Threats in Moreton Bay significantly contributing to the global decline of shorebirds

A report outlining threats to Moreton Bay’s migratory shorebirds has recently been released. The report was commissioned as part of the Australian Government’s Mountains Mangroves project being delivered by Healthy Land and Water through the Regional Land Partnerships program.

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Healthy Land and Water engaged Professor Richard Fuller and his team at the University of Queensland (UQ) to prepare the report, which summarises the status of migratory shorebirds in Moreton Bay, identifies threats to their survival and recommends management actions.

Moreton Bay is one of Australia’s premier sites for migratory shorebirds and this is one of the reasons for its listing as a Ramsar Site under the Convention on Wetlands of International Significance (the Ramsar Convention).

Tens of thousands of migratory shorebirds visit Moreton Bay and surrounding coastal wetlands between September and April every year to feed and rest before returning to the northern hemisphere to breed; those that are too young, too old or not fit enough for the return journey remain during our cooler months.

The UQ team, led by Professor Fuller, analysed shorebird data collected by the Queensland Wader Study Group (QWSG) and others and assessed threats and habitat condition in Moreton Bay.

They found that although habitat loss overseas is a major contributor to the global decline in migratory shorebird populations, threats occurring in Moreton Bay are significant contributors, particularly interruptions to shorebird feeding and resting through human disturbance and habitat loss through development and vegetation encroachment.


Threats to shorebirds

During their migration, shorebirds fly a defined route known as the East Asian-Australasian Flyway, which the birds follow from Australia and New Zealand, along the shores of Korea, China and Japan, to Far East Russia and Alaska and then back again, a 26,000km round trip each year. They use clever strategies to help reduce energy consumption during their flight. For example, the Far Eastern Curlew shuts down the organs it doesn’t need for the flight just before it migrates.

In addition to quality feeding areas in Australia, such as Moreton Bay, and safe nesting habitats in the far northern hemisphere, migratory shorebirds need what are known as staging posts, sand or mudflat intertidal areas used for feeding and resting, along the Flyway to gain energy for the next leg of their journey. Loss of staging posts along the Flyway is a major cause of global declines, however the UQ report confirmed that many threats known to occur in Moreton Bay in 2005 are continuing, some have increased, and new threats are emerging.


Critical actions suggested by the report include:

  • Protection and long-term maintenance of a network of roost sites,
  • Create roost sites adjacent to tidal flats along the western shores of Minjerribah (North Stradbroke Island),
  • Reduce human disturbance of roosting and foraging shorebirds, particularly by off-leash dogs, and
  • Support ongoing monitoring of migratory shorebirds, including regular censuses of the total number using Moreton Bay.

These recommendations led to a subsequent project, Mitigating threats to Migratory Shorebirds in Moreton Bay, funded by the Australian Government’s Environmental Restoration Fund and being delivered by Healthy Land and Water.

One report recommendation implemented early in 2021 was a Bay-wide Census. This was the first comprehensive survey of shorebirds since 2008 and recorded 28,407 shorebirds (25,696 migratory and 2,711 resident shorebirds, across sites within or adjacent to (within 10km) Moreton Bay Ramsar Site, and at five sites outside of this area. By comparison, the 2008 census found 32,169 shorebirds (30,236 migratory and 1,933 resident shorebirds).

The 2021 Bay-wide Census was a collaborative exercise with considerable support from QWSG, Gold Coast Shorebirds, Moreton Bay Regional Council and the Queensland Department of Environment and Science (Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service and Partnerships – Marine Parks) and the Census report, with a detailed analysis of the census and its findings, will soon be available.

Contact us for further information on how Healthy Land and Water is implementing other report recommendations.

Download the report here.

Download our Protecting Shorebirds poster to find out more about our awesome migratory shorebirds and the work we are doing to protect them!

Healthy Land and Water is working closely with the Queensland Wader Study Group, University of Queensland and other researchers, local and state governments, Traditional Owners, industry and community organisations to deliver outcomes for Moreton Bay Ramsar Site and its migratory shorebirds

This project is supported by Healthy Land and Water through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.

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