Chris Walker has developed a large following on social media, where his wildlife photography showcases the birds and animals of the Redlands. One of the remarkable things about Chris is that he developed his photographic skills for a pretty specific reason – to showcase the species of the Redlands that are threatened if the controversial Toondah Harbour development goes ahead.
Have a listen to the episode below, or download or subscribe at the podcast page or using your podcast app of choice!
The Toondah development is mired in controversy. The seemingly eternal war over opposing values (economy, or cultural and environment?) is in this case complicated by questions surrounding the decision-making process, and whether the Redlands community’s interests have actually been thoroughly considered.
There’s no question where Chris stands on the issue. What he hopes to achieve with his photography is to let people know what we’ve got, and what we’re risking if we stand aside and let the developers have the final say in our neighbourhoods.
Chris administers a couple of additional social media pages (Twitter and Facebook) and a website (Redlands2030), which do an excellent job keep community members up-to-date with ongoing news about Toondah and other Redlands issues.
Rather than repeat that information, I’m going to use this blog space to talk about another important topic that came up with Chris, and one I have personal experience of.
Shorebirds and dogs
I love dogs, and when my last dog was alive (10+ years ago), I used to take her down to swim at Lota almost every week. At the time, I wasn’t involved in marine science. I loved the bay, including (and because of!) the animals and birds I’d see when I was down by the water.
I think I might have had the vaguest notion that there were areas dogs shouldn’t be offleash, but the jumps! and the splashes! and the running! and the excitement! I loved my dog. This made her happy, so it was a done deal.
Now I’m horribly chagrined by Past Me. I’ve developed
a quite unreasonable love for mangroves (the surly-but-powerful curmudgeon of the forest world) and mudflats (because curlews and kingfishers are boss, as Chris’ photos attest) and it makes me upset to think my dog and I were helping destroy the very place we had so much joy.
What’s the big deal?
The most common bird we might see as we walk down by the water is a gull, and we’re so used to seeing these we might think that shorebirds behave in a similar way. But there’s an important difference – while gulls will return to what they were doing when the disturbance is gone, shorebirds will not. They’ll fly on, until they find a new place to roost or feed – until they’re disturbed there too. In a place like Moreton Bay, that can mean they’re spending more time searching for a quiet place to land and feed than they are actually feeding.
Some of our migratory shorebirds have to fly up to 25,000 kilometres on their migratory journey. In their lifetime, a bar-tailed godwit can clock enough miles to reach the moon! The Eastern Curlew’s journey is “like an 80 kg person running 16 million kilometres almost non-stop” – can you imagine if you got to the end of this epic marathon and weren’t allowed to sit down?
Shorebirds make the mudflats healthy. By feeding, they’re aerating the mud or sand and getting oxygen to the critters that live in it. Their poo provides essential nutrients which feed phytoplankton at the bottom of many marine food webs. Shorebirds are so essential to food webs, in fact, that some are considered “indicator species” – a decline in these species tells us something alarming about the overall health of the ecosystem as a whole.
This is why it’s so important we keep our dogs in check. Unfortunately, even dogs ON leashes give shorebirds the heeby-jeebies. Add to that, the Venn diagram of when we most want to be on the Bay and when the migratory shorebirds are here is pretty much a circle. We simply have to learn to share the space.
The dogs-on-beaches debate can get quite heated at times, but as so often the case, with the right information it’s quite possible to find a happy medium! We don’t have to lock people out of places, and we can in fact give dogs more space, by designating off-leash areas. The big problem though, is making sure people a) know they’re there, and b) use them, instead of letting Fido out willy-nilly. And that means there needs to be some public awareness campaigns and consistent enforcement.
Development, shorebirds, and RAMSAR
Shorebirds have declined dramatically in recent years. We’ve filled their migratory journeys with roadblocks and diversions. Moreton Bay has, for most of its history, been an essential refuelling and rest stop for them, and it’s such an important one that we designated 100,000 hectares of our wetlands as RAMSAR sites and decreed they were of such “International Importance” we vowed to maintain them in their current ecological state.
And yet, as you can see, the site of the proposed Toondah development is right there in our RAMSAR area…..
One final thing – I love the way Chris is approaching the Toondah issue. By using photographs to make his case, he’s in effect giving a “voice” to the wildlife that will be affected by the development. As he mentioned in our podcast, many locals had no idea they were sharing their home with so many koalas, for example. He’s throwing a question out there with every post – “are we willing to lose this?”
Chris’s work fits into a genre of photography known as “conservation photography.” Artists create and share images of the environment, impacts or damages, in the hope of motivating people to feel for the environment and act to protect it.
Photography, as Chris said, is an activity with unexpected reward – a richer understanding of the world you’re living in. It’s a great way to build appreciation into your own relationship with Moreton Bay and make your own powerful statement. If you’d like to give it a try, here are some ideas to get you started.