The demise of the Lesser Sand Plover

To: birding-aus <>
Subject: The demise of the Lesser Sand Plover
From: Denise Goodfellow <>
Date: Fri, 11 Dec 2015 01:07:29 +0000
A letter has just arrived from BirdLife highlighting the plight of the Lesser 
Sand Plover.  The letter mentions habitat destruction, and I quote: The culprit 
could be a coal port, a casino or pollution.

In the Top End (and I should think elsewhere) there is another threat.  Lesser 
Sand Plover plus the other birds mentioned in the letter - Eastern Curlew and 
Curlew Sandpiper - are found mostly in coastal and subcoastal wetlands all 
around the Top End.  Ray Chatto recorded tens of thousands of this species, and 
somewhat lesser numbers of EC and CS, in surveys carried out in 2003.

Sea levels around the Top End have risen by 17 cm in the last twenty years 
(State of the Climate Report, CSIRO, 2012), and consequently these wetlands are 
being wiped out.  Members of the Amateur Fishers’ Association of the NT, 
horrified by the destruction, have posted photos of the havoc wreaked upon one 
of the most significant, that of the Mary River delta, on their website.   I 
don’t have the URL but if anyone would like to email me direct I’ll post the 
photos.  I presented these photos in my presentation on the threats to birds at 
the Colombia Bird Festival, 2013 (I’ve just found a photo in an article 

The Mary River has a catchment of over 8 000 squ km.  A report by Lestang & 
Griffith stated that 240 squ. kms of freshwater wetland had been destroyed by 
salt water intrusion.  I can’t see a date on this research paper but suspect 
for various reasons it may have been written in the late 1990s.  Thus salt 
water intrusion is likely to be far greater by now.  Is sealevel rise both in 
northern Australia and elsewhere along flyways a greater threat than 
development and pollution?  I don’t know.  However while development etc will 
affect some, I imagine that sea level rise could affect all, albeit to varying 

The threats to our wildlife have many other dimensions.  In the Top End they 
also include massive weed infestations now knocking out woodland and making 
wetlands uninhabitable for waterbirds (suitable for cattle though which will 
please some); inappropriate fire regimes;  exotic predators; and the annual 
slashing of funding for outstations, making it difficult for TO’s to stay on 
their country, and attempt to control weeds, feral animals, and fire.  
Development in the Top End has proceeded often without any sort of 
environmental report, and because there appear to be few surveys it’s easy for 
Government and business to claim that no wildlife is threatened.

Supporting national organisations is one way to help.   However, extinction is 
often incremental and local, and therefore largely invisible to national 
organisations.  Here local bodies are most important, even those not directly 
involved with wildlife or conservation.    Which is why I work with my 
Aboriginal relatives, the CWA and the local firies.

Denise Lawungkurr  Goodfellow
PO Box 71
Darwin River, NT, Australia 0841
043 8650 835

PhD candidate, Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW.

Founding Member: Ecotourism Australia
Nominated by Earthfoot for Condé Nast’s International  Ecotourism Award, 2004.

With every introduction of a plant or animal that goes feral this continent 
becomes a little less unique, a little less Australian.

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