Be still, my beating wings: hunters kill migrating birds on their 10,000km journey to Australia


A bar-tailed godwit.
Lucas DeCicco, US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Eduardo Gallo-Cajiao, The University of Queensland

It is low tide at the end of the wet season in Broome, Western Australia. Shorebirds feeding voraciously on worms and clams suddenly get restless.

Chattering loudly they take flight, circling up over Roebuck Bay then heading off for their northern breeding grounds more than 10,000 km away. I marvel at the epic journey ahead, and wonder how these birds will fare.

In my former role as an assistant warden at the Broome Bird Observatory, I had the privilege of watching shorebirds, such as the bar-tailed godwit, set off on their annual migration.

I’m now a conservation researcher at the University of Queensland, focusing on birds. Populations of migratory shorebirds are in sharp decline, and some are threatened with extinction.

We know the destruction of coastal habitats for infrastructure development has taken a big toll on these amazing birds. But a study I conducted with a large international team, which has just been published, suggests hunting is also a likely key threat.

Bar-tailed Godwits and great knots on migration in the Yellow Sea, China.
photo credit: Yong Ding Li

What are migratory shorebirds?

Worldwide, there are 139 migratory shorebird species. About 75 species breed at high latitudes across Asia, Europe, and North America then migrate south in a yearly cycle.

Some 61 migratory shorebird species occur in the Asia-Pacific, within the so-called East Asian-Australasian Flyway. This corridor includes 22 countries – from breeding grounds as far north as Alaska and Siberia to non-breeding grounds as far south as Tasmania and New Zealand. In between are counties in Asia’s east and southeast, such as South Korea and Vietnam.

Map of the East Asian-Australasian Flyway (bounded by blue line) showing schematic migratory movements of shorebirds.
figure credit: Jen Dixon

The bar-tailed godwits I used to observe at Roebuck Bay breed in Russia’s Arctic circle. They’re among about 36 migratory shorebird species to visit Australia each year, amounting to more than two million birds.

They primarily arrive towards the end of the year in all states and territories – visiting coastal areas such as Moreton Bay in Queensland, Eighty Mile Beach in Western Australia, and Corner Inlet in Victoria.

Numbers of migratory shorebirds have been falling for many species in the flyway. The trends have been detected since the 1970s using citizen science data sets.




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Five of the 61 migratory shorebird species in this flyway are globally threatened. Two travel to Australia: the great knot and far eastern curlew.

Threats to these birds are many. They include the loss of their critical habitats along their migration path, off-leash dogs disturbing them on Australian beaches, and climate change likely contracting their breeding grounds.

And what about hunting?

During their migration, shorebirds stop to rest and feed along a network of wetlands and mudflats. They appear predictably and in large numbers at certain sites, making them relatively easy targets for hunters.

Estimating the extent to which birds are hunted over large areas was like completing a giant jigsaw puzzle. We spent many months scouring the literature, obtaining data and reports from colleagues then carefully assembling the pieces.

We discovered that since the 1970s, three-quarters of all migratory shorebird species in the flyway have been hunted at some point. This includes almost all those visiting Australia and four of the five globally threatened species.

Some records relate to historical hunting that has since been banned. For example the Latham’s snipe, a shorebird that breeds in Japan, was legally hunted in Australia until the 1980s. All migratory shorebirds are now legally protected from hunting in Australia.




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We found evidence that hunting of migratory shorebirds has occurred in 14 countries, including New Zealand and Japan, with most recent records concentrated in southeast Asia, such as Indonesia, and the northern breeding grounds, such as the US.

For a further eight, such as Mongolia and South Korea, we could not determine whether hunting has ever occurred.

Our research suggests hunting has likely exceeded sustainable limits in some instances. Hunting has also been pervasive – spanning vast areas over many years and involving many species.

Shorebirds being sold as food in southeast Asia, 2019.
Toby Trung and Nguyen Hoai Bao/BirdLife

Looking ahead

The motivations of hunters vary across the flyway, according to needs, norms, and cultural traditions. For instance, Native Americans in Alaska hunt shorebirds as a food source after winter, and low-income people in Southeast Asia hunt and sell them.

