Pig control program improving the health of Moreton Bay’s Ramsar wetlands and Quandamooka Country

Honeymoon Bay – Moreton Island, a feeder, and a pig identified by a camera

 

Invasive animal and plant species have had a significant impact on the Australian environment, damaging landscapes and supressing native species with widespread negative economic and cultural consequences.

Moreton Bay’s Ramsar Wetland

Covering more than 120,000 hectares, the Moreton Bay Ramsar site includes many different coastal habitats and environments from freshwater wetlands, beaches, mud flats, saltmarsh, mangroves, coral reefs and seagrass beds. It supports more than 50,000 wetland birds, including 28 species of migratory birds that travel from around the world to feed and roost.
The Bay’s diversity of wetlands provides habitat for more than 750 species of fish, and the marine environment supports a high diversity of marine mammals including eight species of dolphin, five species of whale, and the dugong. All six marine turtle species known to exist in Australia are also found in Moreton Bay.

Feral pigs are a major pest that continue to cause serious damage to our biodiversity and ecosystems. Feral pigs also have a tremendous impact upon Australia’s biodiversity by spreading weeds and disease.

The problem is extensive even in high-value conservation areas like Mulgumpin (Moreton Island), in South East Queensland, located within the internationally recognised Moreton Bay Ramsar Wetland.

Pigs impact on delicate coastal ecosystems and cultural landscapes within the Moreton Bay Ramsar Wetland by trampling, disturbing and compacting vegetation and soils.

Collectively, the ecosystems of the Ramsar area support a diverse array of wildlife, including several threatened species such as the Water Mouse (Xeromys myoides), shorebirds, and acid frogs.

Pigs were originally brought to Australia as livestock but as they escaped captivity, they rapidly established wild populations and spread out of control. Pigs are now one of Australia’s most widespread pests.

First recorded in Queensland in around 1865, feral pigs have been present on Mulgumpin for over 100 years.

Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service has been conducting pig control activities on Mulgumpin since 2000. But more recently QPWS rangers have been utilising a range of techniques to reduce the pig population including remotely controlled traps, live cameras and automated feeders.

Quandamooka Traditional Owners – through the Quandamooka Yoolooburrabee Aboriginal Corporation (QYAC) – in partnership with the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) have been delivering the Pig Control on Quandamooka Country Program.

 

The program is being rolled out across more than 600 hectares of Quandamooka Country to reduce and manage Mulgumpin’s feral pig population.

The program has been carefully monitored by capturing pig movement using wildlife cameras at three key feeding site locations on the island. The cameras provide real time monitoring of wildlife and are powered by solar panels, allowing for long term deployment of stations, and resulting in lower maintenance requirements.

Rangers have been utilising computer deep learning to identify feral animals on camera, images below show this technology in action.

Once pigs are detected at the feed stations, management actions can be developed and implemented.

Project map

 

 

 

A pig identified at the Tailor Bight site

 

A ranger identified at the Heath Island site

Advancements in methodology have accelerated the decline of Mulgumpin’s feral pig population. From the data and information collected by QPWS, it has been revealed the population of pigs on the island has significantly reduced since 2014.

It is estimated today’s pig population to be around 20 – 40 individuals. See figure 1 below which illustrates the reduction of the population.

 

Figure 1: Total number of pigs eradicated each year from 2000 until 2021

Collaboration between QYAC and QPWS

Healthy Land and Water is providing support to enable QYAC to lead Pig Control activities on Mulgumpin while considering cultural landscape values and Traditional Owner aspirations for Country.

The resulting collaboration between QYAC and QPWS has provided Quandamooka rangers with the opportunity to grow the knowledge and learnings around pig control techniques and technologies being used to implement the program. It has also created an environment where QPWS Rangers learn from the QYAC Rangers about sites of significance and Traditional lifeways.

 

Native Title and Indigenous joint management

The program is being guided and lead by Traditional Owners, the Quandamooka People, via the registered Native Title and Cultural Heritage Body, the Quandamooka Yoolooburrabee Aboriginal Corporation.

The Quandamooka People were formally recognised as Mulgumpin’s Traditional Owners with a Native Title consent ruling through the Federal Court in 2019. It was determined that rights and interests, such as Quandamooka People’s ability to conduct ceremonies, share traditional natural resources, practice culture and maintain places of importance were never seceded, but that these rights and interests in country were always present.

QPWS and QYAC work in collaboration to manage protected areas on Mulgumpin through transitional joint management arrangements.

QYAC and Healthy Land and Water are also working in partnership with other key stakeholders such as Biosecurity Queensland, and community groups.

 

The future of the program

Due to the distance of islands from the mainland, control programs like this have a greater chance of significantly reducing the pig population with a high possibility of eradication.

If pigs are successfully eradicated from Mulgumpin, this will result in a significant land mass within the Moreton Bay Ramsar site (approximately 18,600 hectares) being effectively free of feral pigs.

As part of broader biosecurity activities, QYAC and QPWS plan to implement a range of other feral animal control activities on Mulgumpin in the near future.

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

 

National Feral Pig Action Plan

In December 2019, the Australian Government provided $1.4 million over 3.5 years to Australian Pork Limited (APL) to establish a National Feral Pig Management Coordinator to facilitate the delivery of feral pig management approaches on a national, regional and local scale, undertake stakeholder engagement, drive effective investment and raise awareness of feral pig issues.

This work will help to ensure that the most effective feral pig control methods are understood, used and applied according to national Model Codes of Practice and Standard Operating Procedures that have been developed to provide guidance on best practice; strengthening the on-ground work carried out by state and territory governments and landholders.

The National Feral Pig Action Plan will set out a range of actions to improve feral pig management in Australia and will provide sustained action, investment, capacity and capability over the long-term.

The National Feral Pig Action Plan Steering Group is currently preparing to deliver the National Feral Pig Action Plan to the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment.

More information: https://feralpigs.com.au/

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