Muttonbirds left homeless on Tasmania
October 2013. Developers on Tasmania's King Island have destroyed thousands of burrows in a Short-tailed Shearwater breeding colony at Cape Wickham. Why? To make way for a golf course.
The burrows were due to be occupied by the birds in a few days, as the shearwaters are currently returning to Bass Strait on the return leg of their epic migratory flight back from the northernmost waters of the Pacific Ocean. The islands of Bass Strait form the stronghold of the species, with most of the world's population breeding there. Each year the birds usually return to the same colony, with most breeding in the same burrows they used in previous years.
"Shearwaters are about to return to their colonies from their annual migration to the North Pacific," said Dr Eric Woehler, Convenor of BirdLife Tasmania, "but when the birds return to Cape Wickham, many will find their colony - one that's been used for decades - is now a golf course."
6000 burrows bulldozed
The colony hosted an estimated 45,000 burrows, of which at least 6000 have been bulldozed to make way for the golf course at the northern end of King Island. Some of these burrows may have been occupied by the same shearwaters for up to 40 years.
"It's going to have an impact on the population," said Dr Woehler.
Approval from local ministry
Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment (DPIPWE) gave the project its approval on the condition of the construction ‘respecting' the birds during their breeding season and that an alternative site ‘adjacent the golf course' is offered as an offset, supposedly providing another area for the birds to nest in.
"It beggars belief to think that a wild bird which has nested in one location for many years will happily pick up and settle down 'adjacent the golf course' just because the [King Island] Council, DPIPWE and the developer prefer them to do so," continued Dr Woehler. "The birds should decide where to lay their eggs and raise their young, not the developers of a golf course".
This situation highlights the folly of allowing developers to use offsets in the pretence that their activities will not adversely affect the wildlife that their developments have displaced.
Profound lack of understanding of the muttonbirds
"The approval by DPIPWE and associated conditions underlines the profound lack of understanding of the muttonbirds' biology and breeding requirements, and is a manifest comprehensive failure to protect the species," he added. "The lack of any effort to protect these birds and their colony suggests that golf courses are more important than this nationally- and internationally-protected species."