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Crabs have gone from a four-wheel-drive beach


18 August 2009
A Southern Cross University study has found there has been significant impact on ghost crabs living in the sand on a beach where four-wheel drive vehicles are allowed.

Master of Environmental Science student Patrick Scott has discovered that on South Ballina Beach, where four-wheel-drives have free access, there are no signs of beach crab activity.

By comparison, Patrick found that on a beach in the Bundjalung National Park, where four-wheel-drives are not allowed, the beach teemed with life, including hundreds of ghost crabs, which live in tiny holes in the sand.

The project was sponsored by the NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change,Parks and Wildlife Group.

“I closely monitored a three-kilometre stretch of the 27-kilometre-long South Ballina Beach and was not able to find any evidence of ghost crabs. In fact, the typical shore birds and other critters one would expect on a sandy beach were also not observed during the research period,” Patrick said.

“During my survey, I observed a few vehicles travelling at speeds in excess of the 30 km/h limit. I also witnessed a four-wheel-drive vehicle attempting to leave the beach via the designated access, getting bogged, churning up the sand, only to give up, reverse and take off to another access leaving large scars in the soft sand.

“From an environmental point of view, it was quite a disturbing experience.

“By contrast, when I monitored a pristine beach in the Bundjalung National Park, I counted in excess of 300 ghost crab holes over a 1.5 kilometre stretch. I also was able to observe the endangered pied oyster catcher, which has been recorded to sometimes feed on the tiny crabs, most of which are less than two centimetres in diameter.”

Patrick and other Southern Cross University researchers will present their findings at the biennial Northern Rivers Conference on Ecological Restoration and Monitoring (NORCERM 2009) to be held at the Byron Bay Community Centre on August 28.

Guest speakers include Dr Richard Gates, who will speak about 'Lagoons, Weeds, Effluent, Aerodromes and The Human Condition - Tales from the Deep North'.

The main part of the conference will be presentations by final-year students from the School of Environmental Science and Management at Southern Cross University. They will talk about the work they have been doing with various industry partners from the region and beyond.

Topics include:

Assessing habitat condition of the Bangalow Park ‘wetland’; The effectiveness of ‘Biochar’ in optimising plant growth; Rehabilitation of acid mine drainage-affected (AMD) sites; Land use restoration by coastal councils; Monitoring biodiversity on rocky shores; Catchment connections: how does the Wilson’s River community connect to country?; Indicators of ecological health in remnant bushland in plantations; Conservation options for non-listed rare crayfish; Progress to repair: Salty Lagoon; Effects of 4-wheel-drives on beach biota; Baseline water and sediment assessment in an urban drainage scheme; Environmental Indicators as monitoring timelines for State of the Environment (SOE) Reporting; The use of saline contaminated lands for marine fish farming; Monitoring bush regeneration in Byron Shire; Testing bitou removal monitoring protocols at Hat Head.

For more information about the conference please contact The School of Environmental Science and Management on 02 6620 3650 or email [email protected] or [email protected].

To interview Patrick Scott or any other researchers, contact Zoe Satherley, Southern Cross University media officer, 6620 3144, 0439 132 095.

Photo: SCU researcher Patrick Scott has done a study on the number of ghost crabs found on a four-wheel-drive access beach.