Nambucca Heads to Urunga Pacific Highway Upgrade
Sandpiper Ecological fulfilled the role of Project Ecologist on the $780 million, Nambucca Heads to Urunga Pacific Highway Upgrade (NH2U). The project involved constructing 22km of dual carriageway between Nambucca Heads and Urunga on the mid-north coast of NSW and is due to be opened in 2016.
In our role as Project Ecologist, Sandpiper staff provided advice on application of the Ecological Monitoring Program and several threatened species management strategies, assessed bridges and culverts for microbats, installed and monitored nest boxes, conducted pre-clearing surveys, supervised the removal of hollow-bearing trees, captured and relocated fauna during clearing, provided advice on the design of vegetated medians and fauna underpasses, and conducted baseline (construction phase) fauna underpass monitoring.
The NH2U project is situated within the NSW North Coast bioregion and provided a number of fauna management challenges. To ensure effective fauna management, the Sandpiper team conducted nightly spotlight surveys for koala and threatened gliders, daily pre-clear inspections prior to clearing and provided spotter-catcher services during removal of habitat trees.
To ensure compliance with various management strategies and conditions of approval the project required regular liaison between the Project Ecologist (Dr David Rohweder), Environmental Manager, RMS representatives, project engineers and foremen. Sandpiper has worked on the project from 2013 to 2016.
Pacific Highway Upgrade Operational Phase Monitoring
Sandpiper Ecological has successfully completed operational phase fauna mitigation monitoring at a number of Pacific Highway upgrade sections, including Glenugie, Bonville, Sapphire to Woolgoolga (S2W) and Coopernook to Heron Creek (C2HC). As well as advising on application of the Ecological Monitoring Program, Sandpiper staff developed adaptive methodologies to achieve monitoring requirements.
A recent example of this on the S2W project was the development of a successful camera-based method for monitoring under-road pipe crossings targeting the nationally endangered giant barred frog (Mixophyes iteratus). The 1050mm diameter pipe crossings were part of a mitigation package designed to connect upstream and downstream populations breached by the road upgrade and were the first of their type used in Australia targeting giant barred frogs.
The method adopted was successful in recording use of the under-road pipes by giant barred frog and another 30 vertebrate species. Such results provided new insights on the efficacy of small pipes as a habitat connectivity structure. Other monitoring components include radio-tracking and mark-recapture studies on gliders, nest box inspections, population monitoring of threatened frogs, remote camera monitoring of rope bridges and underpasses.
Woolgoolga to Ballina Threatened Glider Baseline Surveys
Sandpiper was contracted in early 2014 to conduct targeted and baseline surveys for threatened gliders across the Woolgoolga to Ballina (W2B) Pacific Highway Upgrade. The aim of the surveys was to refine the location of arboreal crossing structures and to establish baseline monitoring sites with which to assess population responses to the W2B upgrade.
Dr Brendan Taylor led targeted surveys in Sections 3-11 during early 2014 and presented the results in a workshop to RMS and OEH staff. Informed by these survey data, the collaborative workshop resolved the positioning of arboreal crossing structures across the project alignment and prioritised sites for baseline population surveys. The Sandpiper team then completed baseline surveys of priority sites in Section 1 and 2 during 2014/15 and Sections 3-11 during 2015/16. Baseline monitoring required the establishment of impact, control and reference sites resulting in a total of 76 survey transects across Sections 1-11. The pre-construction data generated by these surveys will be used to compare with operational phase surveys due to be undertaken after completion of construction.
Baseline shorebird surveys – North Creek Dredging Program
In summer 2016 Sandpiper Ecological conducted baseline population surveys for migratory and resident shorebirds in the Richmond River Estuary. The aim of these surveys was to determine the proportion of the local shorebird community that relies on roost and foraging areas in North Creek, a major tributary of the Richmond River.
Surveys conducted by Dr David Rohweder and Mr Nick Priest involved high tide sampling of roosts, low tide surveys of key foraging areas, observations of feeding rates by a sub-set of species at key sites and detailed observation of target species distribution at key sites during the low tide period. These data were used to calculate a population estimate, determine the proportion of the local community using habitats in North Creek during high and low tide, assess the value of intertidal areas to shorebirds and map the distribution of shorebirds on intertidal areas during the low tide period. The Sandpiper team worked closely with the lead contractor to develop GIS maps of feeding distribution of several threatened shorebirds. Data were used to determine the value of shorebird habitat in North Creek and undertake a preliminary assessment of impacts.
Bolivia Hill Upgrade targeted fauna survey and impact assessment
Sandpiper Ecological was contracted to undertake a targeted fauna survey for the proposed upgrade of Bolivia Hill on the New England Highway. The Sandpiper team conducted targeted surveys for state and federally listed threatened and migratory birds, mammals, frogs and reptiles. Species/groups targeted included woodland birds, little eagle, masked owl, spotted-tailed quoll, microbats, border thick-tailed gecko and tusked frog. Other tasks included hollow tree survey and habitat assessment.
Surveys were conducted in summer 2015 and the data collected used to assess the conservation value of habitats in the study area and assess the impact of the project on fauna. Mitigating impacts was challenging due to the presence of resident spotted-tailed quoll and several threatened species of woodland bird.
Targeted surveys for spotted-tailed quoll
The Sandpiper team has undertaken several targeted surveys for the endangered spotted-tailed quoll. Surveys were conducted as part of environmental impact assessment, to satisfy conditions of approval for major infrastructure projects, and also confirm population status prior to implementing management actions. On each of these projects the Sandpiper team has worked closely with our clients to ensure surveys satisfied project objectives.
Passive Infrared cameras combined with bait stations have been used to sample quolls at several areas in northern NSW with sample areas ranging in size from 700 to 3,500ha. Spotted-tailed quolls have been confirmed during three of our recent targeted surveys and the data collected has been used to refine mitigation measures, and confirm use of fauna underpasses and species presence. Targeted quoll surveys have provided our team with further knowledge of this elusive species and experience implementing large-scale surveys.
Queensland Curtis LNG project – targeted bird surveys and monitoring
Sandpiper Ecological was contracted by Queensland Gas Company to undertake terrestrial and wetland bird surveys for a proposed liquefied natural gas plant on Curtis Island, Gladstone. Throughout the project Sandpiper worked closely with contract partners and our client to keep them informed on issues of concern and potential impact mitigation. Sandpiper staff were involved in the project from the early planning phase in 2008 to the operational phase in 2016.
During this period Sandpiper Ecological was responsible for baseline avifauna surveys, targeted surveys for powerful owl and migratory shorebirds, collation and analysis of historical shorebird count data, impact assessment and mitigation, baseline shorebird population surveys in Port Curtis, and monitoring migratory shorebirds during northern and southern migration. Survey methods included: area search, roost and feeding area surveys, call playback, dusk census, habitat assessment, hollow tree assessments and fauna features traverse. Over 140 species of bird were recorded, including four threatened and 28 migratory species listed on state and commonwealth legislation. The impact of the proposal on birds was assessed in accordance with state and federal legislation and subsequently targeted surveys were conducted for powerful owl and migratory shorebirds to potential impacts on those species.