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.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Yandina Creek Wetlands: Important New Developments

Mangroves in Yandina Creek Wetland
There have been significant developments in the campaign to protect the 200-hectare Yandina Creek Wetlands on the Sunshine Coast from being drained since the publication of a report presenting the case for an application before the Sunshine Coast Council to acquire the wetlands for a reserve (see here). Although the report was updated last week, new information has come to hand.

Map of Yandina Creek Wetlands
It is useful to have a fresh look at a map of the wetlands. The bulk of the wetlands are on two properties (Lots 3 and 4 RP148079) owned separately by members of a Sunshine Coast family. As previously reported, the land was farmed for sugar cane until it was sold to the family about 10 years ago. Since then, floodgates on tidal waterways fringing the properties have fallen into disrepair, allowing the land to be inundated frequently. This has effectively restored an extensive area of the kind of wetlands that naturally were widespread on the Maroochy River floodplains before the development of the sugar cane industry many decades ago. The family has stated it is their intention to repair the floodgates to drain the wetlands so the area can be used for cattle grazing.

The wetlands are sustained by tidal water flowing through broken floodgates
The Commonwealth Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, has written to the landholders, advising them of their obligations to comply with federal law regarded the presence of an endangered species (Australian Painted-Snipe) and large numbers of migratory shorebirds on the properties. This appears to necessitate the compilation of an environmental impact study before the floodgates can be restored. At the same time, the Sunshine Coast Council has advised that early next financial year, it intends to make a decision on an application (Nomination Number 100) under its Environment Levy Land Acquisition Program to acquire the properties for a reserve.

The land was sold to the family by Scott Trevor, a doyen of the region's sugar cane industry, who resides on an adjoining property. Mr Trevor now tells supporters of efforts to protect the wetlands that he will be subleasing Lot 3 RP148079 from the family to restore sugar cane plantations. He believed that Lot 4 RP14809 would be utilised for cattle grazing, although some cattle would also be grazed on Lot 3. Significantly, Mr Trevor advised that the floodgates will be repaired later this year when drier conditions permit - probably in September - so that the wetlands can be drained. He said the substantial costs involved in repairing the floodgates would be shared between him and the landholders. Mr Trevor indicated that neither he nor the landholders were concerned about the potential implications of their plans under Commonwealth, State or council laws and regulations. However, Mr Trevor said no leasing agreement had yet been signed.

Uncertainty surrounds this development. The landholders may have legal advice indicating that continuing a technically existing use for the land (sugar cane growing) - instead of converting its primary use to grazing - may make it easier to avoid potential pitfalls in Commonwealth, state and council laws and regulations. Leasing the biggest property (Lot 3) to another title holder may make it more difficult for authorities to act. However, importantly, restoring the floodgates would appear to comprise an "action" in any event under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, triggering its provisions.

Yandina Creek Wetlands
A recent inspection from property boundaries has revealed the existence of several hectares of mangroves in the eastern sector of Lot 3. According to the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, all marine plants growing on or adjacent to tidal lands are protected under Queensland law through provisions of the Fisheries Act 1994. The destruction, damage or disturbance of marine plants without prior approval from Fisheries Queensland is prohibited. Heavy penalties apply to any unauthorised disturbances that impact on marine plants on all private and public lands. The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries has been alerted to the presence of mangroves on the property and of plans to drain the area. The department has agreed to investigate the matter.

It has also been pointed out thacoastal wetlands on the east coast of Australia are underlain by estuarine sediments potentially containing acid sulfate soils. Drainage of the wetlands could lead to drainage of the groundwater and oxidation of acid sulfate soils, leading to acid discharge into Yandina Creek and the Maroochy River, potentially affecting water quality and fish habitat. Draining can also result in the development of acid scalds on the soil surface. Sunshine Coast Council maps show that much of the land in question is subject to an Acid Sulphate Soils overlay. The council has been asked to ensure that, in the event that the land is not acquired for conservation purposes, all of its planning regulations are complied with. 

Several supporters have suggested that notwithstanding Mr Hunt's intervention, legal action should be initiated in the Federal Court to ensure that the drainage plan does not proceed. It has been pointed out that the wetlands are a nationally significant site under Commonwealth law, and are potentially an internationally significant site. Any such legal action is outside the resources of supporters of the conservation plan. However, the Queensland Environmental Defenders Office has been asked to consider the matter.

The landholders have opted to end communication with supporters of the conservation plan after refusing permission for a scientific survey to proceed. The landholders appear to believe that environmentalists are responsible for vandalising fences on a nearby property that they own, and of chaining open floodgates. No evidence has been provided to support those assertions and the landholders have been assured that those interested in protecting the wetlands would deplore any such acts. The family has left open the possibility of accepting an offer to acquire the properties,  however.


1 comment: