Monday, 23 December 2013

CRL’s pre-Enterprise vegetation variety mapping

Map from the mining company's own pre- Enterprise mine environmental studies report, showing the rich variety of vegetation. The areas in green, numbered 11, represent the previously mined "revegetation" areas.

FOSI attached this map to its submission to the parliamentary committee which examined the Newman government's amendments to the North Stradbroke legislation.

Prior to our submission, both Sibelco and the Newman government were claiming that half of the Enterprise mine ore body had been mined previously.

After we lodged our submission, the government department advising the committee finally admitted, in evidence to the parliamentary committee, that Sibelco's own map showed that just over 70% of the area was "undisturbed" vegetation.

Open letter

There has been a tremendous response to FOSI's open letter to Campbell Newman published on page two of the Courier Mail 20 November 2013. 

An open letter to Campbell Newman: Stradbroke Island is precious
Many other environment groups applauded it and some, including the Queensland Conservation Council published it on their websites. During the debate on the Bill, the letter was read out in Parliament by the opposition environment spokesperson, Jackie Trad, who remarked that the letter "said it all". She also tabled it for Hansard.

The open letter was also published on our blog, the original post may be accessed here.

Falling Back to Earth

Exhibition by Cai Guo-Qiang at GOMA to 11 May 2014
'It reminds me of this past week in parliament,' joked Queensland Arts Minister Ian Walker when he viewed Cai Guo-Qiang's installation titled Head On at GOMA's new exhibition, Falling Back to Earth. This mesmerising work features 99 wolves hurling themselves at a glass wall and perhaps Mr Walker saw it as a metaphor for the proclivity of politicians to make blind and foolish decisions.

Another, equally stunning installation is Heritage which was inspired by the artist's visit to Blue Lake on North Stradbroke Island in 2011. In surroundings of shadowless dreamy white, 99 wild animals from all parts of the world drink peacefully from a blue lake which is surrounded by pristine white sand. On one level the installation expresses the theme behind Cai's exhibition, which according to him is 'the return to a harmonious relationship between man and nature, re-embracing the tranquillity in the landscape.'

Certainly what is conveyed by this installation, albeit disquietingly, is a sense of stepping into a lost paradise, an experience Cai obviously shared with every other visitor who sees Straddie for the first time. In Chinese numerology, however, the number 99 symbolises something incomplete, something awaiting fulfilment, and Cai conveys this in a subtle way. The animals seem at peace but of course they are not animals, being merely constructions of polystyrene under hides of unknown provenance, and it is the unreality of the scene that gradually becomes the viewer's dominant impression. What you are looking at, the installation seems to say, is the ideal. It is not reality. As subtly insistent as the single drop of water that silently breaks the surface of the lake, the frozen tableau of beautiful endangered creatures made life-like by art confronts us with what we have lost in our environment and what we are yet to lose if we don't take action.

To judge by gallery visitors' responses, a similarly disquieting effect seems to have been produced by another installation titled Eucalyptus which is no more and no less than a magnificent upended gum-tree. On the wall alongside, on drawing-paper provided, one visitor's message says of the paper it was written on: 'This was a tree', while another one simply reads: 'Protect Stradbroke Island's lakes and wildlife. End sand-mining'.

An artist of international standing, Cai Guo-Qiang is no stranger to the Brisbane art scene, having produced a huge gunpowder-driven calligraphic serpent on paper in homage to the Brisbane River, as well as other installations for two Asia-Pacific Triennials. It is the mark of good art that it has the power to raise questions in the minds of its viewers and Falling Back to Earth is no exception to Cai's earlier work. You won't be disappointed by a trip to GOMA to ponder and wonder over his installations and what they suggest about our current relationship with our environment.

Reviewed by Julie Kearney

Exhibition: Falling Back to Earth


by Cai Guo-Qiang at GOMA
Reviewed by Julie Kearney
Falling Back to Earth, Exhibition at GOMA to 11 May 2014. Photo by Sue Ellen Carew.


'It reminds me of this past week in parliament,' joked Queensland Arts Minister Ian Walker when he viewed Cai Guo-Qiang's installation titled Head On at GOMA's new exhibition, Falling Back to Earth. This mesmerising work features 99 wolves hurling themselves at a glass wall and perhaps Mr Walker saw it as a metaphor for the proclivity of politicians to make blind and foolish decisions.
Another, equally stunning installation is Heritage which was inspired by the artist's visit to Blue Lake on North Stradbroke Island in 2011. In surroundings of shadowless dreamy white, 99 wild animals from all parts of the world drink peacefully from a blue lake which is surrounded by pristine white sand. On one level the installation expresses the theme behind Cai's exhibition, which according to him is 'the return to a harmonious relationship between man and nature, re-embracing the tranquillity in the landscape.'
Certainly what is conveyed by this installation, albeit disquietingly, is a sense of stepping into a lost paradise, an experience Cai obviously shared with every other visitor who sees Straddie for the first time. In Chinese numerology, however, the number 99 symbolises something incomplete, something awaiting fulfilment, and Cai conveys this in a subtle way. The animals seem at peace but of course they are not animals, being merely constructions of polystyrene under hides of unknown provenance, and it is the unreality of the scene that gradually becomes the viewer's dominant impression. What you are looking at, the installation seems to say, is the ideal. It is not reality. As subtly insistent as the single drop of water that silently breaks the surface of the lake, the frozen tableau of  beautiful endangered creatures made life-like by art confronts us with what we have lost in our environment and what we are yet to lose if we don't take action.
To judge by gallery visitors' responses, a similarly disquieting effect seems to have been produced by another installation titled Eucalyptus which is no more and no less than a magnificent upended gum-tree. On the wall alongside, on drawing-paper provided, one visitor's message says of the paper it was written on: 'This was a tree', while another one simply reads: 'Protect Stradbroke Island's lakes and wildlife. End sand-mining'.

