|Yandina Creek Wetland this week, with the backdrop of Mt Ninderry|
I began campaigning to protect a wetland along River Road, Yandina Creek, back in 2012. At the time I thought the wetland was restricted to a small area of privately owned land adjoining the eastern end of the road. I was struck by how this property was so rich in birdlife - birds included Black-tailed Native-hen and Australian Painted-Snipe, both very rare in south-east Queensland.
I was disturbed by the destruction of similar habitat on a neighbouring River Road property, and proposed to the Sunshine Coast Council (Sunshine Coast Regional Council at the time) that it acquire part of the area and protect it as a nature reserve. The proposal was rejected, largely on the grounds of cost.
|The wetland this week from the summit of Mt Ninderry|
The fallow farmland was owned by fourth generation sugar cane growers until it was acquired by property developers in the mid-2000s following the closure of the Nambour sugar mill. The new owners planned to convert it to cattle pasture initially. They hoped the land would eventually be rezoned from rural to allow residential or commercial development. The wetland was created artificially because farm floodgates collapsed in the late-2000s, allowing tidal water from Yandina Creek and Maroochy River to inundate the site.
|A flock of Australasian Shoveler & Grey Teal fly over the wetland this week|
I prepared another submission for the Sunshine Coast Council, this time suggesting the acquisition of the two larger properties for conservation purposes. At the same time, I wrote and spoke to the federal Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, and to the Queensland Government, urging intervention because the cattle pasture plans threatened species protected under federal and state laws. In late-2014, I pulled together a comprehensive case for saving the wetland.
The wetland provided habitat for numerous bird species regarded as rare or difficult to find in Queensland. Good numbers of migratory shorebirds of various species frequented the site that are protected under several international treaties to which Australia is a signatory. The large population of one species, Latham's Snipe, at Yandina Creek indicated the wetland was internationally significant under Australian law.
|Wetland looking towards Mt Coolum this week|
I gave talks to community groups; met with the landholders and the Sunshine Coast Council; organised online petitions; set up a Facebook page and mailing lists of several hundred supporters; and monitored developments at the site on my blog. I took people (among them Australian Formula One driving champion Mark Webber) into the wetland; they were invariably impressed with what they saw. Organisations that lent their support included Birds Queensland, Sunshine Coast Environment Council, Protect the Bushland Alliance and Noosa Parks Association.
|Talking to Noosa Parks Association about the wetland, 2014|
In June 2015, the Sunshine Coast Council rejected my submission to acquire the land for conservation purposes under its Environmental Levy. Although the wetland was easily the most diverse and largest of its kind in the region, the council determined it was low priority. No inspection of the site was undertaken; no studies were commissioned; and no reasons were given for the decision. The council ignored the advice of some its own environmental experts in reaching this conclusion.
|The wetland was inundated when farm floodgates collapsed in the late-2000s|
Around the same time, Commonwealth and state officers inspected the site and concluded there was no case for intervention. They argued the wetland was “human modified” and therefore not worthy of conservation. This argument ignored the fact that wetlands around the world are increasingly artificial as natural habitat diminishes; just a tiny fraction remains of the once extensive wetlands on the Sunshine Coast. Moreover, the “artificially created” Yandina Creek Wetland closely resembled what was there naturally before the area was developed for cane farms in the 1920s. Nor does wildlife frequenting these places care whether or not they are artificially created. The failure of both governments to act is further evidence of the uselessness of Commonwealth and state environmental legislation.
|Cane farm development in the 1920s|
|L-R Greg Roberts, Queensland Environment Minister Steven MIles, Parliamentary Speaker Peter Wellington, SCEC's Narelle McCarthy, BLA's Judith Hoyle - July 2015|
At the same time, a substantial package I wrote as a journalist about the wetland for The Weekend Australian was splashed across the front and feature pages of the newspaper, further shaping a national profile for the cause. Photographs were a crucial weapon in the campaign. I had taken numerous images of the wetland before it was drained and the scenes of desolation after the floodgates were shut. The contrast sent a powerful message.
Then I filed complaints with Queensland Fisheries alleging the drainage works had destroyed protected marine vegetation. The lessees were required to reopen the floodgates in September 2015 and were served multiple infringement notices. The reprieve was short-lived. The floodgates were closed again three months later and the wetland drained for the second time in 2015. They have not been reopened until now.
|Closed floodgates on the site|
|Waterbirds at the wetland before it was drained in 2015|
The landholders sold the properties to Unitywater for $4 million in August 2016. Finally, all those efforts over so long by so many had paid off. The wetland was to be restored and protected.
At Unitywater's request, the news was not made public at the time of the acquisitiion. In January 2017 I put together a pictorial account of of the 150+ bird species recorded from Yandina Creek Wetland. Then in February 2017, I revealed the excellent news of the in an article which featured prominently in The Weekend Australian, and on my blog.
It is a matter of regret that this otherwise edifying saga culminated in something of a sour note. The opening ceremony was clearly a significant milestone. Yet I was not invited or told of it until after the event. BirdLife Southern Queensland was there, but BLA Sunshine Coast and the volunteers surveying the wetland were not invited. Neither were the owners of properties adjoining the wetland who backed the conservation campaign. With the exception of the Sunshine Coast Environment Council, community groups that played important roles in the effort were absent. In his address to the function, Jim Soorley effectively claimed full ownership of the outcome, making no reference to the long-running campaign or the efforts of others.
On the plus side, Soorley gave a public assurance that the wetland will be opened eventually to the public. In making this pledge, Soorley debunked claims made publicly by one resident, a vocal opponent of the wetland campaign, that she had been repeatedly assured by Unitywater there would be no public access to the site. Unitywater deserves plaudits also for engaging BirdLife Australia and others to survey the wetland; BLA has successfully completed a series of pre-flooding bird surveys.
|BirdLife Australia survey underway at the wetland|
|Southern half of the wetland this week - still dry as some floodgates remain shut|
|Coolum West Wetland|
Now that would be one for the birds.