the Ramsar Treaty. Ramsar sites, World Heritage sites and threatened and migratory species, are all of national importance under Australian environment laws.
The Moreton Bay Ramsar Site fulfils 6 out of the 9 criteria for international listing including endangered species and habitats and significant numbers of the world population of migratory birds and their habitat. Australia has also taken on significant international responsibilities as a signatory to various international agreements to protect the various flyways of these birds with Japan under JAMBA (Japan Australia Migratory Bird Treaty), with China under CAMBA and with the Republic of Korea under ROCAMBA. So the world is watching if Australian actions allow damage to the flyway paths of these birds.
The attempt by a NSW developer, Walker Corporation, strongly supported by the Redland City Council and the Queensland Government under its Priority Development Area laws, to dredge and reclaim over 40 Hectares (100 acres) of Ramsar protected wetlands is a shocking move. If it proceeds, it will have inevitable serious environmental consequences and set a very bad precedent for development in Ramsar zones. It is worth examining the map of the Moreton Bay site and noting that virtually all of Stradbroke’s shores and up to 50% of its interior are included.
Walkers have applied to the Federal Minister for approval under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act. The Minister is tasked with deciding whether the project should be declared as a ‘controlled action’ as the developer concedes it should, rejected outright or waved through. Most unusually the decision on this has been delayed six times for a total of 18 months. The usual time frame is 20 days and extensions are rare.  The recent sixth extension is the pivot for current publicity especially forays into the media by Walker’s PR team. One can’t help but speculate that to satisfy the Federal Government who are being asked to approve something which is blatantly wrong Walkers must win over public opinion. Confusion, misinformation and mind games are often used by public relations tacticians especially, as we have all seen in Queensland, in relation to assisting their clients to damage the natural environment.
So what environmental treasures are at risk from this development proceeding? The dredging and reclamation will impact the forested Cassim Island and all the mudflats and mangrove forest either side of the ferry terminal. Habitat, i.e. feeding grounds, of migratory birds (among them the Critically Endangered Eastern Curlew) and other threatened wader and mangrove bird species, dugongs and 4 species of turtles- all threatened, and fish and crustacean breeding areas will be destroyed or impacted.
The mud flats and mangroves themselves are vital for the health of the bay filtering and purifying water run-off from the land, so all bay life relies on these areas. These muddy habitats also minimise erosion of the shoreline and act as a remarkable carbon sink, providing invaluable services to life in general.
The fine sediment from years of dredging will drift on currents far and wide across the bay, suffocating coral reefs and seagrass meadows according to renowned climate and reef scientist, Charlie Vernon. The fishing community, including oyster farmers, is generally concerned, with some groups opposing the development.  
The development will also take in a significant area of dry land including the current ferry terminal land base and areas with stands of tall Blue Gums which are home to a big proportion of Cleveland’s Koala population. Redland’s Koala Action Group is against the project because of increased traffic and yet to be ascertained disturbance of habitat.
All existing and future human users of the area will be affected too. The developer has undertaken to replace the ferry terminal with a more modern version.  But It appears 10 storey building are on the agenda housing up to 10 000 people in 3600 dwellings.
Planners and architects who have spoken out against the project envisage severe traffic and infrastructure problems. There will be mounting pressure on government to expand hospital and other services as well as a second railway line to cope with increased peak hour traffic. For travellers to Stradbroke delays in travel time look inevitable, including during the proposed 15 to 20 year construction phase.
To find out more and keep updated check out the Facebook sites of local groups, Redlands 2030, Save Our Bay -Toondah Harbour, Toondah Friends, Save Straddie and Koala Action Group.
To see some remarkable nature photos of the Toondah area go to Wild Redlands with Chris Walker.
Article by Sue Ellen Carew, President, FOSI
The Critically Endangered Eastern Curlew (Numenius Madagascarienis) uses its long curved beak to extract delicacies from deep in the mud. Photo Chris Walker.

A Two-toned Fiddler Crab – one of a myriad of creatures that live in the Toondah mud flats. Photo by Chris Walker.

