Cairns foreshore mudflats

Subject: Cairns foreshore mudflats
From: Hugo Phillipps <>
Date: Mon, 7 Jul 1997 13:10:15 +1000 (EST)
Since the names (old and new) of Birds Australia have been invoked with
regard to this issue, it may be appropriate to give a little backgound
information for perspective.

The issue of developing the Cairns foreshore has been around a long time,
and I completely agree with Richard Nowotny that, as long as a substantial
proportion of the community sees mudflats as being ugly or useless, it will
not go away.  We have spoken out on this issue in the past and are willing
to do so again, but only improved community appreciation of the biological
values of mudflats will preserve them in the long-term.

The actual current biological values (as well as the potential values of
allowing the area to revert to mangroves) are complex and not completely
understood.  However, there is a fair amount of mangrove habitat nearby and
a relative shortage of extensive intertidal mudflat in the area suitable for
migratory shorebirds.  The fact that the mudflats are artificially
maintained may offend the simple-minded purist, but we have to accept that
maintaining (even enhancing) global biodiversity (which is the main plank of
our conservation policy) requires knowledge and, increasingly, active

In our publication 'A National Plan for Shorebird Conservation in Australia'
(Doug Watkins, 1993, RAOU Report 90) the Cairns foreshore was ranked as
ninth out of 19 areas of National or International importance for shorebirds
in Queensland (using Ramsar criteria of 1% of national or global populations
of a species.  This was before the sighting of about 1000 Whimbrels put it
into the Internationally Important category (although it does not alter the
ranking).  Species for which the Cairns foreshore is considered Nationally
Important are the Common Sandpiper and the Pacific Golden Plover.  The
Whimbrel sighting puts it into the top four for this species in Australia as
a whole, while it is nationally the fifth ranked site for Common Sandpipers.

There are other areas in Queensland that are even more important for
shorebirds in terms of numbers, but the Cairns foreshore must be one of the
top sites (maybe the best in eastern Australia) for accessibility and easily
viewed variety, giving it enormous potential for community education and
environmental monitoring (as well as income from tourism).

If we consider this area important enough to conserve for its importance to
shorebirds alone (and I believe our report demonstrates this unambiguously
to all those who share a belief in the importance of conserving biological
richness and diversity) then we still need to convince many others in the
community with different priorities.  We will continue to gather, analyse
and publish scientific information about birds and use it where appropriate.

Individuals, local groups and other concerned folk (such as tour operators)
need to use their own local or specialised knowledge or concerns to inform
or lobby where most effective.  We may have different skills and
perspectives but we need to work together. 

Cheers,  Hugo.

Hugo Phillipps,
Birds Australia Conservation & Liaison,
Australian Bird Research Centre,
415 Riversdale Road,
Hawthorn East, VIC 3123, Australia.
Tel: +61 3 9882 2622. Fax: +61 3 9882 2677.
Email: <>
Web Homepage:

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