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.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Airport, Cars Threaten Ground Parrot on Sunshine Coast

Ground Parrot hit by motor vehicle, Sunshine Coast. Pic Richard Maguire.
A combination of plans for a new airport runway and motor vehicle collisions threatens to exterminate the Sunshine Coast population of the rare Eastern Ground Parrot.

Analysis of reports prepared for the $350 million Sunshine Coast Airport expansion plans leaves no doubt that the project will have devastating consequences for the largest population of Ground Parrots surviving in Queensland outside the Great Sandy World Heritage Area. Plans for a new east-west runway to be bulldozed through the parrot's habitat proceed as it emerges that the local population of the bird is struggling to cope with another hazard: collision with motor vehicles.

Ground Parrot habitat in Sunshine Coast Airport
Surveys by the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service estimate that the population of the Ground Parrot in the vicinity of the airport at Marcoola is between 14 and 20; most if not all the birds occur within its fenced boundary. The airport population is estimated to comprise 25 per cent of all Ground Parrots remaining on the Sunshine Coast at scattered sites between Noosaville in the north and Marcoola in the south.

Birds at some sites, such as Mt Coolum National Park, appear to have disappeared in recent years. The airport birds are likely to be the only population of the species in the region with the potential to survive in the long term. This is because the parrot's wallum heath habitat at the airport is regularly slashed, preventing it from being choked by the growth of woody plants and weeds in the absence of a fire management regime. Most other Sunshine Coast sites where the parrot occurred no longer provide suitable habitat for this reason. As well, the airport fencing provides protection from introduced foxes and feral cats.

Artist's impression: existing N-S runway and proposed E-W runway: Image Sunshine Coast Daily.
Last month, a young female Ground Parrot was hit by a car in Keith Royal Drive, which runs parallel to the eastern fence of the airport. The bird was about 500 metres east of the main Ground Parrot population inside the airport fence and would have fledged recently. The parrot had a ruptured air sac but fortunately survived after being nursed at Australia Zoo. It was released outside the airport fence at a site where no Ground Parrots have been reported in recent times; hopefully it found its way back to the main population.

A Ground Parrot was killed in November 2013 after colliding with a motor vehicle in the same area. Its body was found in the driveway of a service station in David Low Way, a block away from Keith Royal Drive. Two collisions between parrots and cars in two years is cause enough for concern, but the toll is likely to be higher.

The Sunshine Coast Council's environmental impact statement for the airport expansion shows that 7.8 hectares of the parrot's habitat will be destroyed by the new runway but says this area is not the one most frequented by the birds. As some sort of offset, the council - which owns the airport and is the prime mover of the expansion plan - proposes that an additional 5.8 hectares of land adjacent to the site be managed "in a manner expected to encourage Ground Parrot use". 

The rehabilitated Ground Parrot hit by a vehicle. Pic by Australia Zoo
It is disingenuous to suggest that the problem is resolved simply by creating a new area of habitat to replace a perfectly suitable area of habitat that is to be destroyed, especially when the new area is significantly smaller.

Surveys show that the Ground Parrot population is concentrated in a relatively small area to the west of and close to the existing north-south runway. The new runway would run east-west from the existing runway directly through the southern half of the area frequented by the parrots. The runway would be 2.5 kilometres long - 650 metres longer than the existing runway. Apart from the direct loss of a significant portion of the parrot's habitat, there is little doubt that the new runway with additional human activity, lighting and noise will be highly disruptive to the parrots.

It is not possible to see how this already struggling population of Ground Parrot will survive if the airport expansion plan proceeds. As well as Ground Parrots, the expansion will have impacts on two threatened frog species. The proposed runway also cuts through a large swathe of grassland to the west of the airport on former sugarcane farmland that provides refuge to several rare species including King Quail and Eastern Grass Owl. The environmental impact statement makes no reference to possible impacts on these grassland species. 

Eastern Ground Parrot - Pic by Graeme Chapman
The impact statement notes that because of the fencing, the airport Ground Parrots are probably the only Australian population of this threatened species that it not subject to exotic predator threats. All the more reason to tread cautiously and abandon what critics describe as an extravagant and unnecessary infrastructure project. Sunshine Coast residents suffer from abysmally poor public transport, including the absence of rail services along the heavily populated coastal strip. There are better ways to spend $350 million.


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