Birdman 'chat-ty' about CQ's 'untapped' ecotourism potential
AS SOMEONE who has experienced the best of ecotourism around the world, Allan Briggs holds high hopes for Central Queensland as the yellow chat capital of the world.
As founder of Capricornia Bird Life, he receives constant emails from birdwatchers travelling through the area, about where they can see the Capricorn Yellow Chat, a small perching bird native to the region.
But the Queensland Government recently declared they would develop aquaculture farms which, he said, could threaten the endangered species' habitat.
"They rely on flat, muddy coastal plains of tussock grass such as the areas outside Bajool and Marmor, at Casuarina Creek,” Mr Briggs said.
"Now the Council's talking to Singaporean investors about building a prawn farm in the area, without enough consultation as to its impact on the existing wildlife.”
Mr Briggs moved to Rockhampton in 1984 from a small town in north-east England which once relied on coal and heavy industries.
"They ran a mine three miles out under the sea, chasing a metre-thick seam of coal,” he said.
"It was completely uneconomical but they kept the mines open to provide jobs.”
Mr Briggs said the region's population suffered from the shock of mine closures but they learned to adapt to new circumstances and opportunities.
"Now the area is recognised for its natural beauty and provides a lot of work in tourism and the related service industries,” he said.
"In the long run, despite the setbacks of the mines' inevitable closure, the region is flourishing.”
Mr Briggs said his new home has much more to offer than his birthplace which has "no high mountains, no mangroves, no reef islands”.
He worked as a technical teacher at Rockhampton TAFE for 35 years, during which time he toured more of the region than many locals do.
"I've met people from Mount Morgan who boast they've never crossed the river into North Rockhampton and never intend to,” he said.
"If people don't appreciate how unique their region is, they don't value it.”
Having travelled to South America early this year, to investigate its ecotourism initiatives, Mr Briggs said local councils and the government could take a leaf out of other countries' investment in habitat.
"Colombia, which has the second highest biodiversity in the world, got rid of its drug lords in favour of tourism police who go out and check all the operators are properly educated and licensed,” he said.
"It's a huge industry which promotes university education and provides employment to thousands of jobs for locals who are passionate about the future of their country.
"They've realised they can not only live in but live off the environment, as tourism provides the funds to preserve it for future generations.”
In comparison, Mr Briggs said, what the Central Queensland region has to offer is still relatively good "but not as good as it was”, as population growth impinges on species numbers.
"We haven't moved on much from the Joh Bjelke-Petersen days, when the mantra was 'knock it down and build it up again',” he said.
"A lot of people accept the hard sell about industrial development, that it provides jobs and services, without much concern for conserving wildlife so their grandchildren can enjoy it.”
Mr Briggs began CBL, a branch of the national organisation Birdlife Australia, to do something more constructive than just going out to look at his beloved birds.
Volunteers conduct field trips once a month to survey habitat and species from Kinka wetlands by the sea to the Kroombit Tops and Epping Forest national parks out west.
Their data feeds into the national BirdData database which is called upon to provide environmental impact statements into new development proposals, such as Clive Palmer's proposed mine near Ogmore.
"We identified five species of endangered bird species which will be affected by the runoff into the nearby Styx River, which enters Broad Sound south of the Port of St Lawrence,” Mr Briggs said.
"Sadly, following the Adani decision, there is a perception that nobody will implement scientific findings, that such data will become just another piece of paper in a filing cabinet.”
In terms of implementing change closer to home, Mr Briggs said he has had more luck convincing the council and retailers in Gladstone to invest in bird-friendly suburbs.
For three years, the CBL has worked with Toondoon Botanic gardens to popularise and provide for sale native trees and shrubs which attract birds and butterflies.
CBL produced a booklet of recommended species for the recent Ecofest in Gladstone, and local businesses such as Beneraby Nursery continue to offer tubestock of those plants for sale to the public.
"These are urban friendly species; they're not going to grow into monstrous 30 metre specimens which take over your backyard,” Mr Briggs said.
"So if you want to invite the red-winged parrots, or finches, into your garden, you can go out on the weekend and buy the right kind of tree for your neighbourhood.”
Mr Briggs travelled to St Lawrence recently to talk about its wetlands with the locals, and he is a regular guest at Rotary and Lions clubs meetings.
This evening, he will share a presentation called 'Birds of Ecuador and Colombia - Hummingbirds to Hoatzin' with the Native Plants Capricornia meeting in Frenchville.
Although South America has everything on offer from the 10cm hummingbird to the condor with its three metre wingspan, which farmers used to shoot, Mr Briggs remains convinced Central Queensland has equal untapped ecotourism potential.
"From the yellow chats which live on our amazing estuaries and unspoilt coastal plains, to the iconic red-tailed black cockatoos which inhabit the inland tablelands, we have such a unique diversity to offer the world.”
Birds of Ecuador and Colombia - Hummingbirds to Hoatzin
with BirdLife Capricornia's Allan Briggs
hosted by Native Plants Capricornia
Friday 28 June 2019, 6.40 for 7.00pm