Broughton 4

TAGGED: A shearwater with a data logger attached to its leg, so that researchers can learn more about the birds’ habits. Picture: National Parks and Wildlife Serviceinto the darkness over the water – and down the cliff. For Callaghan and her colleagues know that the Gould’s petrel nests in crevices at the foot of the cliff.
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In 2009, after the pest eradication program, they heard a call from below. It was the sound of hope to Callaghan “Yes, it was amazing!”. Using a camera on a burrow scope, they saw a Gould’s petrel incubating an egg.

“We don’t know if they’re new arrivals because of the eradication program, or if they’ve been there a long time,” she says.

The ranger hopes the audio from the “love box” will entice the Gould’s petrel to come in and use the nesting boxes.

“This is just an attempt of helping them establish further,” Callaghan says. “It’s proven to work on Cabbage Tree Island [just to the south of here], so maybe Broughton Island can help expand the pairs.”

About 50 metres to the east along the precipice is another loudspeaker and a cluster of nine small boxes. This speaker plays the white-faced storm petrel’s call. Callaghan has been keenly checking the small boxes for any signs of bird life.

“So far all we’ve found is one feather, which is a promising sign,” she says. “Maybe it [the petrel] has had a sticky beak, we don’t know. It’s still a work in progress.”

“The ultimate goal is that they establish their own burrows, but hopefully this gives that a head-start.

“This is the first season, so we’ll seewhether to leave them here, or to move the boxes.”

Working near the artificial nesting boxes are Associate Professor Brian Wilson, a soil scientist from the University of New England, and Kirsten Drew, a PhD candidate studying the effects of using glyphosate herbicide on the island.

With the battle against weeds, Drewsays, the question of how the herbicide is used is “really significant in this environment”.

All these scientists and environmental officers are working together towards rehabilitating Broughton Island, including producing soil and vegetation maps.

“We’re trying to understand those links between the birds, soils and vegetation, and how that has changed the island,” says Brian Wilson.

DURING the trek back to the huts squatting along Esmeralda Cove, we deviate to scour a grassland area on the island’s eastern edge. Paul O’Keefe saw burrows the day before, and he thought they may have been created by white-faced storm petrels.

Yet after searching the slope, O’Keefe mutters, “No luck today”.

Susanne Callaghan smiles and replies, “We’ll find it.”

THE FUTURESUSANNE Callaghan’s belief that one day the petrels will return and nest on the island is driven by not just optimism but the changes she has already seen.

“Having the longevity to see the changes, it’s the best program I’ve ever been involved in,” she says. “We’ve kicked a massive goal for ecology on the island.”

Others who know and love the island have marvelled at the changes they’ve observedaround them.

“I’ve seen a real improvement in the bird life and the vegetation,” says John “Stinker” Clarke. “I’ve watched the bird life return. To me, it’s been a rebirth.”

As for the island’s future, Susanne Callaghan holds “very high” hopes. The key, she says, is finding “the balance between conservation and recreation”.

“We want people to visit the island, while meeting the needs of the unique ecosystem that it is,” Callaghan concludes.“It’s just about getting everything right.”

As we walk back through the grasslands, surrounded by a sea glistening like lapis lazuli, and looking over to the mainland so close in distance and yet so far in mood, you’re left feeling that Broughton Island and the seabirds it could help cradledeserve nothing less than getting everything right.

Ranger Susanne Callaghan




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