The Richmond Birdwing (Ornithoptera richmondia), a butterfly of shimmering colours, was once common in South-East Queensland, including the Gold Coast. Urbanisation, however, has fragmented its population to the extent that it is now difficult to encounter the species.
The consequences of urbanisation are serious. Associate Professor Darryl Jones, a behavioural ecologist at Griffith University, says. “Urbanisation will be regarded as the primary cause of extinctions, more so than disease, hunting or pollution.”
The naturalist Professor Robert Pyles has written extensively on the diminishing connection between people and their immediate natural surroundings. He refers to a time when people planned their daily activities around nature. It was therefore essential to understand and respect the environment.
“One of the greatest causes of the ecological crisis is the state of personal alienation from nature in which many people live … If a species becomes extinct within our own radius of reach … it might as well be gone altogether,” writes Pyles.
This phenomenon is called the ‘extinction of experience’, and its role in conservation is underestimated. Some species, like the Richmond Birdwing, have slipped away relatively unnoticed. If more of us had better understood the dynamics of our immediate natural surroundings, could we have prevented the butterfly’s decline?
Although the Gold Coast region has several species in decline, there are indications that citizens are challenging the ‘extinction of experience’ phenomenon.
The Glossy Black Conservancy, a not for profit consortium that seeks to increase awareness, promotes a collaborative conservation management approach for Glossy Black-Cockatoos (Calyptorhynchus lathami) through partnership between government, private enterprise, researchers and the wider community.
The Gold Coast region is an important stronghold for the bird, which in Queensland and New South Wales is classified as ‘vulnerable’. You will most likely find one feeding quietly on seeds in a she-oak (Allocasuarina and Casuarina species), their primary source of nutrition. They’re not typically raucous like other cockatoo species, and one of the best ways to detect them is to look for ‘orts’, the discarded, chewed cones that end up on the ground under a she-oak.
Recent October citizen science events like the Glossy Black Conservancy’s Glossy Black-Cockatoo Birding Day, BirdLife Australia’s Aussie Backyard Bird Count, and Birds Queensland’s Twitchathon promote and play a role in the same ideal. The data they generate help to quantify changes to biodiversity and to identify species under threat.
The collective voice of an informed group of citizens can make a difference too. Birds Queensland, for example, has a long and successful history of conservation initiatives.
Mike West, a former president of the Birds Queensland recently used an example of a lake habitat near the Port of Brisbane that was earmarked for development to show how simple it can be sometimes to save important habitat and species.
“The government had already decided to give it the ‘okay’ and we swung them around without any fanfare… we convinced them that it wasn’t such a good idea”
Above all, reconnecting citizens with nature, via membership with specialist organisations or participation in events, raises awareness and fosters an appreciation of conservation issues surrounding all manner of plants and animals.
Image: Glossy Black Cockatoo, courtesy Guy Castley