Summer 2017/18 – a wrap of nature’s peak season in South East NSW

A Spotted Harrier, more common in western NSW was spotted at Candelo during the summer of 2017/18. Photo: Leo Berzins.
A Spotted Harrier, more common in western NSW was spotted at Candelo during the summer of 2017/18. Photo: Leo Berzins.

Summer is nature’s peak season in South East NSW. Fauna and flora look to those warm rays from the sun to flourish and keep their species going.

Survival of the fittest means something new in these days of rapid environmental change; creatures of feather, fur, and fin are responding differently to those influences, and it’s often something that can be witnessed first hand.

With the first licks of winter being felt at dawn and dusk, a report card on the summer of 2017/18 was released by those observing the local environment at close quarters.

Sham Eichmann, is the Acting Manager of the Batemans Marine Park, for the NSW Department of Primary Industries. She says the long-spined sea urchin (Centrostephanus rogersii) has been one to watch over summer as the impacts of sea urchin barrens become more widely noticed within the Batemans Marine Park.

“Long-spined sea urchins are a native species on the east coast of Australia,” Ms Eichmann says.

“Small barren areas are part of the natural marine ecosystem and have been found to provide benefits to smaller cryptic fish species. Not all barren areas can be considered ‘bad’ for the marine environment.

“There is concern that the barrens are expanding more rapidly and are detrimentally impacting a range of social, economic, and environmental values within the marine park.

“The scale of this change and its causes are unknown,” Ms Eichmann says.

Long Spined Sea Urchins and the barrens that create are being studied in the Batemans Marine Park. Photo: DPI.
Long Spined Sea Urchins and the barrens that create are being studied in the Batemans Marine Park. Photo: DPI.

For the time, the Department of Primary Industries is asking that people don’t take matters into their own hands and begin killing urchins.

Many species of sea urchins inhabit local waters including red, green, and slate pencil urchins, which play an important role in the biodiversity of reef systems.

In NSW a bag limit of 10 sea urchins applies to all species, and urchins can only be taken by hand. Hammers, mattocks, chisels, small spades, and screwdrivers must not be used to kill sea urchins.

Sanctuary zones within the Batemans Marine Park are no-go areas for urchin collection. Download the Fish Smart App to learn all the rules of fishing within the park.

Ms Eichmann says urchin barrens will continue to be studied by the Department and university researchers.

Shark Bay to the south of Broulee Island. Photo: DPI.
Shark Bay to the south of Broulee Island. Photo: DPI.

The other feature of the local summer just gone was a combination of king tides and very hot temperatures, which led to a fish kill at Shark Bay, Broulee over the Australia Day long weekend as temperatures spiked towards 40 degrees.

“Marine Park staff attended the site and determined the fish kill was due to a pulse of nutrients into the system,” Ms Eichmann says.

In the lead-up, big swells had washed a large amount of seaweed on to the beach and into rock pools, the fatal rush of nutrients flowed into the system as the overwhelming amount of seaweed started to break down in the extreme heat.

On the flip side, summer saw some good fish catches according to the Marine Park’s Acting Manager.

“Particularly Jewfish in the Clyde River, and DPI is investigating claims that Jewfish numbers are increasing within the Marine Park,” Ms Eichmann says.

Little Terns at Mogareeka, near Tathra. Photo: Leo Berzins
Little Terns at Mogareeka, near Tathra. Photo: Leo Berzins

Bird movements also point to the changing seasons. As I sit here tapping away, Gang Gang Cockatoos are settling into the bush outside, the birds move down from the high country each autumn ahead of the approaching cold.

Far South Coast Birdwatchers meet regularly in different locations to spy on and track bird activity in the region. Twitcher Leo Berzins says the past summer has not been a good one for beach-nesting birds.

“There are currently ten breeding pairs of Hooded Plovers in the Bega Valley Shire. These birds are critically endangered in NSW,” he says.

“Unfortunately, only one chick made it all the way through to fledging this summer.

