Our Plover Coast

Restoring habitats for hooded plovers and other beach nesting birds

What is Our Plover Coast?

The Our Plover Coast project focusses on grassy weed control and revegetation with local coastal plant species including Spinifex at 20 priority hooded plover nesting beaches between Myponga Beach and Goolwa. These beach nesting birds breed exclusively on ocean beaches between August and March each year. Spinifex hirsutus or commonly known as rolling spinifex grass is a hardy native coastal species which creates ideal nesting habitat for the threatened hooded plover. The project brings together land managers, project partners, volunteers and the community across the fleurieu to work together to restore the coastal dune habitats to ensure the birds have suitable habitat to breed and increase their population.

The Our Plover Coast project is supported by the Hills and Fleurieu Landscape Board, Green Adelaide, BirdLife Australia, City of Victor Harbor, Yankalilla and Alexandrina Councils, with funding from the South Australian Government’s Landscape Priorities Fund.

For more information on the hooded plover species see https://mybeachbird.com.au/or https://birdlife.org.au/bird-profile/hooded-plover

Our Plover Coast

Why was this project started?

There are less than 70 hooded plovers left in our region and are listed as a vulnerable species under the federal government’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act (1999) and the South Australian National Parks and Wildlife Act (1972). National conservation advice for Hooded Plovers (Thinornis rubricollis) (eastern) identifies several grassy weeds growing and spreading in dunes as a threat to suitable breeding habitat requirements and hence population growth.

Port Willunga South Hooded Plover chicks and adult. Credit: Sue and Ash Read

Photo Credit: Sue and Ash Read

Our Fleurieu nesting sites are under threat from storm surges and weed incursions, particularly grassy dune and beach weeds (Sea Wheat, Pyp, Marram Grasses and Sea spurge). These invasive weeds reduce the availability of nesting, roosting and foraging habitat by covering large areas of the beach and altering dune morphology and shape. Native deep-rooted running grasses, such as Spinifex, capture sand and stabilise dunes, creating a natural buffer to storm surges and provide critical habitat for plants and animals.

Dunes with introduced grasses develop steeper and higher dune heights due to their growth habits than those dominated with local native spinifex plants. Lower less steep dunes provide habitat for nests and allow hooded plover chicks to retreat into the dunes when under threat from predators or during high tides and storm surge. Hooded plover chicks feed themselves from the day they hatch, foraging across all areas of the beach from the water’s edge back to the sand dunes.

Our Plover Coast

What are some of the specific actions taken to try and help hooded plovers and their habitats?

Removal of the introduced grasses that form dense vegetated areas in the hooded plover breeding beaches, enables the birds to utilise greater areas of the ocean beaches as suitable nesting territories. Hooded plover pairs occupy distinct territories and will often return to the same area to breed each year.

By targeting these weedy grass species and replacing them with the local native Spinifex plant associations, existing nesting sites are improved and more areas of our coast are available to provide suitable habitat to support the recovering population.

Our Plover Coast

Spinifex and other local native coastal plants are being propagated by volunteers at the Fleurieu coastal community nursery at Yankalilla. Across the duration of the project 20 000 plants will be planted across the 20 identified sites following weed control by local weed control contractors.

Volunteers from the various coastal community groups who work to conserve and restore the dunes are partnering with the Friends of the hooded plover volunteers who monitor the birds to undertake the planting across the sites.

Targeted rabbit control will also be undertaken by local contractors to improve revegetation success and prevent erosion.

Our Plover Coast

What does specific vegetation (Sea Wheat Grass, Marram Grass, Pyp Grass and Sea Spurge) do for the Plover?

These weedy grass species were introduced to Australia as early as the late 1800’s as a method to try and stabilise the dunes and other coastal areas. Originating from Europe, South Africa and other areas of the world these plants have spread across beaches in southern Australia either by direct planting, seed dispersal by wind or currents or by fragments removed through erosion redistributing across the landscape.

Many of these species have similar habitat requirements to our local native species but can be more invasive and therefore outcompete areas where the native species grow. Local native grasses grow across the dune surface and send roots down into the dune to stabilise it. Introduced species tend to have dense root systems within the dunes that send up new shoots to grow and spread.

Hooded plovers need a relatively open beach/foredune area to be able to breed, roost and feed. Dunes with high and densely planted areas are not favourable to hooded plovers and put them at greater risk to predators such as silver gulls, ravens, foxes and other species.

Has this affected any other animal or sea life in any way?

This project has been implemented to enhance the suitability of habitats for our beach nesting birds while increasing the diversity of plants and stabilisation of coastal dunes.

By removing the threatening weed species and planting local native species this project also provides increased suitable habitat, food resources and shelter to a range of other species that utilise the dunes including invertebrates, small reptiles and coastal birds including migratory and resident shorebirds (red capped plovers, Fairy terns, sooty and pied oystercatchers).

Careful planning and project management has also ensured that the staged removal of the weed species has not had a negative effect on the stabilisation of the dunes whilst the native spinifex establishes on site.

Following the establishment of the project, other land managers are implementing similar projects to work across the regions (City of Onkaparinga, Green Adelaide and Limestone Coast Landscape Boards) to improve hooded plover habitats. Experience and learnings from this project are actively being shared with these project partners.

For more information about this project or how you can be involved, contact Landscapes Hills and Fleurieu's Coast and Marine Project Officer - Caroline.Taylor2@sa.gov.au