From Maple Street Coop News, April/May 2005 issue
Published by Maple Street Co-op, 37 Maple Street, Maleny Qld 4552
Tel 5494 2088, email firstname.lastname@example.org
The State of our Platypus and Obi Obi Creek
by Ruth Parnell
Maleny resident, zoologist and conservationist Dr Les Hall has been in the limelight again lately. And it's all because of his survey of platypus burrows in the banks of the Obi Obi Creek, adjacent to Cornerstone's proposed construction site for a Woolworths supermarket.
In the last few months there's been much legal to-ing and fro-ing over Cornerstone's solicitor's letter of 2 December to Dr Hall in which it claimed the company had photos of him allegedly "trespassing" on the 2-4 Bunya Street site. Surely his checking of burrow entrances at the water's edge was more "bottom of bank" and well outside any "trespass" zone. Bound up in the debate are arguments about the "top of bank", the powers of the state Water Act and the let-down by the Planning & Environment Court in its decision on 14 September last year in favour of Cornerstone. A copy of the original letter, "threatening" legal action should Dr Hall return to the site, is now in the hands of Attorney-General Rod Welford, who was very interested to note Cornerstone's position, Les said.
To cut a long story short, Cornerstone finally took up Les Hall's offer and met with him in on 4 February. Les told the company that the creek bank adjacent to the site has the highest platypus population density compared with any other part of the creek. He said that in his survey he counted an average of one burrow every three metres; some of these were old, some collapsed, but many others along the bank were fresh and in use and some were obviously occupied by mothers and their young. He cautioned Cornerstone that with the end of the platypus breeding season by late March, this didn't mean the platypus colonies would not be affected should the company begin construction above their homes in the ensuing months. After all, platypuses live there in their burrows all year round.
"There's a possibility that because of the soil type, these burrows could go up to 30 metres up under the bank," said Les in a recent interview. "I told Cornerstone where they are and said there are ways to minimise killing platypuses, but I don't know who's going to check if they're doing this."
He suggested that should work on the foundations proceed (the worst-case scenario in the view of so many Maleny locals), the builders would need to dig test holes down to one metre; if they didn't find a burrow, they could be reasonably sure they weren't encroaching on one - yet "there are still burrows that twist and turn". To track every burrow would require the use of sophisticated ground-penetrating radar scanning devices, and Les doubts that Cornerstone has the environmental resolve to go to such lengths to protect these platypus colonies.
He noted that even Dr Frank Carrick, the Queensland University biologist who previously advised Cornerstone on the state of the platypus near the site, once queried the developer as to how it could ever have been given permission in the first place to build on the site. However, he did say to Les that he'd make the best case he could for the platypus and their protection, given that Cornerstone has all the required permits, but it was a bit late: any move to protect the platypus should have been made earlier.
"No matter what happens, whatever the developers' protections, they will still destroy the platypus burrowing area along the creek bank," Les warned.
Implications from the platypus survey
During his survey Dr Hall discovered how unstable the creek bank is. The bamboo and privet along part of the bank may be non-native "rubbish" vegetation, but they're "doing an important job of maintaining the lower bank". "If removed all at once, there would be a lot of erosion and this would wash away much of the bank," he explained. "The builders would then have to put in a rock wall, and they would need to be really careful about what they do with this area as that's where there are active burrows." A comparison with the rock wall adjoining the Riverside Centre across the creek did not escape his attention.
From his survey, Les knows that the platypuses are content in their habitat. "If they had to find new homes, other places might be full or unsuitable, so it's totally silly to say platypuses will go somewhere else if you wreck that creek bank. They do move up and down the creek, but if you take the local ones away, there are going to be fewer and fewer platypuses."
"Having platypuses in the creek tells you about the health of the environment", Les commented. The fact that he and other people have observed a mother and two young is "a really good indication that they're happy with that part of the creek".
Indeed, many years ago Les and a colleague were the first scientists to describe what a newly hatched platypus looks like. Since then, Les has been called on to conduct platypus surveys in several locations in southeast Queensland and to serve as an expert witness in environmental courts, so he knows what he's talking about.
"There are many places in Australia that would love to have platypus close by in the middle of town," he noted. "I don't think Maleny makes enough about its platypus. There should be an information board near the library for interested visitors."
Reflecting on his findings, Les said: "It's up to the Council as well to work out how they're going to preserve that part of the creek bank. They need a few platypus biologists and landscapers working together to decide how to do it; they need to work in small segments, replacing the vegetation with native species." He's about to take these suggestions to Caloundra City Council, and has already provided information on where the burrow entrances are situated.