“It takes five weeks from hatching through to fledging, predators include foxes, ravens, gulls, and goannas and on some beaches, domestic dogs are also a threat,” he says.

Pied Oystercatchers raised at least ten fledglings in 17/18, including this one at Mogereeka. Photo: Leo Berzins.
Pied Oystercatchers raised at least ten fledglings in 17/18, including this one at Mogereeka. Photo: Leo Berzins.

Pied Oystercatchers fared somewhat better with at least ten fledglings, including one at busy Short Point in Merimbula. These birds are listed as Endangered in NSW.

“Another endangered bird that nests on beaches in our region is the Little Tern,” Mr Berzins explains.

These birds arrive in late October to establish breeding colonies before departing in early February.

“The most reliable nesting location is at Mogareeka, near the Bega River mouth. Another location used this summer was Bird Island in Lake Wallagoot, where some thirty nests were established before being decimated by gulls,” Mr Berzins says.

Following the loss of this colony, many of the birds seemed to move up to Mogareeka to nest again.

“Only ten or so chicks made it through to fledging, well down on recent years. The main threats were again foxes, gulls, and ravens,” he says.

A Red-Capped Plover, raising young at Tathra in the summer of 17/18. Photo: Leo Berzins.
A Red-Capped Plover, raising young at Tathra in the summer of 17/18. Photo: Leo Berzins.

One beach-nesting bird that is not yet endangered continues to breed successfully.

“The little Red-Capped Plover is better at concealing its nest than other hoodies and sometimes succeed out in the open at a busy location such as Tura Beach,” Mr Berzins says.

Another positive was the sighting of a number of Beach Stone-Curlews; it’s rare to see them this far south but Mr Berzins says sightings have increased in the last couple of years, especially at Spencer Park Merimbula, Whale Spit in Twofold Bay, Mogareeka, and at Bithry Inlet.

“The question remains whether there are more Curlews in the region or whether the same birds are being sighted in different locations at different times of the year,” Mr Berzins says.

Away from the beach, some uncommon birds were observed over the summer of 2017/18.

“Two raptor species, birds of prey, a Black Kite at Tanja and a Spotted Harrier near Candelo,” he says.

“These birds are much more common further inland and are not often seen in the south-east. Possibly dry conditions further west drove the birds further afield in search of food.”

The Beach Stone-Curlew has been spotted at Spencer Park Merimbula, Whale Spit in Twofold Bay, Mogareeka, and at Bithry Inlet. Photo: Leo Berzins.
The Beach Stone-Curlew has been spotted at Spencer Park Merimbula, Whale Spit in Twofold Bay, Mogareeka, and at Bithry Inlet. Photo: Leo Berzins.

Summer in South East NSW bloomed according to the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

Local rangers spent a lot of time in the field surveying and monitoring the unique plants and animals that call this place home, as part of the “Saving our Species” program.

“Some of the region’s most threatened species burst into flower over the warmer months,” a National Parks spokesperson says.

Researchers from the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage spent summer collecting seeds from a range of plants across a large area, from the mountains to the sea, including Wadbilliga National Park, South East Forests National Park, Bournda Nature Reserve, and Tinderry Nature Reserve, west of Batemans Bay.

Kydra Dampiera (Dampiera fusca) in Wadbilliga National Park. Photo: D Ansell OEH.
Kydra Dampiera (Dampiera fusca) in Wadbilliga National Park. Photo: D Ansell OEH.

“Seed was collected during the peak flowering period of each species, which included Parris’ Bush-pea (Pultenaea parrisiae), Merimbula Star-hair (Astrotricha sp. ‘Wallagaraugh’), Kydra Dampiera (Dampiera fusca) and Genoa River Correa (Correa lawrenceana var. genoensis),” the spokesperson says.

This work is one of hundreds of projects the Saving our Species program is undertaking, with the aim of ensuring the long-term future of threatened species in NSW.

“We work with the Australian National Botanic Gardens in Canberra, and the Australian Botanic Garden at Mount Annan to safely store the seed and undertake germination trials.”