An artist of international standing, Cai Guo-Qiang is no stranger to the Brisbane art scene, having produced a huge gunpowder-driven calligraphic serpent on paper in homage to the Brisbane River, as well as other installations for two Asia-Pacific Triennials. It is the mark of good art that it has the power to raise questions in the minds of its viewers and Falling Back to Earth is no exception to Cai's earlier work. You won't be disappointed by a trip to GOMA to ponder and wonder over his installations and what they suggest about our current relationship with our environment.

Extension of sand mining to 2035 no certainty

The passing of the Bill by parliament did not receive much publicity probably due to the sacking of the Parliamentary Crime and Misconduct Committee occurring on the same day.

Importantly, under the amendments to the North Stradbroke Act, which became law on 27 November, no application for the extension of sand mining at Enterprise mine can be made before 2019. In other words, 2019 remains the end date for mining for another six years.

The key section relating to the timing of applications to extend the Enterprise mine leases is 11C of the amendment act https://www.legislation.qld.gov.au/LEGISLTN/ACTS/2013/13AC063.pdf

11C allows applications for renewal “within the renewal period”. Section 11C(3) defines the “renewal period” as, in effect, during the last year of the current term.

31 December, 2019 is the expiry date of the current terms of the Enterprise leases, including the main one, ML 1117- see Schedule 1 of the 2011 Act. https://www.legislation.qld.gov.au/LEGISLTN/CURRENT/N/NorthStradA11.pdf

Schedule 1 has been amended in some respects, but the 31 December, 2019 dates in column 2 were not altered. (The 31 October, 2025 dates in column 2 relate to the Vance silica mine lease.)

There is nothing to stop a future parliament amending the legislation, just as the current parliament has just amended the 2011 Act, – including by repealing the Newman amendments altogether. If that occurred, it would mean that sand mining would end at Enterprise mine in 2019.

Apart from the obvious potential for a change of government before 2019, as members know there are a number of issues which may throw up further obstacles to the planned extension. These include:-

The current criminal charges against Sibelco have yet to be decided by the Magistrate. A verdict is expected in the first half of 2014. A guilty verdict may lead to the further charges of stealing and fraud and will throw up further questions relating to Sibelco’s fitness to mine on Stradbroke;

The native title owners, through the chair of the Quandamooka Yoolooburrabee Aboriginal Corporation, Cameron Costello, have publicly stated that they intend to challenge the planned extension in the Federal Court. If a successful challenge is made, the planned extension is unlikely to proceed.

The commonwealth environment department is investigating whether the Enterprise mine commenced in 2004 (and has continued to operate since) without approval under Federal environment laws. The consequences of a finding against Sibelco are unknown.

All this means that FOSI needs to continue to point out that North Stradbroke Island deserves a better future. In recent times, committee members have noticed a change in attitude on the island. People generally had become accustomed to mining ending at Enterprise in 2019. The idea that this could be extended to 2035 is repugnant to many people who have previously not voiced their opinions, including a significant number of island business owners.

Shearwater wreck

Once again we are seeing the sad sight of many dead and dying birds on Straddie beaches. They are the short tailed shearwaters also known as mutton birds.

More than 3500 birds were blown up on shore this year and started crashing on October 7, buffeted by strong easterly winds from a cold front out to sea.

The birds die from exhaustion and malnutrition because their store of energy is depleted after a long migration from Siberia.

Short tailed shearwaters are pelagic, that is, they live their life in the open ocean and are a migratory species. There are approximately 23 million in the world, breeding on the Australian islands during the warmer months, mainly in Tasmania and islands in the Bass Straight.

The shearwater is the most abundant Australian seabird. There are about 285 colonies in south-east Australia with 18 million birds arriving in Tasmania each year.

More than 200,000 shearwater chicks are harvested commercially under licence in Tasmania each year, prized for their down and feathers, oil and flesh. The oil is used as an additive for racehorse food, down and feathers for pillows and the preserved meat for human consumption, which apparently resembles mutton.

Related to the petrel, they have adapted to life on the ocean by having webbed feet for swimming, a hooked beak for fishing, long and narrow wings for efficient high speed gliding, and a wingspan of one metre. Weighing about 500g, they are one of the few birds with a well developed sense of smell. They were first recorded by members of Captain Cook’s third expedition on the Discovery sailing through the Arctic and were named for their graceful shearing flight.

Shearwaters start breeding between three and five years of age. In early September/October they meet with their chosen mate and begin to prepare and tidy up old burrows that they reuse year after year, or else excavate new ones.

They mate inside the metre-long burrows and retain their chosen partner for life. They leave the colony to feed, allowing themselves to build up fat. The female then lays a single white egg. An entire colony lays its eggs over a period of two weeks so that the chicks all hatch at the same time, enabling them to start their migration in unison.

Both birds incubate the egg, and the chick hatches after 53 days. Both parents feed the baby, which gorges itself on regurgitated food, and it quickly becomes twice the size of a parent.

In April the adults depart, leaving the downy chick behind. From this time to early May, the chick does not eat, rapidly loses weight and acquires its flight feathers, then moves closer to the shore and starts exercising its wings.

Two to three weeks after the parents leave, the young birds start their amazing migratory flight, unassisted by the experienced birds. These birds have an average life span of 15-19 years but some can live to 38 years.

Between June and August the birds fly north along the western Pacific to the Arctic and Bering Sea to feed. They return south between October and January, along the east coast of Australia, travelling 15,000 km in each direction and, incredibly, some do the whole journey in six weeks.

By the time the birds arrive back in Australia they have expended most of their energy reserves on the journey, losing half their body weight. They may meet with storms and unusual sea surface temperatures, which can affect their main food source of krill, squid and fish. They dive 10 metres to capture this food supply, but when it is unavailable, quickly become exhausted. There is concern being voiced by scientists that seasonal variation due to climate change may have affected the availability of food sources.

