Community leaders and conservation groups have urgently called on State and Commonwealth Governments to suspend works on the Roe 8 Highway until legal clarity for the project can be provided and further investigations of protected and endangered wildlife in the path of the highway are undertaken.
On Monday, contractors began preliminary works for the project triggering an outcry from community leaders including ex-Premier and CCWA President Carmen Lawrence, and large community gatherings at the Cockburn Wetlands Education Centre. Legal action to halt the project is also pending, with an application to appeal to the High Court brought by community group Save Beeliar Wetlands scheduled for a preliminary hearing on December 16.
Conservation groups have raised concerns that the Environmental Management Plans for the project - released just days before the works began - have failed to identify protected migratory birds on the site and fail to secure the protection of other threatened and endangered wildlife.
Every year, migratory birds known as Rainbow Bee-eaters fly from South East Asia to nest in the ground in and around the Beeliar Wetlands over the summer months. The preliminary works could destroy their nests and chicks.
BirdLife Australia’s WA Program Manager Helen Bryant said, “These Rainbow Bee-eaters fly thousands of kilometres every year from places as far flung as Papua New Guinea to nest in Beeliar Wetlands, but this was not identified in the Fauna Management Plan for this project.
“Some of the migrant populations return to the same nesting area each year and any construction activity between now and February will inevitably result in the destruction of their nests, impacting this and future generations.”
Conservation Council of WA Director Piers Verstegen said, “The timing of this decision to commence works by the State Government is extremely concerning. We are just weeks away from a legal challenge, just months away from a State election, and right in the middle of a breeding season for endangered and protected wildlife living in the area.
“Even these preliminary works such as the installation of fencing and trapping endangered wildlife have the potential to cause a significant impact on the environment.
“While the Fauna Management Plans require relocation of endangered and threatened species such as the Southern Brown Bandicoot and Carnaby’s cockatoos, relocated animals may have a very low chance of survival.
“We are calling on the State Government to suspend works at least until legal clarity for the project can be provided and further investigations of wildlife in the path of the highway are undertaken.”
Save Beeliar Wetlands Convenor Kate Kelly said, “There is a lot of support pouring in from the local community to stop this work from happening, and to say that we do not want a major freeway through our beautiful bushlands and through our communities.
“We’re asking the Government to stop what they’re doing and allow environmental scientists into the site to monitor the Rainbow Bee-eaters and ensure they’re safe – particularly while they’re nesting over the summer months.
“Rainbow Bee-eaters are an important migratory bird and they have come all the way down from Papua New Guinea. Setting up fences will mean that we’re not able to monitor or even discover where the nests are. The Government needs to listen to the community and to the environmental scientists, and take our evidence into consideration.”
Community groups will continue to gather at the Cockburn Wetlands Education Centre every morning from 7am until 10am to show support for protecting the wetlands and stopping the Roe 8 Highway extension.