Parris' Bush-pea (Pultenaea parrisiae). Photo: D Ansell OEH.
Parris’ Bush-pea (Pultenaea parrisiae). Photo: D Ansell OEH.

“This seed collection work often involves travelling to remote locations for field work and many hours of searching for very small and difficult to find plants.

“We collect the seed firstly to provide some insurance against threats to the remaining populations, and secondly to see what makes the seed germinate, to help with future management plans,” the National Parks spokesperson says.

Did you notice anything interesting in nature around your place over summer? Please share your experience below.

#This article first appeared on RiotACT

Wapengo Lake koala returned to the treetops north of Tathra

The Wapengo koala found yesterday (Oct 17) clinging to an oyster lease. Photo: Chris Allen
Briny in care at Potoroo Palace after being rescued from an oyster lease at Wapengo Lake on Oct 17. Photo: Chris Allen

‘Briny’ the young, male koala rescued by a Wapengo oyster farm last week was yesterday released back into the wild.

Chris Allen, Threatened Species Officer at the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) said the koala had made a good recovery in care at Potoroo Palace and yesterday clambered up a tree on a property north of Tathra.

“Briny, named by locals in recognition of his saltwater experience and after one of the people who rescued him, threw a few longing glances over his shoulder before scurrying high up into the tree,” Mr Allen said.

“He has recovered well from his ordeal last week where he was found clinging to an oyster bag in Wapengo Lake.

Briny just after being pulled from the waters of Wapengo on Oct 17. Photo: Brian Orr
Briny just after being pulled from the waters of Wapengo on Oct 17. Photo: Brian Orr

“When rescued he was found to be dehydrated but otherwise in a pretty good state of health considering his ordeal.

“This is only the second time a koala has come into care in the region in the past 20 years as the population is so small and widely scattered.

“That the local community could rally so quickly in so many ways to save the life of this animal is a testament to its commitment to support the recovery of these koalas,” Mr Allen said.

Briny's first steps back in to the wild. Photo: Donna McCulloch.
Briny’s first steps back into the wild. Photo: Donna McCulloch.

The successful rescue, recovery, and release of this animal is very much thanks to Wapengo Lake oyster farmers Brain and Carol Orr, who pulled Briny from the water into their boat, wrapped him up until he stopped shivering and took him to the Bega Veterinary Hospital.

Vets and the carers at Potoroo Palace Wildlife Sanctuary were exceptional in the way they provided quick treatment and closely cared for Briny through his recovery.

Looking for a tree to rest in. Photo: Donna McCulloch
Looking for a tree to rest in. Photo: Donna McCulloch

Mr Allen also said, “Thanks goes to the locally based koala surveyor Mark Lems who enabled the selection of an appropriate release site in koala habitat close to the rescue site and near other koalas.

“And the local landholders who have welcomed Briny onto their property that is managed under a voluntary conservation agreement.”

This one looks good! Photo: Donna McCulloch
This one looks good! Photo: Donna McCulloch

Work to better understand and protect the remaining koalas on the NSW Far South Coast continues.

Under the NSW Government’s Saving our Species program $55,000 has been allocated this year for Chris and his team to continue surveys, vegetation restoration trials, and fire management.

What are you lot looking at? Photo: Donna McCulloch
What are you lot looking at? Photo: Donna McCulloch

Learn more about the work of Chris Allen and the local koala conservation program HERE.

*Content contributions from NSW OEH

“When there are only 50 left, every koala counts,” – Chris Allen, NSW OEH

The Wapengo koala found yesterday (Oct 17) clinging to an oyster lease. Photo: Chris Allen
Briny the Wapengo koala found clinging to an oyster lease,  in care at Potaroo Palace before being released on Sunday. Photo: Chris Allen

Small, fragile, and very precious communities of koalas scattered in the forests between Bermagui and Tathra are not only opening doors to their own survival but also the survival of their cousins around our continent.

Bega’s Chris Allen has been keeping watch over local populations since 1996, and since 2001 has coordinated a survey and research program through the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage.