Southerly gales make it impossible for the birds to fly on in this weakened state and so they are blown and washed ashore. Sometimes live birds are washed up but are too exhausted to head back out to sea. The elderly and young birds are the most vulnerable.

This was the fate of the many birds found on our beaches.

The Department of Environment and Heritage is urging people not to handle the dead or dying birds as a precaution. The Pelican and Seabird Rescue asks that you call them on 0404 118 301, however the University of Queensland’s Moreton Bay Research Station is of the opinion that it is best to leave them alone as they are notoriously difficult to rehabilitate. If you see that the bird has a numbered metal band around its leg, please contact the Australian Bird and Bat Banding Scheme on (02) 6274 2407.

A special thanks to Mike Hines for his help with information and photos, Emma Lewis at the UQ Research Station, Dunwich and to Robert Ashdown and island photographers for recording the recent events.

Microplastic - a Developing Threat to Our Oceans

Scientific studies in Australian waters and in the seas around Britain have found that microplastic concentrations are increasing and showing evidence of effects on ocean ecosystems.

Australian scientists from the University of Western Australia set up ocean net stations to trap plastic fragments, siting these nets around most of the circumference of the continent and across to Fiji. Results have ascertained an average of 4256.4 pieces, at a median size of 2.8mm, per square kilometer with much higher concentrations contributing to this average coming from nets positioned around the populated areas of Sydney and Brisbane. Unfortunately these results put Stradbroke Island in a hot spot for plastic.

Studies undertaken by scientists from Plymouth and Exeter Universities, on the English south coast, involved investigating the effect of ingestion of microplastics on lugworms, an indicator species at the bottom of the food chain. An important food source for fish and seabirds, lugworms also act in a similar way to terrestrial earthworms by turning over and oxygenating the upper layers of sand to keep the sediment healthy for other sea creatures and microorganisms.

Sluggishness with less energy for feeding and reproduction were found to be among deleterious health effects on the worms by scientists from Exeter University. The study from Plymouth has established that ingesting microplastics transfers pollutants to the worms, clearly affecting their health. Plastic particles have a propensity to attract pollutants or are coated with them in the manufacturing process. Pollutants found include hydrocarbons, antimicrobials, flame-retardants and dyes.

Common materials found in the oceans, in “micro” form, are polyethylene, polyethylene terephthalate and PVC or polystyrene. Single use packaging is estimated to make up 80% of the plastic breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces. But other sources of microplastic include the raw material melted down for plastic manufacture, little balls called “nurdles”, also used for exfoliating beads in face and bodywash products and surprisingly fibres from synthetic textiles like polyester which apparently can release up to 2000 tiny fibres per garment each time they are washed.

So far, the emphasis on plastic control in the sea has been on the danger of larger plastic items like plastic bags and fishing line choking, obstructing and entangling birds, turtles and other sea life, but now the research is indicating that microplastic is having an impact at the base of the food chain, on the creatures that form an important link to keeping the ocean ecosystems healthy. These studies have opened the way for closer scrutiny of the problems we are creating by using enormous amounts of plastic in our everyday lives and the need for international regulation of plastic disposal on land and sea.

Advert: Sand mining damages Stradroke


Season’s Greetings and a Happy New Year to all FOSI members!

Little Wattle Bird on a beautiful red flowering Eucalypt in a Point Lookout garden.
FOSI would like to wish all members a safe and enjoyable Christmas break.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Stradbroke Island is Precious - An Open Letter to Campbell Newman

Dear Mr Newman,

We have some questions about your North Stradbroke Bill to extend sand mining.

Your father, as Federal Environment minister, ended sand mining on Fraser Island in 1976. He accepted that sand mining causes major permanent environmental harm and damages the tourism economy.  Why won’t you?

Sand mining will result in the total destruction of 14 square kilometres of forests, rich in biodiversity and scenic value, at Sibelco’s Enterprise mine.  

On 30 October, your department admitted that over 70% of the mine path is “undisturbed bushland”. Did you know that this is home to many threatened species, including the island’s genetically distinct koala and the beautiful glossy black cockatoo?

Scientists conclude that sand mining also destroys the complex structure of ancient sand dunes integral to the flow of water to the island’s internationally recognised wetlands and lakes. These constitute half the island. A huge fresh water aquifer also lies beneath the whole island.

There is significant widespread opposition to your actions, including from island business owners. Your legislation will cause more community division. It will also set back reconciliation with traditional owners, who say they will challenge your Bill in the Federal Court.  

Prior to the 2012 State election you promised a level playing field for mining leases on Stradbroke. Instead, your Bill shifts the goal posts for Sibelcoand sacks the umpire. Elsewhere in Queensland opponents can challenge mining extensions in the Supreme Court. Your Bill abolishes this right.  

Your Bill creates a special law for a private company owned by the fourth richest family in Belgium, a company which is on trial in Brisbane for illegal sand mining on Stradbroke. Why didn’t you await the court’s verdict, due early next year?

As you know, your Attorney-General has refused to arm the Director of Public Prosecutions with your government’s files so the DPP can decide whether he agrees with the opinion of two experienced criminal lawyers (one a senior counsel) that there is a prima facie case for also charging Sibelco with stealing and fraud.

You are also aware that the Federal Environment department is investigating whether the Enterprise mine has operated without  the necessary Federal Government approval since 2004. Why didn’t you wait until the results of this investigation are known? What about due process?

An analysis of your Bill shows that Sibelco is getting everything it asked for and more! In 2011, Sibelcoasked for an extension of mining to 2027 – you are extending it to 2035!

Mr Newman, what is going on? Why are you breaking pre-election promises and trashing the rights of Queenslanders to hand over $1.5 Billion (Sibelco’s own figure) to a wealthy Belgian family?

Your government has sacked over 20,000 public servants. Do you really think that Queenslanders will swallow your claim to be extending sand mining for 22 years to provide a “transition” for, according to the latest census, 115 mine workers?

