Trialling foreshore off-leash dog areas to reduce disturbance to migratory shorebirds

Moreton Bay supports about 35,000 migratory shorebirds, making this Ramsar wetland one of the most important habitats for these birds in Australia. Shorebirds face many threats during their migrations, and while in Australia they frequently suffer disturbance from off-leash dogs, particularly while feeding on the intertidal flats. Repeated disturbance of shorebirds while foraging reduces their energy intake, and increases their energy expenditure every time they take flight. This is particularly problematic just before and just after migration when individuals need to prepare for or recover from long-distance migratory journeys to and from breeding areas in the northern hemisphere.

Off-leash dogs are forbidden outside specially designated areas in Brisbane, yet this rule is often ignored and unenforced on the foreshore, leaving migratory shorebirds vulnerable to disturbance.

CBCS collaborates for shorebirds

To reduce disturbance to shorebirds from off-leash dogs, Brisbane City Council in cooperation with The Univeristy of Queensland/CBCS and the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, implemented a one-year trial of three foreshore dog off-leash areas along its coastline. While the idea of allowing off-leash dogs to reduce disturbance may seem counterintuitive, the trial is based on UQ-CBCS research (Stigner et al. 2016) that shows that by allowing off-leash dogs in a small number of foreshore areas, total disturbance to shorebirds can be reduced while also providing recreational opportunities for the Brisbane community.

UQ-CBCS is currently undertaking a third season of monitoring shorebirds and on- and off-leash dogs to provide necessary data to make an evidence-based assessment of the success of the trial.

Of course, off-leash dogs do not only impact shorebirds, but also other wildlife and human user groups. As evidenced by the history of the Moreton Bay Marine Park, simply designating areas as on- or off-leash without consistent and regular enforcement is unlikely to lead to the needed behaviour change. All of these factors will need to be considered when evaluating the ultimate success or failure of the trial.

Reference

Stigner MG, Beyer HL, Klein CJ & Fuller RA (2016) Reconciling recreational use and conservation values in a coastal protected area. Journal of Applied Ecology, 53, 1206–1214.

Photo: Micha Jackson

Project members

Dr Bradley Woodworth

Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation Science
Associate Professor Richard Fuller

Professor Richard Fuller

ARC Future Fellow
School of Biological Sciences