National governments, supported by NGOs and researchers, must find the right balance between conservation and other needs, such as food security.

Efforts to address hunting are already underway. This includes mechanisms such as the United Nations Convention on Migratory Species and the East Asian-Australasian Flyway Partnership. Other efforts involve helping hunters find alternative livelihoods.

Our understanding of hunting as a potential threat is hindered by a lack of coordinated monitoring across the Asia-Pacific.

Additional surveys by BirdLife International, as well as university researchers, is underway in southeast Asia, China, and Russia. Improving hunting assessments, and coordination between them, is essential. Without it, we are acting in the dark.

The author would like to acknowledge the contributions of Professor Richard A. Fuller (University of Queensland), Professor Tiffany H. Morrison (James Cook University), Dr Bradley Woodworth (University of Queensland), Dr Taej Mundkur (Wetlands International), Dr Ding Li Yong (BirdLife International-Asia), and Professor James E.M. Watson (University of Queensland).The Conversation

Eduardo Gallo-Cajiao, PhD Candidate, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Meet Chimbu, the blue-eyed, bear-eared tree kangaroo. Your cuppa can help save his species



Healesville Sanctuary, Author provided

Marissa Parrott, University of Melbourne

Tree kangaroos are so unusual that when Europeans first encountered them in Australia in 1872, they were sceptical. Who would believe a kangaroo could climb a tree?

But the recent birth of Chimbu – a Goodfellow’s tree kangaroo at Healesville Sanctuary – gives us the chance to watch one of these unique, and very rare, creatures grow up.




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The Goodfellow’s tree kangaroo is a threatened species found in forests in the Central Cordillera mountain ranges of Papua New Guinea, from sea level to high in the clouds.

Chimbu’s birth in September is the latest success of a complex web of international conservation. Zoos and other organisations around the world transfer and match tree-kangaroos to avoid inbreeding and sustain a genetically healthy captive population.

Chimbu is named after an area in Papua New Guinea where his wild cousins live.

A climbing kangaroo? That’s roo-diculous!

Europeans in New Guinea first described tree kangaroos in 1828. While there have been plenty of disagreements about who is related to whom, we now know there are 14 distinct species.

Early explorers considered the very idea of a climbing roo ridiculous, but these animals are specially adapted to life in the trees. They likely all evolved from a terrestrial ancestor earlier in the Pliocene, 5.3 million to 2.5 million years ago.

Tree kangaroos look like marsupial bears, but can climb trees like monkeys.
Healesville Sanctuary, Author provided

Tree kangaroos have much longer forelimbs than their ground-dwelling cousins and their claws are much larger and strongly curved. This provides much stronger grip when climbing trees and gripping smaller branches.

They still have large strong hind limbs, but their feet are shorter, broader and have a long curved claw on each toe.

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The pad of the hindfoot is single, large and with prominent grooves, all of which enhance the animal’s grip when climbing and walking in the canopy. The tails of tree kangaroos aren’t capable of grasping things like a monkey’s, but they’re long and often held out behind the animal for balance.

But perhaps one of the most obvious differences between tree kangaroos and their terrestrial cousins is their adorably small bear-like ears.

Threatened with extinction

Two species of tree kangaroos are found in the forests of northeast Australia and 12 species in the jungles of New Guinea. All species of tree kangaroos are threatened with extinction in New Guinea, although much about these animals is unknown.

The current population size is unknown, but this species of tree kangaroo is thought to be declining in the wild.
Healesville Sanctuary, Author provided

Traditionally hunted for food, hassled by dogs and threatened by the destruction of their forest habitat, the soft thud of tree roo feet among the trees is falling silent.

But conservation work in their natural habitat and through a globally managed tree kangaroo captive breeding program is helping not only the species, but the people who live alongside them.

Baby Chimbu – a new hope

Chimbu was born in Victoria, but is really an international fellow. His mother Mani came from the National Zoo and Aquarium in Canberra, and his father Bagam arriving from Kreffeld Zoo in Germany.

