Will environmental impacts of a proposed marina and other coastal development near Toondah Harbour be assessed properly?
Six months ago the Council and State Government anointed Walker Corporation as their preferred developer in the Toondah Harbour Priority Development Area (PDA). Since then the community has not been consulted about Walker Corporation’s development plans.
Federal MP Andrew Laming recently asked on Facebook if Canberra should “tick off” environmental approvals for the Toondah Project, as reported in the Redland City Bulletin.
Redlands2030 presents this report to inform the community about the Federal Government’s important role in assessing environmental impacts of any Toondah development.
International significance of southern Moreton Bay
Southern Moreton Bay is one of the world’s most significant wetland environments. Sandbanks on the Bay’s eastern side and mangrove fringed mudflats in the west combine to support a wide range of different species.
The Bay’s seagrass beds support a significant dugong population and many species of turtles including Green, Hawkesbill and Loggerhead. Humpback wales often enter Moreton Bay on their southern journey each September.
Moreton Bay’s environment is so important that it is protected by Federal law – the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity (EPBC) Act. The purpose of this legislation is to protect matters of national environmental significance.
Southern Moreton Bay’s environment is nationally significant for two reasons. It is a Ramsar wetland and also an important habitat for thousands of migratory shorebirds.
The Ramsar Convention was established in 1971 to protect wetland environments around the world. Australia is one of 168 countries to sign up. The Moreton Bay Ramsar site has been protected since 1993 because of its biodiversity including many vulnerable species.
Migratory shorebirds in Moreton Bay
Each year Moreton Bay is visited by 50,000 migratory shorebirds. During our warmer months – from October to April – more than 30 different shorebird species live in this area busy feeding to build up energy for their return trip along the East Asian–Australasian Flyway .
Australia has signed agreements with China, Japan and Korea to protect many species of migratory shorebirds and their habitats.
The number of migratory shorebirds visiting Australia has declined significantly in recent years. This is due to habitat loss caused by urban and industrial development and climate change as discussed in this video by the University of Queensland’s Fuller Lab.
The largest and most easily identified shorebird visitor to Moreton Bay is the internationally vulnerable Eastern Curlew notable for its long curved bill. The smallest of these international travellers is the red-necked stint.
At low tide, shorebirds wander over exposed sandbanks, seagrass beds and mudflats to feed. When the tide rises, birds gather in hundreds at roosting areas like Oyster Point (just south of Toondah Harbour).
Bird watching is a rapidly growing niche in the global eco-tourism market, actively promoted by Wildlife Tourism Australia and the Wildlife Research Network. When migratory birds are visiting the northern hemisphere, during our winter months, there are still plenty of resident seabirds and shorebirds in Moreton Bay including herons, terns, oystercatchers, egrets and cormorants.
Federal environmental protection with the EPBC Act
Any prospective developer who thinks that they might impact on a matter of national environmental significance is required to refer their project details to the Federal Environment Department. Referals are then publicised for ten business days on the Department’s website so that the public can comment on how the project should be assessed.
After considering any comments, the Department will then decide if the project requires assessment and how it should be done.
Proposed development in the Toondah Harbour Priority Development Area
The Toondah Harbour Priority Development Area (PDA) includes about 50 hectares “on water” located in the Moreton Bay Ramsar site. These shallow waters are a feeding area for many species including turtles and migratory shorebirds.
Direct impacts of any development could include dredging a large area of tidal mudflats and seagrass beds for construction of a marina. Secondary environmental impacts could include an increase in boating traffic and resulting boat strikes on dugongs and turtles. Additional fishing activity could also have environmental consequences.
The BAAM Ecological Report
As part of its Toondah Harbour re-development process the Redland City Council commissioned a report from BAAM into ecological issues. This report contains information about the ecological characteristics of the area and various matters of environmental significance. In its report BAAM noted:
Intertidal seagrass beds were extensive, particularly in the northern section of the PDA, and provided moderate to high value foraging habitat for migratory shorebirds, except along the fringes of the dredged shipping channel, where the value was low. Seagrass beds are also known to be important foraging areas for turtles and nursery areas for fish. (page 13)
The BAAM Report was a preliminary assessment based on general information known to the consultants and a three day field visit in July 2013 (when the migratory shorebirds were not present). Detailed environmental impact assessment reports are normally based on multiple scientific observations that cover any seasonal variation to gain a full understanding of an area’s ecological values.
Enjoy it while you can
Migratory shorebirds will soon be leaving Moreton Bay and flying thousands of air miles to their northern hemisphere breeding grounds.
Now is the time to grab the binoculars and get a glimpse of these amazing frequent fliers. Between low and half tide they can be regularlry seen feeding on the mudflats and seagrass beds next to G.J. Walter Park in Cleveland.
And if a proposal for development of this area is submitted to the Federal Government for environmental assessment, have your say when the public is invited to submit comments.