Biodiversity of Our Coastal Flora and Fauna

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The Burdekin Dry Tropics coastal region supports a range of locally, regionally, nationally and internationally important bird, mammal, reptile, fish, amphibian, invertebrate and plant species.

A large and diverse bird population is found in the region. The Queensland WildNet database estimates that there are approximately 437 species of birds in the region with four species classified as endangered, 11 species as vulnerable and 13 as rare. Loss and fragmentation of habitat is a major threat to the birdlife of the region.

Waters off the Burdekin Dry Tropics coast is on the Eastern Australia whale migration route, home to dugongs and three species of inshore dolphin, the irrawaddy dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris), the indo-pacific hump-backed dolphin (Sousa chinensis) (both classified as rare) and the common bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncates). Population studies and stranding reports suggest that the condition of the whales is good and is likely to be continuing the recovery process from the whaling operations that decimated their numbers ~50 years ago.

Cleveland Bay is one of only two core areas for dugong populations in the entire Great Barrier Reef. This is due in part to the extensive seagrass meadows that occur here. While the condition of dugong populations is thought to be acceptable, the rare inshore dolphins are over-represented in strandings in the region prompting concern over their conservation.

There are several terrestrial mammal species occurring in the coastal region which have been listed on the Nature Conservation Act 1992 and Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 due to concerns over the conservation of their populations. These include six species of bats, with the bare-rumped sheathtail bat listed as critically endangered. Both the mahogany glider (Petaurus gracilis) and Sharman’s rock wallaby (Petrogale sharmani) are listed as endangered and the lemuroid ringtail possum (Hemibelideus lemuroids) is listed as rare. Habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation caused by coastal development as well as road traffic are major threats to terrestrial mammals in the Burdekin Dry Tropics coastal region.

One hundred and forty-nine reptile species are found in the Burdekin Dry Tropics coastal region. This includes marine reptiles such as turtles, crocodiles and sea snakes that are found throughout the Coral Sea area with turtles also using beaches in the area to lay eggs. Eight reptile species are listed as rare, including the rusty monitor (Varanus semiremex) and robust burrowing snake (Simoselaps warro). Three reptile species are listed as vulnerable. Magnetic Island is home to its own endemic skink (Sadliers dwarf skink (Menetia sadlieri)). The status of sea snake populations is largely unknown though they are potentially threatened by trawling.

No fish in the Great Barrier Reef area associated with the Burdekin Dry Tropics region have been identified as threatened, vulnerable or endangered. However, surveys of lagoons adjacent to the Burdekin River in 2000-2003 found a severe reduction in freshwater fish species diversity (and potential productivity) resulting from a loss of estuarine connectivity. By restoring estuarine connectivity it is expected that the fisheries value of these water bodies would be significantly increased. Infestations of noxious fish (e.g. Tilapia) have occurred in the region, most notably in Ross Dam but also in Ross River, Alligator Creek, Louisa Creek, Rowes Bay drainage system, Healey Creek and the Bohle River. Coral bleaching of reefs in the area is result in local declines of coral eating fish.

There are approximately 50 species of frogs known to occur in the Burdekin Dry Tropics coastal region. The introduced cane toad (Bufo marinus) is also distributed throughout the region, threatening native frogs and other species. There are four species of frogs occurring in the coastal region that are listed as conservationally significant. These are the rare robust whistle frog (Austrochaperina robusta), the rare Mount Elliot nursery frog (Cophixalus mcdonaldi), the endangered Australian lace-lid (Nyctimystes dayi) and the endangered torrent tree frog (Litoria nannotis).

The marine waters off the Burdekin Dry Tropics coast are home to a huge diversity of invertebrate organisms. There is very little precise data available concerning species lists, distribution, conditions and threats for most marine and terrestrial invertebrate species with only the pest species receiving significant attention. This includes the crown-of-thorns seastar (COTS), which has been the focus of an AIMS long-term monitoring program. Recent surveys found that the highest numbers of COTS occurred in the mid-shelf reefs of the Townsville region and that new outbreaks have been detected in the Cape Upstart area early in 2004.

Within the Burdekin Dry Tropics coastal region, 20 species of plants are considered rare, six are considered vulnerable, and one, the endemic flowering shrub Babingtonia papillosa, is considered endangered. Other endemic species include Eucalyptus paedoglauca, also known as Mt Stuart Ironbark, which is found only on Mt Stuart, and Croton magneticus, growing on both Magnetic Island and Mt Stuart and has been classified as vulnerable. The plants of the coastal region are primarily threatened by weed invasion, land clearing and unmanaged public access.

Related information

Beach Stone-curlew © Martin Willis 2008
Beach Stone-curlew © Martin Willis 2008

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