Broome Bird Observatory warden Kath Southwell plans to use a tiny government grant to fulfil a big ambition: convince townspeople and tourists to stop disturbing migratory birds along Roebuck Bay and destroying their vital habitat.
About 150,000 migratory birds a year begin their annual 20,000km or so round trip to the Arctic from the bay, a stunning 15km stretch of coastline fringing Broome.
The beach is a vital resting and feeding ground for about 20 species of bird, which gorge on the molluscs and fish thriving on the tidal mudflats.
Around the Yellow Sea in South Korea – another key stop-off point on their journey – much of the birds’ vital feeding grounds have been destroyed by reclamation of land and industrial development, threatening their survival.
While Broome’s coastal strip still remains relatively pristine, people using the beach are also unwittingly contributing to the demise of species.
Residents and tourists who drive 4WDs along the sand or walk their dogs off their leashes can scare off flocks of shorebirds when they should be feeding to double their weight for the long journey ahead.
Agriculture and Food Minister Terry Redman has granted almost $11,000 from the Natural Resource Management program to the observatory adjoining the bay, to help raise community awareness of the birds.
“The project aims to give people a sense of ownership of the birds and improve their understanding about how they can help protect them,” Mr Redman said.
Broome Bird Observatory warden Kath Southwell said the money, which had to stretch out over two years, would be spent wisely.
In partnership with Yawuru Aboriginal rangers, volunteers will man weekly stalls at the markets and in shopping centres to educate people about the birds’ amazing journey and encourage users to stay off the beach at high tide.
“Pretty much anyone who is on the beach is disturbing the birds, but there’s certain things you can do to minimise the disturbance… they need that time to roost and rest during the high tides,” Ms Southwell said.
“We don’t want to stop people using the beach – we want people to actually take ownership of these birds, because they’re so special.”