Tuesday, 19 March 2013

‘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