Sibelco declared, well after the 2012 State election, that it spent $91,840 to help your campaign inAshgrove. But it also spent much more (undeclared) money on numerous full page newspaper ads and television advertising to peddle its PR myths.  

Is there a connection between your broken promises to electors and Sibelco’s political expenditure? What was discussed at your private meetings with Sibelco CEO, Campbell Jones?

You know that there have been no independent economic or environmental impact studies. And your department admitted on 30 October there has been no consultation with anyone apart fromSibelco. Do you think Queenslanders may conclude that this looks like a crooked deal?

Isn’t it time there was an independent public enquiry into sand mining
on North Stradbroke? 


Friends of Stradbroke Island Inc.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Vance criminal prosecution saga continues

The long running prosecution of Sibelco for unlawful extraction continues on 24 July, this time in the Brisbane Supreme Court in George Street.

The Supreme Court already held, more than 3 years ago, that Sibelco's mining rights only allow it to take minerals and that the non-mineral sand is to be used in rehabilitation of mined land, unless it has the required permits to remove it. But Sibelco's criminal liability is yet to be decided.

On 24 July Sibelco is making yet another challenge against the prosecution, based on a technicality.

The company wants the Supreme Court to overrule the Magistrate's decision in March this year that it has a case to answer on the charge under the Environmental Protection Act, that it unlawfully extracted large quantities of non-mineral sand over several years without a permit.

Meanwhile, efforts to have the charges upgraded to stealing and fraud continue. If this occurred, the multi-million dollar profits it made could be recovered upon conviction.

As members know, FOSI has a legal opinion from senior counsel that there is a prima facie case of stealing and fraud against Sibelco, but despite our efforts and those of the island’s indigenous owners, consecutive State governments have ignored it. Members are encouraged to attend the court. It sends the message that there is public interest in the outcome.

Motorized traffic severely impacts beach birds

A recent scientific study undertaken on Fraser Island found that motorized traffic is the prime agent of disturbance to birds on ocean beaches. 


Below is the abstract from the paper ‘’Human recreation alters behaviour profiles of non-breeding birds on open-coast sandy shores’’ By Schlacher, TA; Nielsen, T; Weston, MA. Published in ESTUARINE COASTAL AND SHELF SCIENCE (Volume: 118 Pages: 31-42 FEB 10 2013.) 

Sandy beaches are primarily valued for their amenity and property values rather than for their ecological functions and properties. Some human usage of beaches potentially conflicts with the conservation and management of wildlife, such as beach-dwelling birds, on sandy shorelines. Because responses by birds to environmental change, including disturbance by humans, often involve behaviours that carry fitness costs, we quantify behaviour profiles of birds in relation to human occurrence along 200 km of sandy shoreline in Eastern Australia, including the large conservation area of Fraser Island. Disturbance to birds on these shores was considerable: 1) birds encountered motorized vehicles (cars, trucks, buses etc.) during 80% of focal bird observation bouts, 2) birds were flushed in over half (up to 86% in individual species) of all bouts, and 3) individuals spent, on average, one-third of their time on disturbance-related behaviours; this was particularly prevalent for Crested Terns (Thalasseus bergii) which were alert 42% of the time and spent 12% of their time escaping from human stimuli.

Overall, this study demonstrated that motorized traffic is the prime agent of disturbance to birds on these beaches, resulting in frequent and time-consuming escape behaviours. These findings also emphasize that management of vehicle-based recreation on beaches needs to be re-aligned to meet conservation requirements in addition to providing leisure opportunities in National Parks and beyond; we identify some salient issue for this development:
  1. encouragement of social norms that promote environmentally benign beach use not involving motor vehicles
  2.  creation of spatial refuges for beach wildlife from traffic and other non-compatible uses, and
  3. investment in developing complementary management actions such as effective set-back distances. 
A full copy of the paper is available from Mary Barram (mbarram@bigpond.com).

Winter seabirds arriving at Straddie

Australian Gannets, Bruce Martin.
On a wet and windy Sunday in June, Colin Reid and three fellow seabird aficionados had a great bird watching session at Point Lookout. Seabirds, which breed over summer on sub-Antarctic Islands in Bass strait and off southern Australia, are starting to arrive at Straddie to forage over winter.

A great variety of birds were spotted, including:
  • 3 Black-browed Albatross 
  • 2 Northern Giant Petrels 
  • 14 Great-winged Petrels 
  • 2 White-headed Petrels (very rare for Stradbroke) 
  • 1 Kermadec Petrel (another rarity for NSI) 
  • 2 Prion sp (most likely Fairy) 
  • 1 Brown Booby 
  • 80 Common Noddies 
  • ~100 Australian Gannets (60% juveniles) 
  • 10 Fluttering/Hutton's type Shearwaters and – in the water – 10 Humpbacks! 

Letter to Editor Straddie Island News Winter 2013 issue

Local Koala, photographed by Lee Curtis 
Friends of Stradbroke Island disagrees with Bill Giles’ assertions in his letter in Easter SIN. It is a matter of hard fact, science and just common-sense that sand mining is causing serious, permanent environmental damage to the island. Tourism is and will remain the mainstay of the Stradbroke economy.

It doesn't make any sense to continue sand mining when it is damaging future business prospects and employment. For people with talent and vision, there are many opportunities in nature-based recreation, tourism, education and health and this will create employment for other people who wish to live and work on the island.

This long term approach triumphed in the 70's and 80's when sand mining was stopped everywhere else on the populated East Coast of Australia. These communities have generally flourished. Sand mining on North Stradbroke Island is out of step and has been for decades.

Preserving the natural beauty of the island is the only sensible approach.

Obviously tourism and over development can be destructive too if not controlled and local environment groups have always played a role in minimizing the impacts. FOSI works to build an ethos of caring for the environment. If people show concern for nature then the future can be protected. We just can’t look the other way while sand mining keeps eating away at the Island’s environmental assets.

