Sydney dog owners' beach act threatens critically endangered species

After years of campaigning, a solution could finally be in the works.

Sydney dog owners have been repeatedly busted for allowing their animals to run free on a sandbar that’s home to shorebird species facing extinction.

Eastern curlews are federally listed as critically endangered, and they also receive further international protection as a migratory species that’s declined in numbers by 80 per cent in 30 years. Every year, as coastal habitat in Alaska and Siberia begins to chill, the birds fly over 10,000km to Australia’s warm summer feeding grounds.

Overseas, efforts to protect them are improving. But unfortunately, Aussies haven’t been doing their part to protect them in the Sutherland Shire — a once pristine area locals lovingly refer to as “God’s country”.

Dog owners have been pictured allowing their animals to run off-leash at Deeban Spit. Source: Supplied
Dog owners have been pictured allowing their animals to run off-leash at Deeban Spit. Source: Supplied

Social media making problem worse

Local environment campaigner Julie Keating said dog owners come from all over Sydney to run their dogs on the beach at Deeban Spit, Port Hacking, entering by both land and sea. “Social media has made things worse because people take photos of their dogs on this lovely beach,” she said.

But there’s one woman in particular who continues to frustrate Julie the most. “She just takes her staffy all around the feeding flats and the birds scatter in front of her,” she said. “She does that every day.”

Images and video collected by Julie over the last few years highlight the problems. They show:

  • Dogs running off-leash along the protected sandy strip

  • Eastern curlews fighting after being disturbed

  • The birds scared by walkers, boats and kayaks

A woman walking her dog off-leash on Deeban Spit.
Julie has called on Sutherland Shire Council to erect signs warning dog owners about the eastern curlews. Source: Supplied

Is Australia dropping the ball?

Eastern curlews in Australia are protected under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC) which is designed to stop significant harm to endangered species. The Act requires landholders who are aware of conduct that contravenes its protection to take reasonable action when they are in a position to do so.

An image of eastern curlews. It says: Click her to learn more about a planned development on eastern curlew habitat
Source: Flyaways

Why hasn’t anything been done to protect the birds?

The tidal flats around Deeban Spit, where 14 eastern curlews are currently foraging, fall under a complicated patchwork of jurisdictions.

To the northwest, land is managed by Sutherland Shire Council, east it’s Crown Land (NSW Department of Planning and Environment), and further south is the Royal National Park (National Parks and Wildlife Service).

Under state law, dog owners are responsible for the behaviour of their animals at all times, whether they are attached to a leash or not. When dogs run through the eastern curlew colonies, birds fly away and land in each others’ territory, causing savage fights. At least two birds have been euthanised because of the injuries they sustained.

A map of Deeban Spit shows how complicated its management is. Source: DPE
A map of Deeban Spit shows how complicated its management is. Source: DPE

Authorities agree to install signage to protect curlews

Despite the growing concern for the eastern curlews’ welfare, repeated calls from Julie to install signage have been ignored. Until now.

On Thursday, after the Department of Environment was contacted by Yahoo, it committed to working with the other landholders around the site to install signage.

“Crown Lands will liaise with Sutherland Shire Council and the National Parks and Wildlife Service on the joint management of this area of waterway, reserve land and sandspit and to discuss the provision of potential signage at appropriate locations,” it said in a statement.

An injured eastern curlew with a bandage around its wing.
Several curlews have been injured after they were disturbed. Source: Supplied

Sutherland Shire Council revealed it has been working on a plan for several weeks to install temporary signage at Deeban Spit and nearby Constable Point in “coming weeks”, warning pet owners that dogs are “prohibited”. It then plans to erect permanent signs in the area to reinforce this message.

It said it has issued dozens of fines in the area to dog owners “for a range of offences” and patrols have been increased after complaints from a local resident.

“Council recognises that Eastern Curlews are a vulnerable species and is mindful of our role in minimising any disturbance to their activity and habitat within the Sutherland Shire,” it said.

With more eastern curlews set to migrate to Deeban Spit in the coming days, Julie has welcomed plans to install signage on land. She is now planning to focus on getting warnings placed around the coast, so those entering the area by boat are aware of its sensitivity.

Do you have a story tip? Email:

You can also follow us on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Twitter and download the Yahoo News app from the App Store or Google Play.