Sunshine Coast Birds

Birding and other wildlife experiences from the Sunshine Coast and elsewhere in Australia - and from overseas - with scribblings about travel, environmental issues, kayaking, hiking and camping.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Water Flow To Yandina Creek Wetlands Plugged

The extent of the Yandina Creek Wetlands is revealed by this image taken from Mt Ninderry
Works have been completed to plug the major source of tidal water flowing to the Yandina Creek Wetlands, ensuring that at least half the 200-hectare site - which is of national significance according to federal Government guidelines - is in the process of being drained.

New Floodgates on Yandina Creek
The wetlands are comprised primarily of two large adjoining properties - Lots 3 and 4 RP148079 - which abut the Coolum Creek Conservation Reserve. They were replenished twice daily from tidal flows from the Maroochy River through broken floodgates connecting Yandina Creek, a tributary of the river, to canals that criss-cross land formerly used for sugarcane production. New floodgates have now been installed - along with the construction of levy banks and other works - to block the main canal flowing to Lot 3. This will have the consequence of draining Lot 3 and will have unknown consequences as well for the wetlands on Lot 4, as the two properties are connected by canals.

Drainage Works at Yandina Creek
The landholders of Lot 3 had indicated their intention to fill the wetlands for cattle pasture, but they are instead leasing the property to its former sugarcane farmer-owners, who intend to replant cane as soon as the wetlands are drained (see here). This move was evidently intended to circumvent possible action by the federal Government to block the landfill plan, as the wetlands are habitat for the endangered Australian Painted-Snipe and large numbers of protected migratory shorebirds, including the critically endangered Curlew-Sandpiper. The federal Environment Department has inspected the area to determine if Commonwealth law may be breached by drainage work. However, the department refuses to reveal the outcome of its investigation, suggesting that the Commonwealth has come to the conclusion that its hands are tied, at least while the landholders keep to the sugarcane plan.

Yandina Creek Wetlands on Lot 4  - looking east to Mt Coolum
The Sunshine Coast Council has rejected proposals to acquire the wetland properties under its Environment Levy Plan (see here - this post includes links for protest emails) but other possibilities remain for funding, including grants from the Commonwealth and/or Queensland governments. Bushcare Australia is also considering acquisition.

Wetlands photographed from Mt Ninderry - Lot 4 on left, newly drained Lot 3 on right
In one encouraging development in an otherwise bleak picture, the landholders of Lot 3 have indicated a willingness to discuss the long-term future of the area, and as the drainage works undertaken recently on their behalf by the sugarcane farmers are reversible, it is worth considering. The landholders have suggested a mixed development of wetlands protection, farming and ecotourism. The idea has merit, although the viability of any such scheme would be greatly enhanced by the inclusion of - or at least access to - Lot 4, which contains the most significant wetland habitat.

The owners of Lot 4 have declined to discuss the matter. The address of the family trust that owns the property is the same as the office of Vantage Building Group, a big Sunshine Coast property development company. The degree of co-operation between the owners of Lots 3 and 4 is uncertain; the two properties are presently being patrolled jointly by men riding quad-bikes to deter trespassers.

Yandina Creek Wetlands 
Images of the wetlands taken from nearby Mt Ninderry reveal the impressive extent of the habitat. Though several kilometres distant, extensive areas of open water and swampland are clearly visible against the backdrop of the coast and Mt Coolum. The water in these images, taken this week, is largely on Lot 4. The water in Lot 3, immediately to the east, appears from the images to have already been drained; access to Lot 3 is not allowed so it is is not possible to know for certain.

Where to next? It is worth pursuing the idea of the Lot 3 landholders in the absence of anything else on the table, though the attitude of the council, and of the Lot 4 owners, needs to be determined. The council has been asked to clarify its position, while efforts to connect with the Lot 4 owners continue.

At the same time, pressure needs to be increased on the federal and state governments to come up with the goods and provide funding to the council so that it can acquire the area. The Queensland Environment Minister, Steven Miles, is set to visit the Yandina Creek Wetlands soon. The minister told Peter Wellington, the local MP and parliamentary Speaker, that he was interested in the wetlands. But at the same time, his department was telling the media that the wetlands are only of "local" importance because they are "highly modified". These assertions are as misplaced as they are irrelevant. Wetlands around the world are being created artificially because there is precious little of them remaining in a natural state. Moreover, the conversion of fallow caneland at Yandina Creek has re-established a habitat that was there naturally.

Critically Endangered Curlew-Sandpiper occurs at Yandina Creek Wetlands
The Sunshine Coast Council also needs to be persuaded to depart from its view that the wetlands are not "high priority". The mayor, Mark Jamieson, has told ABC Radio that although acquisition had been ruled out this financial year, the prospect remained of acquisition in future years. The mayor said the existence of three separate titles over the wetlands (a small section occurs on a third property) made acquisition difficult, but the council has been told that protecting even one of the major properties (Lot 3 or Lot 4) would suffice to protect much of the habitat.  The mayor said the proposal had been assessed by the council, but there has been no assessment of any substance. It did not go unnoticed that while the council has no funds to save wetlands, it is spending $260,000 to scare flying foxes away from populated areas.

Talk to Noosa Parks Association on Yandina Creek Wetlands
The campaign to protect the wetlands is in full swing. BirdLife Australia has urged its thousands of members and supporters to become involved. Several people have expended considerable energy in getting things moving. I gave a well-attended talk on the wetlands to the Noosa Parks Association. Media coverage is picking up. ABC Radio ran an extensive interview (scroll down on this link for sound); an online story can be found here. The Sunshine Coast Daily has run a series of good articles - see this piece for coverage of  Canberra's interest; state government involvement is reported here; and the paper ran an extensive weekend edition report.

As reported in the following post on this blog, there is presently an abundance of birdlife on the wetlands of Lot 4, which have yet to be drained. Several hundred ducks of various species are feeding in the shallows. At least 10 pairs of Black Swans are sitting on freshly built nests. Dozens of raptors are patrolling the skies. Many thousands of swallows and martins are hawking for insects. It's quite a sight.

A petition has been launched for the federal Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, to provide funding to the council to enable it to acquire the properties:  see here for the link .

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