Les is disappointed in many of the bureaucrats in environment departments at local, state and federal levels who "often don't have adequate knowledge or training to understand the environment", and is astonished that Qld Parks & Wildlife couldn't have given more support to the platypus; it seems they've "let the developers off the hook".
"These sort of developers like to go in and bulldoze everything. I can't see that creek bank being saved," he predicted. And if Cornerstone's site manager gives the go-ahead to remove the "junk" vegetation, he said this would "interfere with the integrity of the creek and block off food for the platypus".
The health of our water catchment
Dr Les Hall takes an expansive view of the entire Obi Obi catchment region and beyond.
Close to home, it's imperative that the springs that feed Obi Obi Creek and other waterways be protected, but he has fears for the integrity of those springs located within areas of residential encroachment, let alone those in zones earmarked for housing estates and golf courses both in Maleny and Montville.
The water table sensitivity in our region is more critical than in other areas because we have a unique geomorphology with basalt overlaying sandstone, and to rely on it for watering golf course fairways would be a big mistake. "It won't work," Les said. "The aquifer will dry up."
As for effluent disposal, he's concerned that "Council is not particularly worried about it". On some days from his property, not far from the sewage treatment plant, he can see the sprinklers seize up and spray treated effluent straight into Obi Obi Creek without being filtered through the ground. However, Les welcomes Caloundra City Council's plans to adopt an Integrated Sustainable Water Management Plan with "sensible and modern ideas".
In his submission to the state government's Office of Urban Management on the Draft SEQ Regional Plan, Les pointed out that we have a special water catchment area here and it needs to be designated and managed as such. The Maleny plateau has "the highest rainfall in the catchment, and everyone up here should be on tank water; we really seem to be dragging the chain", he said, noting that this is also a concern for our Council.
And while Les regards vegetation management and soil health along with erosion and landslip problems as major concerns for the Maleny plateau, he says people need to think about water more seriously because it will be the limiting factor for all our activities. But if we look after these three things, the wildlife will come back in force.
Environmental pluses and minuses
Les said we're fortunate that we still do have amazing wildlife. In fact, this entire region is a "biodiversity hotspot". On his 1.5 ha block near Gardner's Falls, Les has 130 species of birds, 11 species of bats and over 20 species of butterflies as well as platypus and echidna. "That's what makes it so nice." But he put out a caution: "If we don't want it, we'll lose it all."
We should be working towards having more wildlife in our region and town and making it an even better place to live. He said we're lucky to see scissor grinders nesting under the IGA's street awning, pink robins and black cockatoos in Tesch Park and the occasional grey goshawk (a threatened species) flying around town, but we should also be seeing golden whistlers in our gardens.
According to Les: "It's about time developers started to get a better perspective on our environment and communities. They have the capability of destroying the environment. It's an attitudinal thing; they don't see past the big bucks. But they need to look at other problems in town."
He reiterated that the last thing we need is a supermarket carpark beside the creek, washing petroleum products and all sorts of detritus into the waterway.
Citing the example of the banks of Nambour's Petrie Creek where a supermarket is located, Les lamented: "It's an absolute disgrace.; there are no more platypus colonies there. They have totally trashed the creek. It's full of plastic, cartons, cigarette butts and shopping trolleys. There are no checks on what gets washed into the creek. You wouldn't want to swim in it, fish in it or drink the water."
We don't want that in Maleny, now, do we?
Yet Les was pleased to say that considering the fact that Obi Obi Creek flows through the middle of Maleny, it's surprising how healthy it is. He praised Barung Landcare for its work in revegetating the banks further up the creek, acknowledged that farmers are finally appreciating that they have to protect their creek banks, and congratulated the original Platypus Group for raising community awareness about the plight of the platypus.
"A lot of things seem to be going well for the creek. It's still reasonably intact," Les said.
In the waterway down towards Gardner's Falls there's abundant creek life including platypus, three species of crayfish, eels, fish and over a dozen species of dragonfly. Somehow the wildlife can withstand some degree of human interaction.
"I think it's great that people can enjoy a natural situation right close to town," Les added, "but you can't expect that to last if you don't look after it."
In my conversation with Dr Les Hall, I learned much about the platypus. For instance, it spends more time in REM sleep than we do, and it may stay in its burrow for two to three days at a time. That's some platypus dreaming!
Les said that very good research is now coming out, confirming that the platypus is a highly specialised and sensitive creature. If we're going to learn more about it, we certainly need to preserve it in its habitat.
"There's no other town like Maleny for the platypus," said Les.
And that's even more reason to do what we can to protect this unique, beautiful monotreme that's become an icon for Maleny.
From Maple Street Co-op News,
April/May 2005 issue
Published by Maple Street Co-op,
37 Maple Street, Maleny, Qld 4552,
tel 07 5494 2088, email email@example.com
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