“Because it’s such a small population, and really widely scattered, maybe 50 koalas over something like 30,000 hectares, it’s been a very difficult project,” Chris says.

Bunga Pinch Road marks the northern edge of this key habitat, then extending 10km south to Smith’s Road and Tea Ridge Road, and west to Lizard Road is the main area of koala activity.

“But there are other important patches,” Chris says.

“Into Mimosa Rocks National Park, in the Nelsons Catchment, there’s good evidence of koalas.”

Two of these koalas have ‘gone viral’ in the last 3 weeks, social media delighted in seeing a strong, healthy looking specimen tramping along the side of the Bermagui – Tathra Road at Aragunnu.

This little fellow was spotted near aragunnu this morning

Posted by Catherine Clarke on Sunday, 24 September 2017


“Oh it’s just lovely, it’s a beautiful bit of footage, lovely that people are able to see it,” Chris smiles.

“I chatted with that person [who took the video] and in fact, it was just near the Aragunnu turn-off.

“He was just driving along the Bermi – Tathra Road, six o’clock in the morning, and here was this koala,” he says.

East of this spot is Mimosa Rocks National Park, on the western side there’s a bit of private property, then the newly created Murrah Flora Reserve.

According to Chris, there have been four or five sightings in this area, with one koala in poor condition rescued and returned to the wild healthy.

“That is one of the few points where koalas are crossing the road,” Chris says.

“Probably dispersing eastwards from the maternal home ranges we have identified in the Reserves.”

This is a really important stretch of road if this small population has any chance to grow in numbers, as Chris says, – “Every animal counts.”

“Slow down a bit, particularly at night,” Chris pleads.

And just this week, photos emerged of a young male who was rescued from the waters of Wapengo Lake clinging to the side of an oyster bag.

Farmer Brian Orr told Fairfax media, “He was pretty shook up, but he eventually came out onto the boat to get a little bit of sun and warm up.

“I was thinking about letting him out, but I called WIRES and they told me to have him checked by the vet,” Mr Orr told Fairfax.

How the koala came to be stuck on Mr Orr’s oyster lease is a mystery, perhaps he went exploring at low tide and got stuck.

The koala, which was named Briny in honour of Mr Orr and his saltwater experience, had a few days of TLC at Potaroo Place wildlife sanctuary at Merimbula, before being released in bushland north of Tathra on Sunday (Oct 22).

While koalas have been making the news lately it doesn’t mean the population is growing. Numbers are still small, in his 7o odd years, Chris says he has only seen five or six.

Our growing knowledge…

The fact that we know about these koalas and that management practices and response protocols are in place is a testament to a community-based effort that has a sense of magic about it.

Part of the initial drive to investigate this population came from forestry workers and local residents.

Since 2007 people from a range of agencies and backgrounds have literally been on their hands and knees on the forest floor looking for koala evidence – scats (droppings) mainly.

“I get terribly excited about finding koala poo,” Chris laughs.

Koala scat, AKA poo. Photo: Ian Campbell
Koala scat, AKA poo. Photo: Ian Campbell

That work has triggered higher level scientific research that is shaping future koala management in South East New South Wales and beyond.

“Since the 1960’s koala numbers in these coastal forests have been shrinking, and shrinking from the north,” Chris says.

“There were koalas north of the Bermagui – Cobargo Road, in Wallaga Lake National Park and Naira Creek, and on the northern side of Bermagui River, and gradually those numbers declined.”

Research has suggested that the decline has continued southwards – until you hit the Murrah River. South of the river that ‘hands and knees’ bush survey work points to a population that is at least stable and has been so over the last decade.

Sydney University has added its weight to the investigation looking into the secrets of this southern population.

“The way that’s done is that any time we find fresh koala poo we send it off to Sydney Uni and they are able to extract DNA,” Chris explains.

Genetic mapping is a part of the information recorded but so too is a snapshot of disease.

“What has come out of that research is that to the north of the Murrah River animals are carrying chlamydia but to the south – they’re not,” Chris says.