Toondah Harbour plan raises serious questions for the State Government

This article was published by Brisbane Times 6 December under the heading “Toondah Harbour plan raises donations questions”.
Model of the development
A controversial State Government backed proposal to build 3,600 apartments over the top of protected wetlands near the North Stradbroke Island ferry departure point at Cleveland, also known as Toondah Harbour, has the potential to damage the Palaszczuk Government’s integrity in the lead up to the next State election.
The proposal raises questions about publicly owned assets, political donations, protection of Moreton Bay, and the use of Newman Government ‘Priority Development Area’ legislation. Before it was elected Labor attacked the Newman/Seeney PDA law empowering the Deputy Premier as “an outrageous abuse and concentration of power”, accusing the LNP of wanting to give away assets “to its developer mates”.
The developer and primary beneficiary of the Moreton Bay scheme, the Walker Corporation, has a history of making large donations to the ALP, including in New South Wales when it was lawful.  
Queensland voters oppose the sale of public assets. How will they view the Palaszczuk Government’s plan to give away publicly owned land and protected wetlands on Brisbane’s doorstep to a donor developer? Labor plans to allow Walker Corp to dredge and “reclaim” over 40 hectares/100 acres of Moreton Bay and construct 10 storey apartment buildings and a 400 berth marina. An estimated population of 7,000 to 10,000 people is larger than most Queensland towns.
The wetlands form part of the Moreton Bay Ramsar site, a haven for threatened populations of dugongs, turtles, dolphins and migratory birds, including the critically endangered Eastern Curlew which inhabits the Toondah wetlands. The Queensland Government website acknowledges the purpose of the international Ramsar Convention, “is to halt the worldwide loss of wetlands and to conserve remaining wetlands through wise use and careful management”
Walker Corp had a similar proposal near Hobart knocked back in 2010 after it became apparent that migratory bird habitat would be destroyed and dredge spoil and other pollution would likely impact a Ramsar wetlands site 12 kilometres away. The Toondah Harbour PDA plan, involving actual destruction of Ramsar wetlands, originated under the Newman Government. But in June, 2015, instead of repealing the legislation as expected, or revoking the Toondah PDA, Deputy Premier Jackie Trad announced Labor would continue with it. The LNP’s plan included around 800 apartments. The substantially enlarged 3,600 apartment proposal under Labor quietly emerged in late November 2015.   
A few months ago Queensland Labor declared $28,000 in donations in early 2016 from Walker companies. But SMH investigative journalist, Kate McClymont two years ago revealed that since 1998 Walker Corp had donated $2,253,480 to political parties, mostly to the ALP.
As a result of ICAC investigations, developer donations are now banned in NSW. They remain lawful in Queensland but the public mood against corporate donations was reflected recently by the National Australia Bank which told a Senate Inquiry into political donations that it had stopped giving money to political parties “to be clean” and to avoid public perceptions of impropriety or graft.  
The State Government and the Redland City Council have said the Toondah proposal is necessary to provide jobs for sand miners when mining ends on North Stradbroke Island in 2019. The Redlands Mayor claimed in an interview broadcast by the ABC in March this year that there were 650 resident miners on Stradbroke who needed “to find other ways of feeding their families”. But this outrageously false claim was finally exposed by the media recently, with Sibelco admitting that it employs 41 Island resident sand miners!
There will be jobs on the island for many years rehabilitating three mine sites and eliminating foxes and other pests and weeds in accordance with mining company obligations. The State Government has also promised to create 150 jobs on the Island. The Stradbroke Island jobs justification for the proposal is non-existent.
Labor is likely to come under increasing pressure to justify continuing with the Toondah plan. It is unnecessary and irresponsible. All that is required, and it’s not urgent, is a modest upgrade to the Stradbroke ferry terminal. Although subject to approval under the federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, the Palaszczuk Government will have difficulty convincing people to blame the Federal Government if the reclamation of protected wetlands goes ahead. This tactic is now well known and is unlikely to work with State Government backed proposals like the Toondah Harbour PDA. Labor is in the best position to stop it, and isn’t Labor supposed to protect the environment better than the Liberal/Nationals?
Richard Carew, Carew Lawyers, Brisbane