Baby Chimbu brings hope to a species nearing extinction.
Healesville Sanctuary, Author provided

Mani and Bagam were paired based on the recommendation of scientists and managers who maintain a studbook of Goodfellow’s tree kangaroos around the world.

These gorgeous animals are generally chocolate brown on the back, shading to pale brown or cream on the face and belly, and often with a single or double narrow pale stripe down the back.




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Their beautiful striped tails are one of their most noticeable features. And while the current population size is unknown, this tree kangaroo is thought to be declining due to hunting for food, local trading for cultural purposes, and habitat destruction through local deforestation and shifting cultivation.

Managing tree kangaroos around the globe

The captive population of Goodfellow’s tree kangaroos in our region is coordinated by the Australasian Zoos and Aquarium Association.

The plan is to maintain long-term healthy populations that are genetically diverse, stable and show natural behaviours to ensure the animals are thriving in their zoo homes.

Chimbu ventured out of his mum’s pouch to sample some tasty salad.
Healesville Sanctuary, Author provided

In turn, the regional program is part of a global species management plan coordinated by the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

A key feature of these regional/global management programs is to avoid any inbreeding. Detailed histories of all animals in the population are closely managed, and suitable breeding pairs are identified by specialist zoo keepers called “Studbook Keepers”.

This is why Chimbu was born from a long-distance romance and travel by his parents.

Your cuppa can help

Supporting wildlife conservation in the wild and with local communities is the driving force for zoos globally.

An international network of captive tree kangaroos helps conserve this species.
Healesville Sanctuary, Author provided

Although the Goodfellow’s tree kangaroos are officially endangered, we don’t know much about them in the wild. Right now, the Wildlife Conservation Society is working out how many are in the wild and where, so scientists can develop a detailed conservation program.

Cousins of the Goodfellow’s tree kangaroo, such as the Matschie’s tree kangaroo, are more well-known and already have conservation programs in place.




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To help save Matschie’s tree kangaroo, community programs have emerged to address the economic conditions fuelling their over-hunting. Zoos Victoria has partnered with the Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program to sell coffee grown by Papua New Guinean villagers. This helps create sustainable alternative income and fund conservation.

Collecting coffee beans for YUS conservation coffee in Papua New Guinea.
Ryan Hawke/Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program, Author provided

Income from coffee sales generates much greater access to healthcare and education, major hurdles in these remote villages. Money from sale of the coffee beans is the only regular income into these villages.

So if you do decide to visit Chimbu at the Healesville Sanctuary (in person or virtually) remember you can also buy some coffee to help his wild cousins.


This article is co-authored by Chris Banks, Manager International Conservation, Zoos Victoria, who has worked with tree kangaroo and community conservation for over 20 yearsThe Conversation

Marissa Parrott, Reproductive Biologist, Wildlife Conservation & Science, Zoos Victoria, and Honorary Research Associate, BioSciences, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

It might sound ‘batshit insane’ but Australia could soon export sunshine to Asia via a 3,800km cable



SHUTTERSTOCK

John Mathews, Macquarie University; Elizabeth Thurbon, UNSW; Hao Tan, University of Newcastle, and Sung-Young Kim, Macquarie University

Australia is the world’s third largest fossil fuels exporter – a fact that generates intense debate as climate change intensifies. While the economy is heavily reliant on coal and gas export revenues, these fuels create substantial greenhouse gas emissions when burned overseas.

Australia doesn’t currently export renewable energy. But an ambitious new solar project is poised to change that.

The proposed Sun Cable project envisions a ten gigawatt capacity solar farm (with about 22 gigawatt-hours of battery storage) laid out across 15,000 hectares near Tennant Creek, in the Northern Territory. Power generated will supply Darwin and be exported to Singapore via a 3,800km cable slung across the seafloor.

Sun Cable, and similar projects in the pipeline, would tap into the country’s vast renewable energy resources. They promise to provide an alternative to the export business of coal, iron ore and gas.




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As experts of east-Asian energy developments, we welcome Sun Cable. It could pioneer a renewable energy export industry for Australia, creating new manufacturing industries and construction jobs. Importantly, it could set our economy on a post-fossil fuel trajectory.