Explaining how and why that is the case remains unresolved, the results of this work are very preliminary.

“The koala is described as a chlamydia rich organism, the population is often carrying several different strains,” Chris says.

“Clearly some populations have a higher level of resilience.”

Chris believes the isolation of this southern population might be a factor in its survival which makes the management of their landscape more critical.

“We’ve picked up evidence of four perhaps five females breeding, we know where their home range areas are, ” Chris says.

Wildfire and climate change the big threats…

Habitat destruction has been one of the issues facing koalas across Australia, these particular Bega Valley marsupials received some respite from the NSW Government in March 2016 when the forests they were living in were protected from further logging with the creation of the Murrah Flora Reserves – taking in what was the Murrah, Tanja, and Mumbulla State Forests, and the southern section of the Bermagui State Forest.

“Almost certainly the greatest threat this population faces now is a major wildfire,” Chris says.

Managing that risk now drives a collaboration between the Rural Fire Service, the National Parks and Wildlife Service, local residents, and the Aboriginal community.

“We’ve been through a research project with the University of Melbourne where they’ve run what’s called fire simulation modeling,” Chris says.

The results highlight the likely progression of fire through this landscape, pinpointing areas for fuel reduction work. In turn, the threat to koalas as well as human life and property is reduced and the capacity of an effective response in the event of a wildfire is improved.

“Koalas can be very good neighbours,” Chris laughs.

The board managing the Biamanga National Park, which is made up of traditional owners, are keen to take on that key role of reducing the fire risk.

“For many years they have wanted to introduce a cultural burning program and I strongly support this,” Chris says.

“The way they see it is on two levels, one is to make an ecological contribution and [two] to provide opportunities for Aboriginal people to be working back on country.

“Within it [cultural burning] is the idea of small, low-intensity, patch burns, small terms just working over a long period of time,” Chris says.

Aside from fire, climate change is the other looming threat to these precious creatures – it’s change that is literally turning the koala’s stomach.

“It’s fairly clear that increased carbon dioxide levels are actually reducing the palatability of eucalypt foliage,” Chris says.

The fear is that the pressure of climate change on local forests will cut the number of suitable feed trees available.

“These koalas are widely scattered because there are only relativity few trees providing adequate nutrition,” Chris believes.

Increasing the number of suitable species like Woollybuott is another ‘rod in the fire’ of this conservation project.

“Woollybuot is really struggling to regenerate,” Chris says.

Thirty small research plots have been established throughout koala country where a range of bush regeneration techniques are being trialled – one of them is the use of seed balls.

“Seed balls are made up of the seed of the target species, clay is mixed with peat mulch and Cayenne pepper,” Chris smiles.

“The Cayenne pepper is the magic ingredient that stops ants and other critters eating the seed.”

A solid clay ball is the result which sits in the bush waiting for good rain.

“Now it’s a question of monitoring and seeing what is most effective in encouraging the regeneration of Woollybuot and other preferred browse species,” Chris says.

Using this research in conjunction with cultural burning; regenerating burnt areas is the long game.

The future…

This relatively small forest holds big potential, not just for the survival of the koala according to Chris but so many other species.

“If we can’t hang on to our koala populations we are in big trouble,” Chris says.

“This population is a real litmus test as to what we can do about koala conservation nationally, this is a nationally significant effort.

“This is not just about koalas, the conservation initiatives that flow around the management of koala populations are conserving a whole lot more,” he says.

The success of this work so far has been the amount of knowledge collected and cooperation around better and more careful management of these forests.

It’s understood that the NSW Government will release its NSW Koala Strategy before the end of November.

A whole-of-government approach Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton hopes will stabilise and start to increase koala numbers around the state.

The work of Chris Allen and dozens of other locals have contributed to that process – advice that gives the koala a fighting chance.

While the survival of the koala is the main game, this locally based 10-year project has already had a big win. Its magic has seen a coming together of community will, good science, and politics.

