On 3 December, Martin O'Brien sent me a request as follows:
"Am I right in suggesting that vehicles on ocean beaches is a threatening
activity w.r.t. beach utilising birds (compaction of substrate, frightening
birds, etc)? I seem to remember that this has been recognised by a
researcher somewhere. If so, can I ask that, as an RAOU member a formal
response stating policy on this behaviour be
placed on the Birding-aus page?"
There is no formal RAOU policy as such on this important issue, but our
approach to it has been fairly consistent and pragmatic over the years. It
is clear that human use of ocean beaches can threaten beach-breeding birds
such as Hooded Plovers, oystercatchers and terns, through direct destruction
of eggs and chicks (eg by being crushed by feet or wheels) and through
disturbance leading to abandonment or increased predation (by domestic,
feral and native animals).
It is desirable that breeding beaches be closed to indiscriminate human
access during the breeding season, and when they are important as roosting
areas for migratory waders. Pragmatic (political) considerations often make
this difficult or impossible, especially near urban areas or where
traditionally used by holidaymakers. It may be possible to zone beaches,
and fence off sensitive stretches. The use of educational signs about beach
birds can help. However, domestic dogs do not read signs.
The worst thing about unlimited vehicular access to ocean beaches is that it
makes remote stretches accessible to humans and pet dogs. On the other
hand, restricted access may be helpful to conservation and education through
enabling research (as with wader banding studies) and well-planned
low-impact ecotourism. During the breeding season, vehicles should be
driven below the high-tide line so that they do not crush eggs or small chicks.
All environmentally important beaches should be subject to management that
would restrict access and use to that which is environmentally beneficial
or, at least, fairly benign. Current high-density usage beaches should
probably be regarded as sacrifice areas; most are no longer very valuable
for beach-breeding birds. Meanwhile, Hooded Plovers and oystercatchers
appear to be suffering declines in breeding success and range where easy and
unrestricted human access exists.
RAOU Conservation & Liaison,
Australian Bird Research Centre,
415 Riversdale Road,
Hawthorn East, VIC 3123, Australia.
Tel: +61 3 9882 2622. Fax: +61 3 9882 2677.
The Virtual Emu: http://www.vicnet.net.au/~raou/raou.html