Long-term cost benefits

Sun Cable was announced last year by a group of Australian developers. The project’s proponents say it would provide one-fifth of Singapore’s power supply by 2030, and replace a large share of fossil fuel-generated electricity used in Darwin.

Submarine cables are laid using deep-sea vessels specifically designed for the job.
Alan Jamieson/Flickr, CC BY

To export renewable energy overseas, a high-voltage (HV) direct current (DC) cable would link the Northern Territory to Singapore. Around the world, some HVDC cables already carry power across long distances. One ultra-high-voltage direct current cable connects central China to eastern seaboard cities such as Shanghai. Shorter HVDC grid interconnectors operate in Europe.

The fact that long distance HVDC cable transmission has already proven feasible is a point working in Sun Cable’s favour.

The cost of generating solar power is also falling dramatically. And the low marginal cost (cost of producing one unit) of generating and transporting renewable power offers further advantage.

The A$20 billion-plus proposal’s biggest financial hurdle was covering initial capital costs. In November last year, billionaire Australian investors Mike Cannon-Brookes and Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest provided initial funding to the tune of up to A$50 million. Cannon-Brookes said while Sun Cable seemed like a “completely batshit insane project”, it appeared achievable from an engineering perspective.

Sun Cable is expected to be completed in 2027.

Bringing in business

The proposal would also bring business to local high-technology companies. Sun Cable has contracted with Sydney firm 5B, to use its “solar array” prefabrication technology to accelerate the building of its solar farm. The firm will pre-assemble solar panels and deliver them to the site in containers, ready for quick assembly.

The Northern Territory government has also shown support, granting Sun Cable “major project” status. This helps clear potential investment and approval barriers.




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Across Australia, similar renewable energy export plans are emerging. The Murchison Renewable Hydrogen Project in Western Australia will use energy produced by solar and wind farms to create renewable hydrogen, transported to east Asia as liquid hydrogen.

Similarly, the planned Asian Renewable Energy Hub could have renewable hydrogen generated in Western Australia’s Pilbara region at 15 gigawatts. This would also be exported, and supplied to local industries.

These projects align with the Western Australian government’s ambitious Renewable Hydrogen Strategy. It’s pushing to make clean hydrogen a driver for the state’s export future.

Reliable solutions

Generating and transmitting power from renewable resources avoids the energy security risks plaguing fossil fuel projects. Renewable projects use manufactured devices such as solar cells, wind turbines and batteries. These all generate energy security (a nation’s access to a sufficient, affordable and consistent energy supply).

Australia controls its own manufacturing activities, and while the sun may not shine brightly every day, its incidence is predictable over time. In contrast, oil, coal and gas supply is limited and heavily subject to geopolitical tensions. Just months ago in the Middle East, attacks on two major Saudi Arabian oil facilities impacted 5% of global oil supply.




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Renewing international links

Apart from exporting electricity produced on its own solar farm, Sun Cable could profit from letting other projects export electricity to Asia through shared-cost use of its infrastructure.

This would encourage future renewable energy exports, especially to the energy-hungry ASEAN nations (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) – Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.

This would strengthen Australia’s economic relationships with its ASEAN neighbours – an importantc geo-economic goal. In particular, it could help reduce Australia’s growing export dependence on China.

However, as with any large scale project, Sun Cable does face challenges.

Other than raising the remaining capital, it must meet interconnection standards and safety requirements to implement the required infrastructure. These will need to be managed as the project evolves.

Also, since the power cable is likely to run along the seabed under Indonesian waters, its installation will call for strategic international negotiations. There has also been speculation from mining interests the connection could present national security risks, as it may be able to send and receive “performance and customer data”. But these concerns cannot be validated currently, as we lack the relevant details.

Fortunately, none of these challenges are insurmountable. And within the decade, Sun Cable could make the export of Australian renewable energy a reality.The Conversation

John Mathews, Professor of Strategic Management, Macquarie Graduate School of Management, Macquarie University; Elizabeth Thurbon, Scientia Fellow and Associate Professor in International Relations / International Political Economy, UNSW; Hao Tan, Associate professor, University of Newcastle, and Sung-Young Kim, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Modern History, Politics & International Relations, Macquarie University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.