Helping the birds bounce back

After two extreme cyclones crossing the region in the space of five years, Terrain NRM and the Wet Tropics community are very familiar with the need to build resilience in the landscape.  A broad range of land management responses have arisen during recovery efforts however the endangered cassowary has been a feature due to their rapidly declining populations and strong reliance on intact landscapes.

Cyclone Larry in 2006 taught the region about the impact of extreme weather on habitat quality, connectivity and the birds’ change in behaviour.  Significant food shortages for the cassowary along with increased incidents of vehicle strike and dog attack had a large impact on cassowary numbers post-cyclone.

A cassowary, post-cylcone, photo courtesy Liz Gallie

Terrain NRM is building positive relationships with government departments, industry and the community to ensure the response efforts to both Cyclone Larry and Cyclon Yasi are well targeted.

“Cassowary survival is a heart-felt issue to the Mission Beach community,” Terrain CEO Carole Sweatman said. “And since Cyclone Yasi, concern has filtered further south to the communities of Cardwell and Hinchinbrook.”

“Terrain’s role in harnessing community messages and supporting Queensland Parks & Wildlife Service’s response efforts has proven valuable so far in the wake of Cyclone Yasi.”

“We have coordinated community meetings and bulletins to ensure effective communication and enhance on-ground action.”

“40% of cassowary habitat at Mission Beach is on private property,” Carole said. “So working with these property owners is critical to ensuring the cassowary’s survival.”

Since Cyclone Larry, funds have also supported the identification of cassowary habitat corridor priorities for offering conservation incentives.

While the FNQ2031 regional plan has also help to reduce urban sprawl into cassowary habitat, there is still critical habitat subject to development pressure.

Further efforts now need to be concentrated around managing vehicle corridors and domestic animals, particularly dogs.

The Mission Beach Habitat Network Action Plan is being implemented by partners despite limited resources and the big task at hand.  The Action Plan has been an essential tool in building consensus and prioritising the most effective management actions for the natural and cultural values of Mission Beach.  It is a blueprint that may be adapted and applied for other parts of the region and broader.

Carole says it will be a significant amount of time before habitat is restored for Cassowaries and another endangered species in the region, the Mahogany Glider.

“Cyclone Yasi decimated large tracts of critically endangered littoral rainforest along the Cassowary Coast, with some areas simply washed out to sea,” Carole said.

“In the meantime we are also contending with the risk of further wildlife fatalities due to starvation, disease, road incidents and dog attacks.”

“The community, with support from Terrain and partners such as QPWS, will continue to roll out efforts to protect this most treasured national asset, the cassowary.”