Both Sibelco and Walker Group Paid Nil Income Tax in 2014/15

On 9 December the ATO released its annual corporate tax Transparency Report. It showed that in 2014/15, the latest reported financial year, Sibelco earned over $450 MILLION, but for the second year running paid NIL income tax. Also, the Walker Group, which the Qld Government want to allow to dredge and reclaim Ramsar protected wetlands at Toondah Harbour, earned $363 MILLION but paid NIL income tax.
For further information and a link to the list of companies see this Save Straddie post –

Tell-tale sign of…?

In October, a native mammal’s tail – the rejected leftovers of a carnivore’s meal – was found in Timbin St, Point Lookout. The bushy tail (see image) has been positively identified as having belonged to a Squirrel Glider by ecologists Harry Hines and Dr Sarah Bell who wrote her PhD on Moreton Bay island gliders.
While it’s great to have positive confirmation that Squirrel Gliders are living in the eucalypt canopy at the Point, the question arises as to which animal predated the glider?
For birdwatchers, thoughts immediately turn to a Powerful Owl (Ninox strenua), as a classic sign of their presence in an area are glider tail remnants. The owls feed predominantly on arboreal mammals such as gliders and possums.
The Powerful Owl is Australia’s largest owl. It occurs from eastern and south-eastern Australia (east of the Great Dividing Range), from south-eastern Queensland to South Australia, mostly in large continuous forest but as Harry Hines commented – they are known to turn up in unexpected places.
These fabulous birds are the largest of the Australian nocturnal birds with an impressive wingspan of 135cm. Difficult to spot they are more frequently heard than seen, giving away their presence with their characteristic slow, deep, single or double ringing ‘whoo’ call at night.
Not long after the tail finding, the distinctive loud calls of the Powerful Owl were heard at night by several people at the Point and information came to light that a Powerful Owl had been positively identified at the Point in 2014.
With this information, the Powerful Owl was added to the island bird list being published in FOSI’s Nature Guide to North Stradbroke Island-Minjerribah –bringing to a total of 333 bird species recorded on the island!
Unfortunately, a cat was the other major suspect in the demise of this Squirrel Glider. So while in this case it appears the glider probably formed part of the natural food chain, it brings home the importance of controlling non-native predators on the island.
Cats are able to climb trees and hunt the gliders as they feed and they can also attack the glider’s family roosts in tree hollows. It’s therefore essential to keep all cats confined – particularly at dusk and overnight – when gliders are active and report any stray and feral cats to the Redland City Council.
Pictures below:
  • Squirrel Glider tail remnant – found at Point Lookout
  • Squirrel Glider at Dunwich, photo by Scott Cornish
Have you spotted a Powerful Owl? Photo by Greg Sharkey

Glossy Black Cockatoo Count Day 2016 Report

Members of FOSI participated in the annual Glossy Black-Cockatoo Survey conducted on 30 October 2016. Our survey commenced with a ‘fruitless’ and hot walk along the track circumnavigating Tortoise Lagoon in the Karboora (Blue Lake) section of the National Park – no feeding orts or birds were sighted in areas where they had been sighted previously. However not to be deterred, and following a refreshing break at the Little Ship Club and viewing of the migratory waders on the mudflats, the team staked out one of the cockatoo’s known watering locations near Clayton’s Road. A large active feeding tree, a Forest She-oak with numerous orts lying underneath was identified and then amazingly, three groups of Glossy Black Cockatoos, totalling 14 birds were spotted. Seven birds came to water and the others were seen in nearby trees. The results have been reported to the Glossy Black Conservancy. Right: This tail feather with its red panels and horizontal black barring was dropped by a female Glossy Black Cockatoo or a young male (mature adult male’s tail feathers are not barred). The orts are the leftover chewed seeds of the birds’ casuarina feed trees.

