Gary Dunnett, Executive Officer, National Parks Association of NSW

I recently spent some enjoyable hours at one of my favourite birding and photography sites, Merries Reef. It is the large rock platform at the end of the long sweep of beaches that begins at Cronulla. Merries Reef is part of the Boat Harbour Aquatic Reserve and is recognised as an internationally significant site for waders, shorebirds and seabirds.

It is a site where you usually see lots of migratory species. Over autumn the diversity goes up as small flocks stop for a feed on their journey northwards. My latest visit was right at the end of the season, and the only remaining migrants were Double Banded Plovers (a winter visitor from New Zealand) and Ruddy Turnstones.

The turnstones were living up to their name, using stout chisel shaped bills to prise limpets off the reef. The birds were extracting a limpet from its shell every minute or so, an encouraging sign that the birds were taking on enough fuel for their long flight across the equator.

Ruddy Turnstones breed in the tundra landscapes of the northern hemisphere, fly south for a second summer before heading north to start the cycle all over again. The high metabolic cost of those flights is offset by year-round access to coastal habitats at the peak of their annual productivity. It is a successful strategy, but one that depends on the condition of habitats at every stage along the long flights. Migratory species demand our acknowledgement that conservation is a truly global undertaking.

Most of my career has been spent in park management, working to maintain the condition of conservation reserves in and around Sydney. It was certainly a worthwhile effort, but I always felt a niggle of dissatisfaction that so much focused on the local patches meant that I was at risk of losing sight of the bigger picture. Working with migratory species was one of the ‘hooks’ that helped me to maintain a broader outlook.

One of the joys of moving to the executive officer role at NPA has been finding out the depth of our conservation advocacy across NSW and beyond. The 50 Parks, Great Koala National Park, Forests for All and Reclaim Kosci campaigns have all had impacts at the bioregional and state-wide scale. I always knew that NPA members have a deep knowledge of, and connection to, the natural heritage and landscapes of NSW- this was abundantly clear every time I looked at the submissions on plans of management. What I didn’t realise was how actively that knowledge and connection translated into different levels of conservation advocacy. It is a true pleasure to find myself in an organisation that has so effectively adopted the principle of ‘think global, act local’.


Nature NSW Online  – Winter 2019

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