Managing threatened species
Moreton Bay Marine Park is seen as Brisbane's playground—a place for fishing, boating, and enjoying the outdoor Queensland lifestyle. But the marine park is also home to hundreds of important species. They live in a complex web, depending on each other for food and shelter.
Some of these plants and animals are under pressure from human and other impacts. A number of plans and strategies are in place to ensure the long term survival of these threatened species. Some of these plans and strategies are detailed in this information sheet.
What is a threatened species?
Queensland's threatened species are detailed in the Nature Conservation Act 1992. The Act lists threatened plant or animal species in the categories of extinct in the wild, endangered, vulnerable, rare, near threatened and least concerned.
Threatened species may also be listed under the Commonwealth's Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 or internationally under the IUCN (World Conservation Union) Red Data book or a treaty.
The marine park is described as having high biodiversity and ecological value, but what does that mean?
Biodiversity is short for 'biological diversity'. It describes the variety of life forms and their habitats that make up a region. Biodiversity includes the diversity of plant and animal species, the diversity of ecosystems formed by communities of these organisms, and the genetic diversity within and between species.
Biodiversity is essential for the survival of the planet. Renowned American social commentator and scientist, Paul Ehrlich, provides an effective analogy for biodiversity:
"Imagine you are flying in an aeroplane and see someone crawling along the wing, removing the rivets one by one. The plane is able to fly without some of those rivets, but eventually the wing will fall off. Each rivet represents a species or biological function. We can survive without some, but not all, of them and if we continue to remove them, sooner or later, the processes of biodiversity will break down."
Dugong Dugong dugon are listed as a vulnerable species under the Nature Conservation Act 1992. There are between 600 and 800 dugong living in Moreton Bay Marine Park, which is the southern-most dugong population on the east coast of Australia. It is also the only place in the world where dugong are found close to a capital city.
Dugong only live in sheltered, shallow, coastal waters where there are seagrass meadows. They feed predominantly on seagrass and can consume up to 30kg per day.
As dugong often feed in low visibility water, sight is not as important to them as their sense of touch. While they blindly plough through the mud and sediment they primarily use their broad, sensitive nose to search out seagrass roots. They have small eyes on the sides of their heads which means they have two blind spots; the areas immediately in front and behind them. They have tiny ears with openings just 3mm wide. Although they appear to have good hearing, it is difficult when underwater to pin-point the direction from which noise is coming.
The risk of boat strike for dugong in Moreton Bay is serious. This risk is compounded by the fact that extensive seagrass meadows grow in and around the popular boating channels that access Southern Moreton and North Stradbroke islands.
In Moreton Bay Marine Park dugong feeding and resting 'hot-spots' have been set aside as 'go slow' areas to help protect the animals from boat strike.
What is a 'go slow' area?
There are six designated turtle and dugong 'go slow' areas in Moreton Bay. These are around:
- Tangalooma Wrecks
- Peel Island
- East of Lamb Island
- Blaksley and Price anchorages
- Moreton Banks
- Amity Banks.
All boats in 'go slow' areas must travel off the plane. Boats and personal water craft must also be operated in a way and speed to avoid hitting turtles and dugong. On-the-spot fines are actively enforced if these zones are not observed.
There are also four designated go slow areas for turtle and dugong that apply to vessels more than 8m in length. These are located around the southern Bay Islands at:
- Weinam Creek
- Garden Island
- Karragarra Channel
- Krummel Passage.
Whales are protected under the Nature Conservation Act 1992. Moreton Bay Marine Park has the highest recorded diversity and abundance of resident and transient whales and dolphins in Australia. It provides important resting habitat for humpback whales on their annual migration between June to October.
Nine species of whale visit Moreton Bay Marine Park each year and it is the northern most point in Australia for sightings of the Southern Right whale. Even Migaloo, the famous albino humpback whale, has been seen enjoying the bay.
The migratory behaviour of whales and their behaviour of congregating in breeding areas make them susceptible to interference by boats. Even the noise from nearby outboard engines can be enough to disrupt their social behaviours and cause unnecessary stress. With increasing numbers of whales migrating into Queensland each winter and with increasing boating traffic, there is an increased risk of collisions between boats and whales1.
