BirdLife Kangaroo Island says seabird protection could result in tourism windfall

BirdLife Kangaroo Island represenative Jane Renwick uses a Mars Bar to illustrate the body size of some of the smaller migratory birds that travel to Kangaroo Island from the Northern Hemisphere.
BirdLife Kangaroo Island represenative Jane Renwick uses a Mars Bar to illustrate the body size of some of the smaller migratory birds that travel to Kangaroo Island from the Northern Hemisphere.

Birdlife Kangaroo Island representatives made a presentation to the Kangaroo Island Council's July meeting calling for restricting vehicle access to Brownlow beach.

Keen bird watchers and conservationists Jane Renwick and John Hodgson also spoke passionately about the tourism potential of the Island's unique abundance of shorebirds.

The object of the presentation was to put the case to the council that it should enforce By Law 8 that restricts vehicle access to the vicinity immediately around the boat launching site at Brownlow.

Keen bird watcher and conservationist John Hodgson addresses the Kangaroo Island Council at its July meeting,

Keen bird watcher and conservationist John Hodgson addresses the Kangaroo Island Council at its July meeting,

Mr Hodgson said there had been an estimated decline in shorebird numbers across Australia of approximately 90 per cent.

A major factor in shorebird decline is vehicle activity on beaches.

"Kangaroo Island however has not experienced this decline. Therein lies an opportunity which would have potential economic benefit to Kingscote and Brownlow," he said.

Brownlow beach was a town beach-popular with walkers and the Cygnet River estuary at the end of the beach was an important shorebird nesting site, he said.

BirdLife is calling for physical barriers across the beach at the boat launching site and Links Road intersection.

Existing signage requires re-wording and change of location with specific bird information signage at both sites, plus estuary. Online and printed interpretative material needs to be created.

"This would create of another visitor experience for Kingscote/Brownlow through linking of Reeves Point bird hide with Brownlow beach walk," Mr Hodgson said.

"Minimal additional infrastructure is required as the walk would utilise existing walking paths and town beaches."

National recognition for Kangaroo Island in context of shorebird preservation would results in demand for tours and increase in visitor stays, he said.

Enhancing the experience would be a bird hide in the vicinity of the estuary that would then define the walk.

BirdLife KI's Jane Renwick said continued seabird decline could trigger of the federal Environment Act and greater controls on access to breeding beaches, including Emu Bay.

Brownlow Beach is an important area for both migratory and resident waders.

The red-necked stint, the smallest of the migratory waders' flies to Alaska and Siberia to breed.

"Weighing 27 grams they feed voraciously whilst in Australia and on the Brownlow Beach towards the estuary," she said.

"When they are disturbed, valuable energy needed to change them into flying globules of fat, is used up and this can make the difference to them reaching their breeding sites."

Resident shorebirds such as pied oystercatchers and hooded plovers nest on beaches all around Kangaroo Island.

Pied oystercatchers' nest from the Kingscote Yacht Club right around Nepean Bay to Redbanks from August to January.

It is worth noting that pied oystercatchers are declining on the mainland,

The total Australian population is less than 10,000 individuals, with KI's birds making up 1 per cent of that total population.

Their nests which are just a scrape in the sand near the high tide mark are easily disturbed.

Vehicles driving on the seaward edges of the beach compact the sand and can have a major effect on the invertebrate communities and lead to loss of food source for shorebirds.

"Kangaroo Island Council has been very proactive in setting up bylaws that make a number of our beaches accessible to vehicles for boat launching purposes only," she said.

"In the past policing has been lacking and council made the decision to install new signage at Brownlow and other beaches.

"Sadly, these signs missed their mark. They are not clear, ambiguous and have been installed in the wrong places."

BirdLife KI would like to see the replication of simply worded, clear signs installed Island Beach many year ago.

"Kangaroo Island cannot afford to lose our birds as other areas in Australia have," Jane Renwick said.

"As one of 300 Key Biodiversity Areas in Australia, it is important that we look after what we have. Kangaroo Island Council does not have to solve the problem, it just has to help.

"Birdlife Australia and Birdlife Kangaroo Island are already proactive with workshops, signage, temp fencing etc.

"By helping get vehicles off Brownlow Beach council can have bragging rights as being instrumental in keeping our shorebird population healthy.

"Birding is worth big dollars all around the world. Birdwatchers stay longer in areas of interest, know what they are looking for and spend more money locally.

"We have had conversations with locally based tour operators who confirmed the potential benefit to tourism if this council leads the way in helping save our shorebirds and increasing visitation to KI."