Friends of Stradbroke Island believes that whether you look at this from an economic perspective or an environmental perspective, you come up with the same answer – sand mining should end. Enough damage has been done. Future prosperity depends upon it ending soon.

It is also worth remembering the words of Quandamooka leader Darren Burns’ in the last issue of SIN:
“… sand mining is a very destructive industry. As well as destroying the ecology it is slowly pitting people on the Island against one another. There is a sophisticated campaign going on from the mining company to tell everyone that mining is OK. But it’s not”.

Fox Free Stradbroke Island?

A concerted effort to stop the ongoing spread of foxes on North Stradbroke Island must be a priority, if native species are to be protected. 

Michael Dickinson with Koda his new fox detection dog who will work on NSI when her training is completed. 
One of the most loved elements of North Stradbroke Island, aside from the spectacular beaches, is the pristine environment and the native animals that inhabit it. 

Unbeknownst to many, these animals are at threat, as the number of predatory red foxes continues to grow on the Island.

Michael Dickinson, a former National Parks ranger, and now a wildlife spotter and catcher, has been undertaking fox and feral animal control for the Redland City Council on its island land for the past four years. In that time Michael has trapped 118 foxes. “It’s thought that foxes started appearing on NSI in the mid-1930s and their numbers have steadily grown. Just from my work here, I estimate there’d be over 1000 foxes now living on the Island.” said Dickinson.

Many Island residents regularly spot foxes, and they are picked up on wildlife monitoring cameras and recorded on all the pre-mining environmental studies by scientists.

Fox predation is not a new story to Queensland, or Australia. It is an animal with a wide and varied diet, invasive nature, good breeding rate and few natural enemies. The fox’s threat to the survival of native Australian fauna has seen long term control and eradication programs successfully implemented on Phillip Island in Victoria (to protect the Fairy Penguins), and recently commenced in Bundaberg (to protect the breeding turtles), and throughout Tasmania.

With insufficient controls in place on NSI, the increasing number of foxes will bring disastrous ecological consequences to the island. Evidence from across Australia shows that fox predation is a major threat to the survival of native Australian fauna. Terrestrial animals at the greatest risk are those that weigh between 35 and 5500 grams - on NSI these animals include the young of the island’s Agile Wallabies and Northern Brown Bandicoot which are rarely seen now, the rare and endangered Water Mouse, Common Planigale (marsupial mouse), lizards, Sugar Gliders and frogs. These animals are at particular threat as their numbers are unable to be boosted due to the Island’s natural quarantine border of water. Ground-nesting and feeding birds such as the Island’s Beach Stone Curlew, Rainbow Bee Eaters, plovers, ducks and shorebirds are also prey.

Given the extent of their impact on biodiversity, predation by the European red fox has ensured its listing by the World Conservation Union as one of the 100 worst invasive species in the world. The Australian Government lists fox predation as a key threatening process under the Commonwealth’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).

Many of us who have kept chickens will know of the devastating ‘thrill kill’ or ‘multiple killing’ behaviour of the fox where it kills more animals than it needs for food. Unfortunately foxes on NSI exhibit this behaviour as Dickinson reports when foxes regularly attack the beach nests of the endangered Loggerhead Turtles. "The foxes monitor the nests and, with their excellent hearing and sense of smell, dig up and attack the nests killing all the newly hatched turtles," Dickinson said. Older island residents still recall the terrible events of 1991 when a fox killed 300 Wedge-tailed Shearwaters in a single night on Camel Rock, destroying a small nesting colony which has never been able to re-establish.

Eradicating these feral animals involves a range of strategies. One of newest is the use of specially trained sniffer dogs to find fox dens. Dickinson himself has recently recruited a fox detector dog ‘Koda” to his team who will be working on the island when her training is completed. As feral cats are also a problem on the island (Michael alone has caught nine of the notoriously difficult to catch feral cats) and their numbers could increase if foxes are removed, it’s crucial that an effective feral predator management strategy target both foxes and feral cats.

Because NSI is an island it is possible - with the long term commitment and support of all the island land managers - to eradicate foxes.

The Phillip Island program, after several decades of general fox control work, finally took 5 years using an island-wide, properly resourced, concentrated program to achieve a 90% reduction in fox numbers and hopes to be declared fox-free soon.

NSI is bigger and with a greater fox load but we could have the same success using a long term strategy over 10 to 20 years involving all stakeholders – Redland City Council, Quandamooka Native Title Holders, National Parks managers, SEQ Water, SEQ Catchments and Sibelco - along with community groups, residents and visitors to the island.

For the sake of the island’s wildlife let’s aim to make Straddie fox-free once again.

Article, as previously published in the Autumn edition of Straddie Island News, by Mary Barram. References listed below and photos courtesy of Michael Dickinson.

Dugongs in Moreton Bay



A shy creature, distantly related to the elephant, which communicates by chirps, whistles and barks –­ the dugong may be one of Moreton Bay’s least seen and most fascinating inhabitants. Approximately 1000 dugongs live in the warm waters of the sheltered and shallow bay. Globally, however, there are serious threats to this gentle animal’s survival. The World Conservation Union lists the dugong as vulnerable to extinction.

The name dugong derives from a Malay word meaning Lady of the Sea, yet elsewhere they are less-flatteringly referred to as Sea Cows, due to their diet of seagrass.

They are the only marine herbivorous sea mammals in the world and have been observed to suckle their young for up to five years, even though calves start eating seagrass at three months old.

Solitary animals, they travel alone or in pairs for most of their 70-year lifespan, although they have been seen in herds of 10 to 300.

Their distant relationship to the elephant goes some way to explaining the dugongs’ large and thick-skinned bodies, which grow up to three metres in length and weigh more than 600 kilograms at maturity. In the warmer waters of the bay dugongs grow slowly and tend to be a larger size than those found elsewhere.

