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Protected but not shut away: new age of bird ecology

Research & Development

THE swampy, low-lying land edging the Gulf of St Vincent just north of Adelaide, South Australia is easy to look past.

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And yet it’s special.

So special that each southern summer, more than 25,000 birds of different species travel from as far away as Alaska and northern Asia to reach it.

“For international migratory birds, this is an important place to stop,” said Daniel Rogers, Principal Ecologist at the South Australia Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources (DEWNR).

“It provides them with a consistently good habitat, a place where they can get fat enough to later return north to lay their eggs.”

Feeding primarily on marine worms, small crustaceans and molluscs, the visiting birds include the Red-necked Stint, the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, the Curlew Sandpiper and the Pacific Golden Plover. The Eastern Curlew as well as the Red Knot, the Great Knot and the Bartailed Godwit also congregate at the site.

The natural ecology of the land that supports such a diverse ecosystem has remained relatively untouched despite surrounding agricultural and industrial activities.

 “It’s a unique low-energy coastline consisting of tidal mudflats, non-coastal mudflats, reed beds, mangrove systems and sandy islands,” said Daniel.

“It’s actually one of the most intact pieces of native vegetation we have in this part of the world.”

To ensure continued protection, a 60-kilometer stretch of land from the Barker Inlet to Port Parham, South Australia was recently purchased by the South Australian government and is now protected as the Adelaide International Bird Sanctuary.

A two-day summit involving scientific experts and others in the surrounding communities was recently conducted to ensure the sanctuary is not just an ecological venue, but also known by and accessible to the general public.

“Our planning for the sanctuary has really taken off in a new direction,” Rogers said.

“Obviously there is the scientific perspective, but we also want to generate some broader passion and interest in the place.”

“We’re trying to ensure this isn’t a park where you put up a fence and throw away the key,” said Rogers.

The bird sanctuary is expected to offer a major draw card for international bird-watching tourists. It is also a key part of the East Asian-Australasian Flyway: 23 of the species that gather at the sanctuary are subject to Australia’s bilateral migratory bird agreements with China, Japan and the Republic of Korea.

The South Australian government has also recently purchased land to protect coastal habitat in the state’s lower south east to support conservation of the Orange-bellied Parrot, the Oliver Whistler bird, the Swamp Antechinus marsupial mouse and several important plant species.  

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