Just to feed in some historical information to the
Little Tern debate and to question whether the decision was soundly based as
suggested by some if it relates to the discovery of numbers of Little Tern off
the north-west coast of Australia.
"...wish to thank Peter for the account of
the changes to the Schedule to the
Endangered Species Protection Act. His
information supports my own sources.
The decision making process was clear
but it is good that it was spelt out
here on birding-aus...".
Two groups of Little Tern visit the east coast of
Australia during our summer. One group arrives in non-breeding plumage and
numbers in the thousands (Maybe 5-10,000) along the central-east and north-east
coasts and in Victoria between 500-1,000. Banding records show that they (at
least some of them) nest in the northern hemisphere, including Japan.
The second group which IS MUCH SMALLER in
numbers, somewhere between 500-800 birds (250-400 pairs) nest along the east
coast between Gippsland and the Queensland border.
Another (second) breeding population occurs in the
Gulf of Carpentaria and along the Kimberly coast but as far as I know they
also breed at the same time as the northern population (ie.
In the mid-eighties the Vic. conservation dept.
successfully lobbied to have the Little Tern declared a nationally
endangered species to protect the eastern Australian breeding population
of Little Tern because of the precarious situation relating to the small
and declining population (records showed that it had declined by more than 50%
in NSW since the 60's) and lack of breeding success. Joan Vincent studied the
Little Tern over three years in Gippsland, Victoria and discovered that despite
several attempts each breeding only a small number of young were produced
during that time. They had also lost 80% of their former breeding
habitat and there was no records of breeding success for many
years (From approx 66 sites in NSW to less than 10).
The concern was that if the local breeding population was lost then it
could never be recovered.
Intensive management by Victoria and NSW since the mid-eighties has
resulted in successful breeding most years and there has been a slight increase
in the overall population of local breeding Little Tern (in Vic 200%). The
numbers of active colonies has also increased.
The Little Tern project has also been a wonderful example of community
involvement in conservation. The project has had a high public profile. Little
Tern protection has also had significant biodiversity benefits by protecting the
breeding grounds for Hooded Plover, Pied Oystercatchers, Fairy Tern, Red-capped
Plover and others. Artificially created breeding sites have become important
waterbird roosts and breeding grounds for pelicans, ducks and other
What happens if the east coast population of Little Tern disappears? Can it
be replaced naturally by the northern group which are seemingly more robust in
numbers? Is it possible for adult Little Tern to breed twice in the one calender
year? Do they have the energy to lay eggs, raise young, moult, migrate twice? Is
there a genetic difference that separates the southern "race"?
Further more robust genetic work needs to be done urgently to ascertian the
status of the east coast Little Tern. We also have no idea where they migrate
to. Although several of the northern group banded here have been recovered in
Japan none of 'our' breeders have been seen north of northern NSW (except for
one fledgling recovered in Auckland this year).
I would like to see a summary of the reasons as to why the Little Tern was
de-listed before I am convinced that the decision was 'soundly-based'.