The Nature Conservation (Animals) Regulations 2020 specifies minimum approach distances for whales by people, vessels, aircraft and helicopters. These laws are in place to prevent disruptive behaviour around whales while they are at their most vulnerable.
A commercial permit is needed to conduct commercial whale watching activities in Queensland and there is a limited number of permits that may be issued within certain critical areas.
Guidelines for observing whales
A person in control of a boat must not:2
- bring the boat any closer than 100m of a whale
- bring the boat any closer than 300m of a whale if:
- three or more boats are already closer than 300m to a whale
- the boat is moving in a similar direction to or behind a whale; or
- the boat is moving at more than six knots or creating a wake.
- bring the boat to a position that would cause a whale to come closer than 100m to the boat if the whale continued in its direction of travel
- move or operate the boat in a way that causes the whale to alter its direction or speed of travel or its behaviour; or
- bring the boat between members of a pod of whales.
A person on a jet ski must not bring it any closer than 300m to a whale.
A person in or entering the water must not move any closer than 100m to a whale.
A person in control of a fixed-wing aircraft must not bring it any closer to a whale than 300m.
A person in control of a helicopter must not bring it any closer to a whale than 500m or hover above a whale.
A person must not do any of the following to a whale in the wild:
- restrict its path or cause it to change direction;
- drive a boat into a pod of whales causing it to divide into smaller groups;
- deposit rubbish near a whale;
- make a noise that is likely to disturb or attract a whale; or
- intentionally feed or touch a whale.
Grey nurse shark
The grey nurse shark, Carcharias taurus, is one of Australia's most endangered marine species and is listed as vulnerable under the World Conservation Union.
Grey nurse sharks were hunted to near extinction in the 1960s when they were incorrectly labelled as 'man eaters' and targeted by fishers and spear fishers. Today, it is estimated that there are fewer than 500 grey nurse sharks remaining on the east coast of Australia3.
Moreton Bay Marine Park contains three known sites identified as critical for the survival of grey nurse sharks in eastern Australia:
- Cherubs Cave, Moreton Island
- Henderson's Rock, Moreton Island
- Flat Rock, Stradbroke Island.
Fishing and diving restrictions were introduced in December 2003 to protect the grey nurse sharks at these critical habitats. With such a low birth rate for the grey nurse shark these closures will become more effective the longer they remain in place.
Residents of Moreton Bay Marine Park that often go unnoticed are shorebirds; a diverse group of birds that live and feed in intertidal areas or on the fringes of freshwater wetlands. Some of these species are threatened, such as the resident shorebird the beach stone-curlew, Esacus magnirostris, which is classified as vulnerable under the Nature Conservation Act 1992.
Around 40,000 shorebirds migrate annually between the marine park and the Northern Hemisphere, while another 3500 call the bay home all year round.
Moreton Bay Marine Park provides valuable habitat for shorebirds to rest, refuel and, for some, a site to prepare for the tough return trip to the north. It is important for the long-term survival of shorebirds that their breeding, feeding and resting is not disturbed. When migratory shorebirds are disturbed they waste hard-earned energy reserves, reducing their ability to survive on their journey of up to 25,000km.
Protection of shorebird habitat is also crucial to the birds' survival. Shorebird habitats are diminishing not only in Moreton Bay but around the world. To combat this, the marine park's zoning plan provides for the management and protection of shorebirds and their habitats and, in some situations, artificial roosting sites have been created to compensate for the loss of habitat.
Australia has agreed to protect shorebirds and their habitats under several international treaties that protect migratory waders. Most notably the wetlands within Moreton Bay Marine Park are recognised under the Ramsar Convention—an international treaty that provides for the protection of wetlands of international significance. Furthermore, all migratory shorebirds are protected as ‘migratory species’ under the Commonwealth Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.
- GBRMPA (2007) Whales and dolphins, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Townsville, viewed 12 February 2007
- The department's (2006) Whale watching, Brisbane, viewed 2 February 2007
- EA (2002) Recovery Plan for the Grey Nurse Shark (Carcharias taurus) in Australia, Environment Australia, viewed 6 February 2007
- The department's (2013) Shorebirds, viewed 3 November 2014.
- Department of the Environment (2014) EPBC Migratory Species Lists, Australian Government, Accessed 3 November 2014.