Dugong bones are dense and solid with no marrow, acting as ballast and enabling the dugong to stay suspended just below the surface of the water.

Their bodies are streamlined, fast when swimming over short distances propelled by a dolphin like tail, and fully adapted to a marine pelagic lifestyle. They can manage six minutes without breathing but generally surface every two-and-a-half. They have been known to travel 20 kilometres from shore and dive to depths of 20 metres.

Dugongs have poor vision but acute hearing and communicate with one another by chirps, whistles and barks. Tusks are present in males and some older females, and all dugongs have scars on their skin, males from warding off other males, and females from mating.

Dugongs feed on a species of low fibre seagrass in both shallow and deep water, eating up to 30kg per day and leaving long, visible trails in the grass in their wake. They cannot digest high fibre seagrass and their preferred type is prolific only in the eastern parts of Moreton Bay, making it an ideal habitat for the mammal. When in muddy waters, dugongs feel for the plants with sensitive hairs near their lips, and use their flexible muscular upper lip to dig up the plants.

During winter months in the bay, when less seagrass is available, protein in their diet is supplemented by eating small amounts of sea squirts and marine worms.

Being slow breeders, dugongs are susceptible to a decline in population numbers. It takes 10 to 17 years for a female dugong to reach breeding maturity, after which she will give birth to one calf every five to seven years.

Historically, the Indigenous people of the bay hunted dugongs for their meat, skin and bones. After European settlement dugongs were harvested in much larger numbers for their blubber.

Janet Lanyon, researcher at the Marine Biological Sciences Department at the University of Queensland, says the most serious threat to dugongs today is loss of seagrass habitat. The major flooding events of recent years destroyed extensive seagrass meadows. Human recreation has also had an impact, with boat strikes and entanglement in fishing nets causing dugong fatalities. Traditional boat moorings also destroy large circular tracts of sea grass.

According to Ms Lanyon, there are things we can do to help reduce our impact on dugongs. Research being done by the UQ Dugong Group has identified that during winter months, most of the dugongs spend time in the Rous Channel, between North Stradbroke Island and Moreton Island, where they can easily move back and forth between the bay and the warmer waters of the ocean. At low tide there are dugong groups near the surface in waters adjacent to the banks, where they like to drift gently with the tide.

During April to August extreme care should be taken when driving boats in this region, as there could be 50 to 100 dugongs in the channel at any time. It is best to have a spotter in the front of the boat, always follow the “go slow” instructions, and travel at a non-planing speed.

Stick to the channels and drive slowly and carefully across the sea banks. If possible, use propeller guards on your boat to reduce striking dugongs. Slow driving also reduces sedimentation, which smothers seagrass.The UQ dugong team continues to observe and research the mammals to better understand their habits and threats. To date, they have caught and tagged more than 600 dugongs in Moreton Bay using a rodeo technique, holding the dugong at the surface for five minutes while measurements, samples and photos are taken. They are then tagged and micro-chipped so that their health and movements can be monitored.

Sincere thanks to Janet Lanyon and researchers at the Marine Biological Sciences Department at UQ for their assistance and photographs.

Article by Angela McLeod
Published on the cover wrap of the current edition of Straddie Island News now on sale at newsagents and shops on Stradbroke.

Photos courtesy of Marine Vertebrate Ecology Research Group, The University of Queensland http://www.uq.edu.au/marinevertebrate or

Visit the Facebook page, search “Dugong Conservation”

Stradbroke Chamber Music Festival 2013, 26-28 July


Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Australia Day storms brings seabirds onshore

Above: Immature White-tailed Tropic Bird, Cylinder Headland. 
Cyclone Oswald battered North Stradbroke Island over the Australia Day weekend knocking over trees, taking out the power and disrupting the ferries. However some keen birders who specialise in seawatching and love ocean-going pelagic birds were in their element (out in the wild winds on Point Lookout!). Cyclonic winds and storms blow seabirds – which mostly live well out to sea - onshore. On Australia Day, in just seven hours from 8am-3pm Colin Reid spotted a fantastic array of seabirds including Black-winged Petrel, White-necked Petrel, Streaked Shearwater, 1000s of Wedge-tailed Shearwater, Buller's Shearwater, Sooty Shearwater, Short-tailed Shearwater, Fluttering Shearwater, Hutton's Shearwater, Pomarine Skua, Arctic Skua and 27 Sooty Tern! Colin, who has seawatched at Straddie many times, said that it was ‘one of the best we’ve ever had off Pt Lookout’. Sadly not all the seabirds survived the high winds. The rarely sighted White-tailed Tropic Bird pictured below was found barely alive on the Cylinder Headland but later died. Many carcasses of seabirds, mostly Shearwaters and Noddies, wrecked on beaches have been reported.

Immature White-tailed Tropic Bird, Cylinder Headland. The two distinctive 40cm, ribbon like, central tail plumes which stream behind the adult birds have not yet grown. White-tailed Tropicbird are ocean going birds which occur in the tropical Atlantic, western Pacific and Indian Oceans and breed on tropical islands (including Christmas Island). These birds are highly evolved to live at sea and only nesting adults are found on land. The birds feed on fish and squid, caught by surface plunging, but this species is a poor swimmer. These birds are also unable to walk as their legs are located far back on their body, making walking impossible, so that they can only move on land by pushing themselves. Tropicbirds disperse widely across the oceans when not breeding, and sometimes wander far – even to Stradbroke Island.

The 2013 Stradbroke Chamber Music Festival

Date claimer 26 to 28 July

Artistic Director Rachel Smith returns from her music making in snowy climes to sunny Straddie to bring us an inspirational new program. Rarely performed chamber versions of the famous Sinfonia Concertante of Mozart in string sextet version and the septet version of Strauss’s sublime Metamorphosen.

The string players include Rachel Smith, Louise King, Sophie Rowell, Caroline Henbest and returning from the Scottish Chamber orchestra, Eric de Wit.