Moreton Bay Research Station Open Day

FOSI was invited to participate in UQ’s Moreton Bay Research Station Open Day in November and used the opportunity to raise awareness of the island’s shorebirds.
Under a shady canopy erected by the uni volunteers, we set up our stall with leaflets about the migratory and resident shorebirds and our new Kowa spotting scope. Fortunately, the tide was high during the day which meant that 26 ‘eye catching’ Pied Oystercatchers were roosting on Bradburys Beach right in front of the station.
Our stall had many visitors – for many young children it was the first time they’d looked through a scope and many were openly impressed by the striking red legs, beaks and eye rings of the birds on view.
Dunwich’s Bradburys Beach has been identified as of international significance for this species due to the large numbers that use this roost. Over winter numbers peak with 80-200 birds sometimes seen. One of the oystercatchers had a yellow flag on its leg– this sighting was subsequently reported to the Qld Wader Study Group. Phil Cross, the leg flag sightings coordinator has since advised that this bird was banded as part of a study by an ornithologist near Brunswick Heads northern NSW in December 2014. This was the first sighting reported to the QWSG of this bird being seen in Qld.
The stall was attended for four hours and during that time we saw several examples of the birds being disturbed by humans. Disturbance at high tides roosts, where birds rest and preen while waiting for their feeding tidal flats to be uncovered, is a major threat to shorebirds.
The first disturbance involved a man and his off-lead dog who walked right through the roosting birds. The birds all lifted – our hearts sank– but then wheeled around and landed on the beach again.
The second instance involved a person walking through the roost to swim – fortunately the birds only dispersed a little and the third time was when volunteers picking up rubbish along the foreshore with Blair Jedras’ Clean Oceans Australia group were getting too close. The volunteers quickly changed direction when they realised the birds were getting restive. Awareness of roosting birds and keeping our distance is key to protecting these birds at their crucial high tide roosts.
Mary Barram
Above: Young birders checking out the waders on Bradburys Beach using FOSI’s new spotting telescope

Island Fox Control Annual Update

It’s good to hear progress is continuing to be made in the battle against North Stradbroke Island’s worst feral pest – the fox.
Michael Dickinson, our local feral controller, reports that the tally for 2016 has reached 550 since he started the program for the Redland City Council in 2010. Michael, two or three years ago estimated the population to be 1 to 2000 foxes and there are now signs that the numbers may be dropping.
This year all Island landholders and managers have participated in baiting programs using the poison 1080 to which native animals have been demonstrated to have a high tolerance. It is encouraging that Michael Dickinson, who has the required licencing and expertise has supervised most of the baiting by the different groups. Sibelco now conducts an independent program with their environment officer in charge.
Most of this year’s program has been conducted in the north of the island with Redland City Council operating in areas they have responsibility for; SEQ Water baiting in the Brown Lake Water Reserve; Quandamooka and National Parks operating under joint management and at the Keyholes on the Native Title designated area. Most of the programs have been undertaken in the vicinity of the island’s water bodies.
The control effort is finally having an impact on fox activity. According to reports Turtle nests have not been raided in the past year and Pied Oystercatcher chicks have been spotted by rangers on Main Beach where they were once common. Protection of nesting shorebirds is also enhanced by limiting beach traffic, and stopping it completely at high tide.
The complete eradication of foxes from the island will require some years of work and on- going funding commitment by the Government. This should be a priority to preserve and rehabilitate the island’s native wildlife thus allowing a successful ‘transition’ to ecotourism.

The first report for many years of Pied Oystercatchers sucessfully nesting with two chicks spotted on Main Beach! Beach nesting shorebirds are very vulnerable to the impact of feral predators, dogs, and four wheel drives. Photo by Duade Paton.

