Posted: October 24, 2011 by kayisin1122 in Rural Events
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Competition for coastal property is fierce on Victoria’s Phillip Island. The island is not only the destination of an increasing number of seachangers, but for thousands of migratory shearwaters that in the warmer months also call the island home.

Flanked by the promontories of Pyramid Rock and Cape Woolamai are Phillip Island’s south coast settlements such as Surf Beach, where seachangers relocate for a more relaxed lifestyle. Properties with a mere glimpse of the moody waters of Bass Strait are significantly more valuable at Surf Beach, so homes are built close to the shore – not as close however as those of the shearwaters.

Short tailed shearwaters or mutton birds, occupy the prime cliff top real estate at Surf Beach, nesting and breeding over spring and summer in the sandy cliffs between the housing settlement and the sea. Land is in demand, and the needs of humans and wildlife don’t always coincide.

Shearwaters and seachangers in the main cohabit peacefully, but conservationists warn against complacency. Shearwater numbers are large, but habitat is threatened by development, and birds are killed each season by increased traffic and animals of prey.

Housing development encroaching on rookery

Surf Beach Coastcare co-ordinator Rob Scalzo says “more people put more pressure on the natural environment” and cats and dogs are a major threat to shearwaters. Geoff Camplin who has lived on the Esplanade for a decade, disagrees. He says dogs are a “big part of the Surf Beach community” and that dog owners are the most “native animal conscious group”.

Some locals want further protection for shearwaters and their habitat. Others believe human needs should be prioritised. All accept that a remarkable feat of nature plays out on their doorstep each year, as thousands of shearwaters mass in Bass Strait in preparation for landing.

The journey of these shearwaters, also known as “moon birds”, is legendary. They travel 16 000 km each year from the Aleutian Islands near Alaska. Not only do they arrive on the same day (24th September), but each bird returns to the same burrow it vacated the previous autumn.

Rob Scalzo thinks “the majority of locals are very ignorant about native wildlife, especially shearwaters. The truth is most people don’t care”. According to Geoff Camplin, any loss of the birds’ “natural migratory nesting place” will be the fault of bureaucrats and “too many by-laws vigilantes”.

Rob Scalzo inspecting eroded shearwater habitat

For the moment at least, Surf Beach seachangers continue to experience a marvel of nature each summer evening, as the mythical moon birds fly in en masse to the safety of their burrows. By April they will be gone, and their human neighbours will be custodians of their rookeries until their return.

It is the desire of all that rivalry over property rights will not threaten the harmony between seachangers and shearwaters at Surf Beach, and that peaceful coexistence will be the future for this, their island home.

Video of shearwaters’ nightly arrival on Victoria’s coast:-

Kay S. Nair.


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