Another special experience to enliven the imagination will be Montmorensy (pianist and singer Paul Hankinson) performing in a Berlin- style piano cabaret at the surf lifesaving club.

Rachel and the musicians will return to Dunwich State School to energise the kids in their musical endeavours. Dunwich will also be the venue for a day of music starting with a lively animal- themed family concert on Sunday morning.

For those who have attended the festival in previous years this has become an unmissable annual event, for those who have yet to experience it make room in your calendar now! The weather is refreshing at that time of year. So cool walking weather and whale watching make it a great weekend.

NSI Field Guide Update

FOSI Secretary Angela McLeod and her cousin Penny recording notes for the Point Lookout walk from Adder Rock to Main Beach. During the research phase, each walk will be walked several times.
Work on FOSI’s field guide to North Stradbroke Island is progressing well with the project on track. While the production of the field guide is being mostly funded by a fantastic donation from the Jani Haenke Memorial Trust, this is a community project which relies on the generous volunteer contributions of a large number of FOSI members and other people who care about Straddie. Thank you also to the FOSI members who have donated funds to assist with the costs of producing the field guide.

Members and local bush walkers have been hard at work researching the walks and natural areas to be described in the field guide.

Lee Curtis who is helping with the writing of the book has been working on the flora reference section containing around 120 plant photos and descriptions. Lee has also written drafts of the reference sections for the mammals and marine animals which are currently in the expert checking phase. 

Lee Curtis hard at work. Lee is an experienced wildlife writer who regularly writes for Wildlife Australia Magazine. Lee was the project coordinator, chief editor and copywriter under contract to CSIRO Publishing for its comprehensive resource guide entitled: Queensland’s Threatened Animals published in 2012

The bird reference section is well advanced with a good first draft completed and now also in the checking phase. An updated bird list for the island has been compiled and 150 of the most common or significant birds have been described with spotting notes. Thank you to the island birders who have contributed excellent local birding knowledge for the ‘where to spot’ sections. Many generous, bird-loving photographers have donated bird images for the guide, giving us the welcome – but stressful - job of having to choose which beautiful image to use!

If you have any queries about the field guide or would like to assist please contact Mary Barram at mbarram@bigpond.com

‘Hollow Promises’

The following article by Sue Ellen Carew, FOSI President was published in the Stradbroke Island News - Summer 2012

Sand mining continues to destroy old growth forests and animal habitat on Stradbroke

It may come as a surprise to many visitors holidaying on the island over summer to learn that North Stradbroke Island is still being mined. There are still three large active mines. The mining company, Sibelco, plans to close the Yarraman sand mine near Point Lookout in 2015. The giant Enterprise sand mine in the middle of the island – you can see it from the headland at Point Lookout – is currently allowed to keep working for another seven years until 2020, thanks to the former government’s renewal of expired mining leases. The silica mine at Vance near the Amity turnoff, in prime koala country, is currently allowed to keep working until 2025.

The giant Enterprise and Yarraman mines work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The company continues to lobby to be allowed to continue mining for even longer at Enterprise mine.

No Tree No Me! – Prime habitat is being destroyed

Sand mining is destroying essential habitat for island animals as large tracts of woodland filled with mature forest trees are cut down. These woodlands provide essential habitat for many of the island’s native animals.

Island Koalas

Koala numbers are collapsing so rapidly in South-east Queensland that in April 2012 the Federal government declared the Queensland koala as a vulnerable threatened species needing protection under federal environmental law. To survive, koalas need large areas of healthy, safe and connected bushland. On the island, koala habitat (confirmed in pre-mining Environmental Impact Statements prepared by the mining company) is being destroyed by the mines. Photographs of koalas at the Vance mine are even being used by the mining company in recent PR materials!1

Destruction of habitat

Many of the island’s birds, mammals and reptiles need tree hollows for shelter, roosting and breeding. They include the island gliders, microbats, owls, parrots, kingfishers and Glossy Black Cockatoos as well as many species of snakes, frogs and skinks. Some of these are threatened species. It takes a very long time for tree hollows to form. Generally, small hollows with narrow entrances suitable for small animals such as the Feathertail Glider and microbats take about 100 years to form. Tree hollows of a medium size and suitable for animals such as lorikeets, kookaburras and kingfishers will take around 200 years to form, and the larger and deeper hollows occupied by the island’s iconic Southern Boobook owls and Glossy Black Cockatoos can take a lot longer – 250 years plus.

Rehabilitation doesn’t work for these island animals - no naturally occurring hollows will form on any land mined on the island until at least the year 2090 and no tree hollows suitable for owls and Glossy Black Cockatoos will form naturally until around the year 2200. A few nesting boxes that need to be replaced every ten years are no substitute for the habitat being destroyed. The mining company will be long gone when the last artificial nesting box it puts up is eaten by termites and still no natural tree hollows will have formed.

The mining company has allowed foxes and wild dogs to run rampant over its leases

The mining company is the custodian of a large part of the island. In a recent company sponsored publication2 Sibelco admitted that it has not undertaken any fox or wild dog control in any of its leases since 2004. Over the past eight years the company has stood back and allowed fox numbers to soar in disturbed land and beyond. Foxes are the most common animal picked by the company’s few nocturnal ‘wildlife’ monitoring cameras at rehabilitation sites (according to a company spokesperson at a public meeting 26 September 2012). Foxes and wild dogs are a major threat to island koalas, which they attack when they are on the ground moving between trees, as well as the island’s wallabies, bandicoots and birds. The birds at particular risk are the ground dwelling and nesting birds such as the endangered Beach Stone Curlew, the Double Banded Plover and Bush Stone Curlew.

