Newcastle Coal Infrastructure Group has recently completed a major biodiversity project to restore migratory shorebird habitat at Ash Island.
The tidal wetlands around the Port of Newcastle are home to some of Australia’s most threatened species and communities. The coastal saltmarsh vegetation community and numerous species of migratory wader birds, such as the critically endangered Eastern Curlew and Curlew Sandpiper, are increasingly losing habitat along the Australasian-East Asian Flyway.
Newcastle Coal Infrastructure Group looked for an opportunity to create habitat for migratory shorebirds in an area close to the terminal site, specifically Ash Island in the Hunter Wetlands National Park. This was to offset impacts to a water body known as Deep Pond, resulting from construction of the terminal. Local land managers such as National Parks and Wildlife Service and Hunter Local Land Services were consulted with extensively to understand the best location and way of creating the habitat. An area known as Area E was selected as the most appropriate location for the offset, most notably due to the close proximity to the disturbance area and vicinity to other locations that migratory shorebirds are known to use.
Construction of habitat in an area known as Area E on Ash Island includes four major activities:
- Restoration of 24 hectares of migratory wader habitat, including removal of 17 hectares of juvenile mangroves
- Installation of an automated flood gate to manage tidal levels and manage re-establishment of mangroves in the habitat
- Installation of mangrove seed screens to prevent mangrove seeds from floating into the habitat system
- Installation of "bird diverter" devices on local electricity infrastructure to make power lines more visible to birds flying in and out of the habitat
Early outcomes for the migratory wader habitat have been:
- Successful removal of 17 hectares of juvenile mangroves from Area E, that have established since removal of flood control structures in 2000. Prior to this, Area E was a known site for migratory shorebirds in the Hunter Estuary. The mangroves were removed using a method that caused the least impact possible through a combination of specially selected machinery, plant and teams of workers on foot
- This is the first migratory shorebird habitat restoration project of its type and scale conducted in Australia, perhaps the Southern Hemisphere. The success of the project to date has supported the previously untried technologies for mangrove removal in a wetland environment
- Migratory shorebirds have been observed using the habitat already in 2016. These birds include the critically endangered Curlew Sandpiper and Whimbrel
One of the most notable achievements of the project to date has been the collaborative approach taken with various stakeholders in the conservation of the local ecology. Newcastle Coal views the CHEMP as a partnership-style program where all local and regional stakeholders can play a role. To date Newcastle Coal has partnered with the following organisations and government departments:
- NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service - www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au
- University of Newcastle - www.newcastle.edu.au/research-and-innovation
- Hunter Bird Observers Club - www.hboc.org.au
- University of New South Wales Water Research Laboratories - www.wrl.unsw.edu.au
- University of Wollongong - smah.uow.edu.au
- Local Land Services – Kooragang Wetlands Rehabilitation Project - hunter.lls.nsw.gov.au
- Hunter Wetlands Centre - www.wetlands.org.au
- Conservation Volunteers Australia - conservationvolunteers.com.au
These relationships have provided cutting edge research, complimentary ecological outcomes, community involvement and habitat restoration among many other tangible benefits.
Newcastle Coal will continue to work with all stakeholders to deliver outcomes for migratory shorebirds at Area E. This includes management and monitoring of the habitat, with special focus on:
- Migratory shorebird monitoring
- Weed and pest management
- Habitat monitoring, such as vegetation, food source (benthic invertebrates) and water quality and levels