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Orange Bellied parrot imminent extinction threat

Peter Garrett last week announced $260,000 will be spent on an urgent bid to save the Orange-Bellied Parrot from extinction.

Under the Federal Government plan, captive populations will be boosted and extra feed and nesting options will be provided to encourage the 50 or so parrots left in the wild to breed.

(orange bellied parrot: source Wikimedia Commons).

The Orange-bellied Parrot is a migratory bird, which breeds only in coastal south-west Tasmania and spends the winter in coastal Victoria and South Australia. In Tasmania it occurs in buttongrass moorland interspersed with patches of forest or tea tree scrub.

Ecologist Peter Menkhorst, a spokesman for an existing 15-member recovery team, said the wild population was expected to disappear in the near future, placing enormous pressure on a captive breeding program. He said breeding rates had declined, possibly because of food shortages linked to the drought. However, it is easy to blame “drought” when loss of habitat is the surest way to lose a species!

Auditor General, Mr Des Pearson , in 2009 condemned that the Victorian Government for having few and unreliable statistics and was not fulfilling its legal obligations under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988. The report found that efforts to list threatened species and processes had not been matched by efforts to develop action statements, monitor them, or assess their effectiveness.

It is not only orange-bellied parrots that are under threat of extinction. The state’s threatened species list includes some of our most iconic. A 15-year study shows Victorian bird numbers are collapsing throughout central and northern Victoria, with about two-thirds of species, including lorikeets, thornbills, honeyeaters and even kookaburras, declining dramatically in the past five years. (For those in Victoria, you can Take Action Now on the web page).

Bald Hill wind farm in Victoria is notorious for being rejected by then Environment Minister Ian Campbell in 2006 due to the threat to the orange-bellied parrot. This token gesture was later over-ruled!

Ironically, the much-delayed Bald Hills wind, near the Wonthaggi desalination plant, was sold to Japanese interests, Mitsui, for $300 million and will operate from 2011, five years after former environment minister Ian Campbell caved in and belatedly approved the project. As well, Japanese firms have taken a stake in paper (Australian Paper), smallgoods manufacturing (Hans), IT (Kaz Group) and the housing sector (Payce Consolidated). Foreign investors are not likely to be interested in Australian biodiversity or species extinctions!

Water Minister Tim Holding dismissed environmental concerns about the desalination plant and said penguins, seals, whales, orange-bellied parrots, giant Gippsland earthworms, hooded plovers and their habitats would not be significantly affected by the project and nearby dinosaur fossils were also safe. That's reassuring from someone who has no environmental expertise or training!

(saltmarsh coastline typical in Australia source: Wikimedia commons).

Many coastal habitats, including coastal saltmarsh areas, are often looked upon as 'wasteland' and bulldozed to make way for industrial developments or housing estates. Orange-bellied parrots spend their winters in such coastal saltmarsh, typically on the shores of estuaries and lagoons.

The parrot, which breeds exclusively in a small area on Tasmania's West Coast, was listed as critically endangered in 2006 and it is feared it could now become extinct by 2013.

The main factors contributing to the loss of Orange-bellied Parrot habitat are:

  • drainage of wetlands for grazing
  • alteration and destruction of saltmarsh for industrial and urban
  • development
  • grazing of native vegetation
  • vegetation clearance for agricultural purposes
  • changes to land use practices
  • recreational activities (OBPRT 2006a).

    Throwing money at the problem of wildlife extinctions is meaningless unless real effort is made to restore habitat and eliminate current threats. A collapse of our ecosystems is not "only" about loss of iconic wildlife, forever, but indicative of the weakening of our ecosystems - that we all depend on.

    Even if the extinction of a parrot species is considered "sustainable", each species has a role in maintaining healthy ecosystems. Extinction is forever, and each loss means we lose a species with intrinsic value, and we have a weakening of our life-support system.

  • Comments

    The Age, letters to the editor: April 30th
    Chemical industry for coastal wetlands

    IN WARRNAMBOOL, beautiful coastal saltmarsh wetlands are threatened with having a biodiesel factory built on them. The Lower Merri Wetlands are listed in the directory of nationally important wetlands by the federal Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and are home to many endangered species, including the orange-bellied parrot, and other flora and fauna guarantee-listed species.

    Despite the fragile and important environment, the council looks likely to approve this development. I agree with Vivienne Ortega (Letters, 29/4) that wetlands are often looked on as ''wasteland''. The risk of contamination by fuel spills or flooding would make it a reality on this site.

    The Victorian Government must fulfil its obligations under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988. No environmental effects statement has been done on this project, despite Planning Minister Justin Madden being aware of the case, and the criteria for referral being met. (my emphasis)

    A chemical industry in a coastal wetland with no environmental risk assessment?

    Delia Crabbe, Merri Wetlands Protection Group, Warrnambool

    PS: This is adding injury to insult to our already abysmal record of wetland conservation and our Ramsar international rating.

    A community action group fighting a proposed biodiesel factory site at Warrnambool's Levys Point has been buoyed by legal advice the project would be unlikely to pass scrutiny. Animal tallow would be used to produce biodiesel for the company's truck fleet. This means that animal body parts from the meat industry would be used to fuel the trucks and make it "green".
    IT is supposed to be a coastal reserve but the scenic beauty of Levys Point is now closer to resembling a rubbish dump. Levys Point is a key area of the Mahogany Walk, which spans from Warrnambool to Port Fairy.
    The proposed processing plant would convert tallow into an estimated 12 million litres of biodiesel a year to be used in the company's truck fleet and maybe sold at a service station.
    The livestock industries is one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions and land and waterway degradation. Creating biofuels from such an environmentally un-friendly industry, and destroying wetlands in the process, is surely greenwashing at its worse!

    I would like to also point out that this parrot's winter migration destination is also the Lower Lakes of South Australia. And while it would be very obvious to point out what the drought has done to the Lower Lakes and the Coorong, with a bit more research, one can see that man messed up this birds habitat a long time ago. 1940 to be exact. The barrages that split the River Murray Estuary into two pieces, one the salty side the Coorong, and the other the fresh side of the Lower Lakes. The Coorong as we know it today represents only 10% of the total size of the estuary before the barrages. The Lower Lakes were turned fresh in 1940 and that corresponds with the biggest drop in bird numbers. A coincidence? I think not. The salt marshes that would have flourished around the Lower Lakes when they were estuarine, have been trampled by grazing cows, and more recently just dried up. The territory these Lakes cover is immense and by far the largest amount of salt marsh habitat to have been lost. This page has more links .