Sunday, May 3, 2009

A road to Cassowary extinction

There’s an access road between Ella Bay and Flying Fish Point that’s approximately 4 kilometres long. It’s not a wide road and much of it is single lane. It’s not a smooth road as most of it is unsealed. Most importantly it’s not a fast road as it has a speed limit of 40 km/hr as every metre of it is used by the endangered southern cassowary.
It’s a road I want to tell you about as it has the potential to kill off Ella Bay’s cassowaries to the point of local extinction.

Words cannot describe the beauty of this road in its present state so please forgive me if I am a bit heavy handed with my photographs.

Mangroves by the road, can you see the car?

Cassowary tracks in the mangroves.

Gravel washed into mangroves from the road.

The Ella Bay access road travels through the world heritage listed Ella Bay National Park.

It provides visitors with a journey through magnificent coastal rainforest that will linger in their thoughts for years.

This road has provided environmentally appropriate access to Ella Bay for decades but without urgent intervention by Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett AM MP it has the potential to become a death trap for Ella Bay’s endangered remnant southern cassowary population.

Ella Bay is of course the location where property developer Satori is seeking federal government approval to build a proposed 450 hectare urban development/resort complex with a projected population of 5000 people.

Satori is requesting approval to widen the existing road and cut a new1 kilometre road through remnant vegetation to bypass the coastal community at Flying Fish Point. I have marked this roads approximate location with a dotted line on the lower section of my map.
This bypass alone will destroy many acres of irreplaceable lowland rainforest (cassowary habitat) by the developers own admission.

Part of this new access will be a 1.2 acre cut and cover tunnel through the range to meet the existing road. Cut and cover tunnelling is a much more destructive method than tunnelling as it requires the bulldozing of a road through the rainforest and recovering it rather than burrowing under existing rainforest as a tunnel would.

We must also consider the habitat loss which will result from widening approximately 3 kilometres of the existing road.
Much of this road is very narrow with large rainforest trees growing close to the road.
In many places they have reflectors attached to them for the safety of motorists!
All up the developers are planning to destroy at least 6 acres of remnant vegetation and I am greatly concerned that road widening in a high rainfall, steeply sloping and erosion prone coastal area would even be considered by state and federal governments.Minister Garrett has had to stop development at nearby False Cape due to massive erosion events on similar roads. A look at “False Cape citizen’s inspections” on YouTube will give the reader an idea of the type of erosion these steep coastal areas can experience and the damage there horrified me.

Ok let’s get back to the Cassowaries!
(Photo by Liz Gallie)

The use of this road by the endangered southern cassowary has not been questioned by the developer. Satori’s own environmental consultants BAAM stated in their 2008 fauna report “southern cassowary scats show that this species utilised the road for movement during the survey period.”

Cassowary crossing at Mission Beach (Photo by Karl Dekok)

Wait you say! If cassowaries are currently using this road why aren’t they being killed on the road by traffic considering that after habitat loss/fragmentation vehicle strike is recognised as the greatest threat to southern cassowaries? These birds are being killed on the roads elsewhere Russ why isn’t this happening now at Ella Bay?

Well before I start getting anymore rhetorical I best reply to your anticipated questions with 3 very real answers!

1 Low vehicle activity
On its busiest day this road would be lucky to see 100 vehicles. If our Federal government allows Ella Bays population to increase from less than 10 people to the predicted population of 5000 people traffic will increase exponentially…Expect cassowary deaths.

2 Low vehicle speed limit

As I have mentioned before in the Rainforest Gardener Story when it comes to traffic sense cassowaries have none. With regards to traffic they are plain stupid and seem unable to judge vehicle speed or anticipate the threat posed by vehicles. Fortunately the Ella Bay access road has a speed limit of 40 km/hr which allows drivers time to avoid collisions with cassowaries. With sealed “improved” roads you can reasonably expect vehicles to travel faster to and from the urban development/resorts …the result? Expect cassowary deaths.

3 Narrowness and hilly nature of road slows traffic

Basically the hilly curving and narrow physical nature of this road slows traffic to safer speeds. At the end of the day a 40 km/hr sign is simply steel and paint however a blind corner on a narrow road encourages drivers to moderate their speed considerably. Again wider faster “improved” roads will lead to faster traffic. If our federal government allows this road work …Expect cassowary deaths.

I am disturbed to read that Satori wishes to fence roadside areas off to “funnel” cassowaries to crossing points.

Cassowaries require very large home ranges so they can always gain access to seasonal fruit in different habitats within their range. Today I observed that cassowaries are feeding on Davidson Plums (Davidsonia pruriens) which are dropping onto the rainforest floor to the west of the road at the moment.
A stand of Syzygium forte, a Cassowary foodplant next to the beach.

A few months ago cassowaries were feeding heavily on the hundreds of kilos of White Apples (Syzygium forte) that covered the ground around the beaches at Ella Bay to the east of the road.
Scaevola, a Cassowary food plant.

To restrict cassowary access to vital seasonal food resources at the beach such as Pandanus fruit, Scaevola fruit and Syzygium forte fruit with roadside fencing amounts to government sanctioned habitat fragmentation.
(Photo by Di Paul)

Habitat fragmentation/loss is recognised as the greatest threat to endangered southern cassowaries. Restricting east west access to essential beachside feeding areas would not only be irresponsible but also contrary to documented federal policy with regards to cassowary habitat.
Cluster fig, a Cassowary food plant, on the roadside.
Pandanus, a Cassowary food plant.

To deny a federally listed endangered species (the southern cassowary) access to vital seasonal food resources would not only be morally negligent it would run contrary to federal laws and international conservation agreements and treaties to which Australia is a signatory. I strongly encourage the Australian Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett AM MP to consider this when assessing the developer’s proposal.

Destroyed Cassowary habitat (Photo by Liz Gallie)

To Sum up the developer’s proposal to cut new roads through remnant lowland rainforest, destroy rainforest habitat within the World Heritage Ella Bay National Park and destroy significant rainforest vegetation by widening the Ella Bay access road and potentially making the area vulnerable to massive erosion events similar to those experienced at False Cape is inappropriate.

Cassowary tracks at Ella Bay beach (Photo by Ellie Bock)

It is reasonable to expect that the aforementioned roadwork and increased faster traffic will result in road strike deaths of endangered southern cassowaries.

Finally fencing endangered southern cassowaries off from essential beachside feeding areas on the eastern side of the road amounts to habitat fragmentation and will seriously threaten Ella Bay’s cassowary population.

I urge The Australian Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett AM MP to reject the proposed road works and indeed the proposed urban development/resorts at Ella Bay on the grounds that they present an unacceptable threat to Ella Bay’s endangered remnant cassowary population.

Extinction is forever.

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