The mining company has taken no steps to reduce road kill of koala and other native animals by its vehicles. In the same recent company sponsored publication3 the company identified vehicle strike as a major threat to the island’s koala population as well as to island macropods (kangaroos, wallabies, bandicoots etc.). Yet the company has taken no action to reduce the death toll caused by its vehicles. Company vehicles are major road users on the island – buses ply the island morning and night after picking up Sibelco’s largely mainland based workforce from the ferries, massive trucks carrying silica and minerals from the mines roar along the East Coast Road through sensitive koala habitat day after day and company flagged heavy 4wds are a feature of island roads. Sibelco – to show its concern and take responsibility for its part of the roadkill problem - should immediately impose compulsory speed limits on all its workforce vehicles – buses, trucks and 4wds – of 50kms or lower on all the island paved roads, ensure that all its staff are trained as part of their induction in what to do if their vehicle strikes an animal and make some large unconditional donations to the island’s hard pressed wildlife carers who care for animals struck by vehicles on the island.
1 The Sand Times, Sept 2012, p 5’’
2 CRISTESCU, R., SMITH, P. et al , North Stradbroke Island: An Island Ark For Queensland's Koala Population?,  “A Place of Sandhills: Ecology, Hydrogeomorphology and Management of Queensland's Dune Islands” (2011), Proceedings of the Royal Society of Queensland, Volume 117.p 326 
3 op. cit. p326

Can Sibelco Hold Back The Gushing Waters?

Since October last year water has been gushing at an alarming rate from dunes and rushing through normally dry watercourses near the Yarraman mine. Yarraman is the nearest mine to Point Lookout and clearly visible from the headland lookouts.

New lakes have formed, where there were none, drowning areas of vegetation. The damage has occurred outside the mining lease in areas north of the well-known Keyholes. In January a number of FOSI members together with an scientific expert accompanied representatives of the traditional owners to inspect the off-lease water flows and environmental impacts.

The miner Sibelco appears to be locked in a battle to control the outflow from the island’s sensitive hydrological system and aquifer. Miners have a long record of this kind of damage to the island with drowned forest and drained lakes as their legacy.

But…. this was not meant to happen again. The “science” had advanced, more knowledge meant more predictability and greater ability to control the waters that are necessarily encountered in deep dredge sand mining.

The consequences of months of sustained leaking from the island’s sensitive hydrological system are probably unpredictable too. It remains to be seen if Sibelco presumably under the authority of its regulator, Queensland’s Environment Department and Minister Powell, can find a solution and prevent a recurrence. Environmental damage to off-lease areas in fact contravenes the conditions of the mining lease.

The best solution naturally is to activate the precautionary principle and abandon the risky dredge mining before the litany of damage overwhelms Stradbroke’s precious environment.

Sibelco on trial

On 1 March, 2013 a Brisbane Magistrate ordered that Stradbroke miner Sibelco Australia Limited pay the State’s Environment Department an unprecedented $254,687.00 in legal costs. What’s it all about?

Sibelco is being prosecuted for two criminal offences for unlawfully removing Stradbroke island sand from the island and selling it for landscaping and other purposes without Redland Council approval.

The legal costs were incurred by the government department in successfully opposing several failed attempts by Unimin/Sibelco to stop the trial. Sibelco claimed that the criminal charges were an ‘abuse of process’. The Magistrate rejected the claim.

On 1 March, the magistrate also dismissed the company’s application that it had no case to answer on the two criminal charges being heard by the court. The trial is to continue later this year.

What has become a legal saga commenced on 16 December, 2008, when investigators from the former Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) executed a search warrant on the mining company’s offices on North Stradbroke island. The company was then called Unimin Australia Limited. It changed its name to Sibelco Australia Limited in 2010.

The investigators seized computer and other records relating to Unimin’s sale of island silica sand to the landscaping and building construction industries on the mainland.

The company’s mining leases permit the taking of minerals and nothing else. Non-mineral sand is supposed to be used in the ‘rehabilitation’ of the mined areas. In 2010 the Environment Department told the ABC’s 7.30 Report that since 1993, 50,000 to 100,000 tonnes per year of non-mineral sand had been removed unlawfully and sold. The retail value of this sand has been estimated at $80 million.

Sibelco was initially charged with three offences. The first alleges that it carried out assessable development (taking the sand) without the required local government approval. The second alleges that it carried out the same activity without being registered under the Environmental Protection Act. A third charge was dismissed last year because, curiously, the prosecution was not commenced until one day after the limitation period for bringing the charge had expired.

The trial finally commenced on 18 February, 2013, more than four years after the EPA seized evidence from the company’s Stradbroke offices. The prosecution called over 30 witnesses over the following week and a half. The witnesses included EPA investigators, truck drivers who transported the sand, expert witnesses and the former head of Stradbroke Ferries, which transported the trucks carrying the non-mineral sand to the mainland. It is not yet known whether Sibelco will call witnesses when the trial resumes later this year.

Meanwhile, indigenous owners have renewed calls for the charges against Sibelco to be upgraded to stealing and fraud charges, in line with legal opinions from senior lawyers that there is a prima facie case against the company for those offences. Indigenous owners have also called for a federal government inquiry into unlawful sand mining practices on the island and the State government’s handling of these issues.

Dead seabirds needed for plastic pollution study



Lauren Roman, a graduate ecology / zoology student from the University of Queensland is undertaking a study on plastic marine debris in the diets of Australian seabirds and shorebirds. Lauren’s research for her honours thesis is being supervised by Dr Kathy Townsend based at the UQ Moreton Bay Research Station at Dunwich.  To conduct the study in a way that is as ethical as possible and brings no stress or harm to living birds, the approach being used is to dissect birds that have already died of natural (or unnatural) causes.

Lauren is seeking assistance from FOSI members with the collection of suitable specimens. Lauren requests that if we find any dead marine birds (seabird/ shorebird/ gull/ heron/ egret etc) that are relatively intact, that we place them in a plastic bag and bring them to the Moreton Bay Research Station and ask for the specimen to be put in the freezer for her. We will report back to members on her study’s findings.