“This is a population on the brink, it’s the last one we’ve got here in the coastal forests of the Bega Valley, let’s do what we can, we owe it to them given their history,” Chris says.

Koala in the Murrah Flora Reserve near Mumbulla. Photo: Dave Gallen
Koala in the Murrah Flora Reserve near Mumbulla. Photo: Dave Gallen

About Regional content is supported by the contribution of members – thanks to Julie Rutherford Real Estate Bermagui, Tathra Beach House Apartments, Claire Blewett, Neroli Dickson, Jeanette Westmore, and Nigel Catchlove.

About Regional, podcast 14 – your solar power questions answered

Interest in installing solar panels is strong. Source: NSW OEH
Interest in installing solar panels is strong. Source: NSW OEH

Long before Donald Trump turned America’s back on the Paris Agreement, Australian families decided that investing in solar energy for their homes and businesses made sense, in fact Australia has the highest take-up rate in the world.

The NSW Office of Environment and Heritage is keen to build on that and have just been in the region, dropping in on towns where the take up of solar panels hasn’t been as great as it has been in other communities.

Free community seminars in Queanbeyan, Cooma, Eden and Ulladulla have helped “Demystify Solar Power’.

OEH staff were on hand to answer questions and lead discussion – explaining the different options for businesses and households wanting to switch to solar; saving money and saving the planet.

The Paris Agreement was part of the conversation that took place at these seminars, but this all happened just before Trump quite, not that I think the local response would have been different.

Lisa Miller is a confessed solar geek from the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage

Or listen and subscribe via Audioboom, iTunes, or

Resources recommended by Lisa: Clean Energy Council, Australian PV Institute, OEH – Energy Efficiency

Thanks to my partners in this program – Light to Light Camps rolling out the red carpet on the 31 km track between Boyd’s Tower and Greencape Lighthouse south of Eden.

Feedback, story ideas, and advertising inquiries are really welcome – send your email to

Thanks for tuning in, see you out and about in South East NSW.



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Demystifying solar power in Cooma, Eden, Ulladulla and Queanbeyan

The NSW Government are hosting free solar seminars are coming to Cooma, Eden, Ulladulla, and Queanbeyan.
The NSW Government is hosting free solar in Cooma, Eden, Ulladulla, and Queanbeyan.

The NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) are hosting free ‘Demystifying Solar’ seminars for businesses and households across South East NSW.

Mark Fleming, from OEH said the seminars will explain in plain-English the different types of solar technology available and the trends in solar power use in Australia and around the world.

“We had such a positive response to the last seminars that we are again encouraging people to come along and get the info they need to make decisions that are best for their circumstances,” Mr Fleming said.

“We’ll also explain the different options available for local businesses wanting to switch to solar and save money on bills.

“Businesses and households often get unsolicited approaches from companies wanting to install solar panels and while most people agree that solar is a good thing, it’s hard to compare these offers.

“At the seminars, you’ll find out the exact questions you should ask suppliers if you are thinking about installing solar panels,” said Mr Fleming.

Mark Fleming talks to About Regional, click play…


Around 800 people attended the seminars held last year across the region and since then more than 50% of those surveys have either installed solar or are in the process of getting quotes.

“Our goals to make people comfortable to ask the questions on their minds and leave with a much clearer understanding as to if solar is right for them,” Mr Fleming said.

The seminars:

  • Tuesday, 16 May 2017, 2:00pm to 4:30pm @ Queanbeyan City Library, Rutledge St, Queanbeyan.
  • Wednesday, 17 May 2017, 8:30am to 11:00am @ Alpine Hotel,  Sharp Street, Cooma
  • Wednesday, 17 May 2017, 2:00pm to 4:00pm @ Eden Fishermen’s Club, Imlay Street Eden
  • Thursday, 18 May 2017, 1:00pm to 3:30pm @ Milton Ulladulla Ex-Servos Club, Princes Highway, Ulladulla.

For more information go to

The seminars are free, but bookings must be made with OEH via (02) 6229 7139 or


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