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Volunteers return lesser noddy seabirds to Abrolhos Islands after once-in-a-decade storm

By Laura Meachim, Wednesday July 8, 2020 - 07:47 EST
ABC licensed image
The lesser noddy birds weigh about 100 grams and, according to research, are travelling more than 100 kilometres from the Houtman Abrolhos in search for food. - ABC licensed

A threatened species of birds has been returned to its island habitat, after a flock was blown hundreds of kilometres down West Australia's coast during severe storms in May.

The Australian lesser noddy seabird only nests on three islands at the Houtman Abrolhos, 30 kilometres off the coast of Geraldton in WA's Midwest.

A 'once-in-a-decade' storm earlier this year caused hundreds of the birds to blow to land, washing up on beaches between Perth and Albany.

Despite the efforts of the WA Seabird Rescue (WASR) many perished and only 35 made it into care.

Of those, only 18 survived to be brought back to the remote Abrolhos Islands.

Marine ecologist and seabird expert Chris Surman said he had never seen the birds end up so far from the Abrolhos.

"It is a very unique situation to have just lesser noddys showing up on the shoreline," he said.

"It has happened a couple of times in the last 20, 30 years, but not in these numbers."

Conservation critical for survival

The 18 birds were rehabilitated by volunteers from WASR.

They were driven up from Perth in the early hours of the morning and then placed on a retired cray fishing boat where they made the three-hour journey back to Paelsart Island.

Dr Surman said the island was one of the most significant seabird breeding locations in Australia, with the lesser noddy nesting in mangroves to shelter from potential threats.

"The closer you can get the birds to the source of where they know they breed or roost at night the better off the bird is going to be in the long run," he said.

"It is already a tenuous existence for seabirds.

"Globally, in the last 30 years, we've lost 60 per cent of our seabird population around the world.

"Any sort of feel-good thing to enhance the profile of these birds, they are like an iconic species for the Houtman Abrolhos, is all good."

No alternative habitat

It took six weeks of rehabilitation to ensure the birds were healthy enough and water proofed to survive in the wild.

Dr Surman said ensuring birds like the lesser noddy thrived on the Islands was of utmost importance.

"It is a critical bit of habitat. There are no other alternative habitats nearby in Western Australia for these guys to move to if they are displaced from this area," he said.

"This is now a national park, and as guardians for future generations, we should be doing the best we can to not just preserve it but conserve and encourage these birds that they have a safe place to nest going forward."


© ABC 2020

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