Little Terns

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Subject: Little Terns
From: "J.Reside" <>
Date: Sun, 23 Jan 2000 06:02:51 +1100
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. june-july).
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 species.
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'.
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