Stradbroke Koala Count 2016

The annual ‘Koala Count-a-thon’, a snapshot of Koala numbers on one day every year, was conducted by the Koala Action Group on October 15, with the support of Redland City Council and volunteers. The count reported its highest numbers within the Redlands at North Stradbroke Island (with the next greatest numbers at strongholds at Ormiston and Cleveland). This is not surprising as numbers on the mainland ‘Koala Coast‘of South East Queensland are known to have dropped by 80% in recent years and these iconic creatures are considered to be at risk of extinction in the region. The numbers situation on the island, as pointed out by KAG, is still not fully assessed since the count only occurs in the urban areas.
Bare figures for NSI are Dunwich 16, Amity Point 43, Flinders Beach 4, Point Lookout 13. Have a look at the accompanying graph of numbers of Koalas spotted since the count was first undertaken which show a clear rise in numbers of Koalas sighted in the island townships. Increasing numbers may indicate a healthy growth in Straddie’s Koala population across the island, but with the drastic changes in the island landscape due to the long term clearing for mining and the 2014 wildfire, most likely the usual mainland dynamic of Koalas forced into urban areas through loss of habitat operates here too.
We have noted the increases in koala sightings at the Point in previous FOSI newsletters and drawn attention to the massive tree clearing at Yarraman mine only a short distance from the town. This trend was noticeable before the fire of January 2014. The connection between loss of habitat and more koalas seems inescapable. Reliable anecdotal evidence from FOSI and KAG members involve not only increased numbers but unusual sightings, for example, one koala spotted in a Pandanus at the Gorge and three koalas clustered in one tree near Samarinda indicates dislocation taking place.
Koalas and indeed kangaroos squeezed into urban environments means greater risk of car strikes and dog attacks. Most of the injuries attended to by animal carers on the island are a result of car strikes but the recent death of two koalas after a dog attack has provoked a strong reaction. QYAC (the Quandamooka Yoolooburrabee Aboriginal Corporation) has put up for discussion the idea of a blanket ban on dogs and cats on the island.  
Certainly it is obvious that native animals and domestic animals are not easily compatible which is partly why the Council has various by-laws to regulate and control dogs and cats. State government laws exclude domestic animals from National Parks and usually holiday accommodation and campgrounds exclude pets. On the island enforcement of the laws has always been inadequate. Only recently has the RCC assigned a regular dog catcher to the island, who reports some success, so things may be looking up. Enforcement of National Park exclusion is made particularly difficult by the acceptance of dogs at the Main Beach bush campsites bordering Naree Budjong Djara National Park (18 Mile Swamp). Dogs are also currently allowed at the bush camps along Flinders Beach- a Koala hotspot.
There is plenty of room for improved dog control and enforcement before the divisive step of an island ban. Thoughtful design of traffic calming is also needed and speed limits need to be enforced. But what the island Koalas really need is their habitat restored. Mining company Sibelco has claimed it reinstates Koala habitat but is that actually happening? It’s obvious that rehabilitation of mining-wrecked bushland is not being pursued with any vigour. Yarraman mine ceased operating in late 2015 but the site, easily seen on satellite images on Google Earth, appears barely vegetated and dominated by a set of huge apparently utilitarian dams which hardly look like watering places for native animals.  Much of the landscape around Yarraman Lagoon was originally thickly vegetated with tall eucalypts and reedy wetlands. Sibelco has profited handsomely at the expense of Stradbroke’s natural features and they are morally and legally obliged to restore it to a high standard.
Pictures following:
  • Photo of koalas by Chris Walker
  • Map of Koala Sightings in Point Lookout
  • Map of Koala Sightings in Amity
  • Koala Sighting map legend

Wishing all members and friends a Merry Christmas and a happy and relaxing holiday!

Pelicans at One Mile Photo by Maree Britton

Please support FOSI’s ongoing work

Friends of Stradbroke Island relies on the generosity of our members to fund our work.
We continue to highlight the increasing environmental damage caused by land clearing, sand mining, hydrological changes, plastic and feral animals on North Stradbroke Island. Donations are integral to help fund our ongoing public information and education campaigns and to help fund relevant scientific research.
All donations to the Environment Fund are tax deductible and may easily and securely be made by bank transfer (please contact us for details).

Save Straddie Facebook

If you are on Facebook and have not yet liked ‘Save Straddie’, please like to receive the latest news and other information. If you are not on facebook, you may wish to join Facebook and like ‘Save Straddie’.

Leave a comment