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.

Friday, 25 September 2015

Yandina Creek Wetlands Unplugged

Newly replenished wetland looking east to Mt Coolum
Just when some of us were beginning to think that the fate of the Yandina Creek Wetlands was sealed, the Queensland Government has intervened so that a recently installed floodgate has been opened to allow the area to be partially refilled with water from tidal flows. The stage may now be set for the landholders to sit down with the Sunshine Coast Council, government authorities, community groups and private organisations that acquire and manage reserves to map out a plan for the future for the 200ha wetland.

One of three newly installed floodgates has been opened
The entire wetland was drained within a few days in July when three new floodgates were installed.

Signs of revival in the wetland looking west to Mt Ninderry
As was explained in The Weekend Australian and elsewhere, the federal and Queensland governments, along with the Sunshine Coast Council, stood by and did nothing to prevent the wetland - which is nationally and internationally significant according to Commonwealth guidelines - from being drained. Their rationale was that because the wetland had been created by tidal flows through broken floodgates on drainage canals on land used formerly for sugar cane production, it was not worth saving. That argument conveniently ignored the fact that the area was wetland naturally before the development of the cane industry last century in the Maroochy River lowlands.

A floodgate is being installed at a new site some distance upstream from the main gates
Federal and state laws protecting rare and endangered wildlife were ignored, although during the 12 years since cane was grown on the land, a diverse wetland rich in plants and animals had been created.

Now, however, the Queensland Boating and Fisheries Patrol of the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries has ordered that one of the three new floodgates be opened; the other two gates are expected to be opened in the near future. The department has signalled it is working towards the gradual restoration of water flow to the site. The landowners have been told to ensure that a monitoring system is in place to ensure that water quality is managed and that further impacts are reduced.
Some of the extensive area of mangroves in the wetland
Fisheries personnel are understood to have collected samples of protected plants at the site. The department is compiling a prosecution brief relating to possible offences under Section 123 of the Fisheries Act 1994 and Sections 574 and 578 of the Sustainable Planning Act 2009. All marine plants growing on or adjacent to tidal lands are protected under Queensland law. 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.

Section 123 of the Fisheries Act makes it an offence to cause a marine plant to be removed, destroyed or damaged. In some circumstances, landholders can undertake "self-assessable" drainage and other development works which may have environmental impacts.  However, anyone undertaking such work must comply with applicable codes for self-assessable development under Section 574 of the Sustainable Planning Act. Under Section 578 of the act, a person must not carry out an assessable development without a permit.

Aquatic vegetation is looking stressed in much of the wetland, which remains high and dry
The former sugar cane properties were sold in the mid-2000s to family trusts with links to Sunshine Coast property developers. The landholders insist they did not acquire the properties as a long-term investment in the hope that the land will eventually be rezoned from rural to allow for canal estate or other residential or commercial development. Earlier this year, the landholders leased the properties back to their original owners - the family of local sugar cane farmer Scott Trevor, which undertook the drainage works.

Mr Trevor had signalled his family's intention to drain the wetland so sugar crops could be re-established. Mr Trevor has insisted that no state or federal government approvals were required for the drainage works.

State authorities envisage that the land will now be managed in similar fashion to the recently rehabilitated Trinity Inlet in Cairns - see here for more. The landholders will be required to monitor the wetland as the water returns because Fisheries is concerned that arsenic and other toxic metals may have leached to the surface from acid sulfate soils during the two months that the area has been dry.

Evidence of the stress to mangroves through water deprivation
Within a few days of the floodgate being opened this week, a substantial section of the eastern end of the wetland had been partly replenished. Enough water was present for small numbers of migratory shorebirds - a flock of 10 Sharp-tailed Sandpipers - to be present; the annual presence of large numbers of shorebirds at the site was one of the major arguments in support of its protection. However, there is not yet sufficient water to lure back the substantial numbers of ducks, herons, pelicans and other waterbirds that had been frequenting the site.

Google Earth map showing floodgates
Moreover, it has been discovered that a new floodgate was being installed this week at another site several hundred metres upstream from the three main floodgates on Yandina Creek. It is not known if this new floodgate is intended to facilitate the release of water now entering the wetland from the main floodgates as a result of the intervention of Fisheries. Any such move may have the effect of negating the Fisheries order to open the main floodgates. Fisheries is now investigating the new floodgate.

Water replenishment in the eastern sector of the wetland 
A substantial area of mangroves and other tidal vegetation had been established in the wetland. Notwithstanding the positive news of this week, most of the wetland remains high and dry; aquatic vegetation including mangroves is showing evident signs of distress.

The proactive stance of the state Department of Agriculture and Fisheries is in stark contrast to that of the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, which has primary responsibility for protecting the state's environment. On the basis of a single, brief visit by officers with no experience with the site earlier this year, the department concluded that the wetland was of no significance as it had been "highly modified". Despite published evidence of rare and threatened species and many waterbirds nesting at the time the wetland was drained, the department determined (as it has done so often in relation to other environmental disputes) there were no breaches of the Nature  Conservation Act.

Nonetheless, the  new state Environment Minister, Steven Miles, has taken a personal interest in the wetland. The minister is believed to be considering options for its future.

Meanwhile, the federal Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, has finally revealed the outcome of two investigations he had ordered into whether the drainage works breached provisions of the Environment Protection and Diversity Act relating to protected species (the endangered Australian Painted-Snipe and critically endangered Curlew-Sandpiper occur at the wetland) and migratory shorebirds (Australia is a signatory to several international agreements requiring it to protect important shorebird habitat). In short, the minister concluded that the act had been complied with; no explanation was offered.

As for the future, offsets and partial rezoning - along with contributions from the state and federal governments - have been mentioned as potential sources of funding to acquire the properties so they can be protected and managed as a reserve. The Sunshine Coast Council, in co-operation with the Queensland Government and perhaps an agency such as the Queensland Trust for Nature or Bush Heritage  Australia, is the obvious body to be overseeing any such plan. Significantly perhaps, the council has softened its  previously declared stand of having no interest in the site.

Further inundation in the wetland's eastern sector


  1. This is great news Greg! I'm really glad that you persevered with trying to protect the wetland - it looks like it has paid off :)

    Here's hoping that the relevant parties are able to come to an agreement and that the wetland can be preserved for the future :))

  2. You have been fighting a long battle to protect the Yandina Wetlands Greg and finally getting some good news. Jude.