How the bypass will actually improve prospects for the Mitchell’s Rainforest Snail
Cr Michael Lyon
Back in 2001, the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) published a recovery plan for the critically endangered Mitchell’s Rainforest Snail (MRS) that informed the Department of Environment and Energy’s (DoEE) estimated numbers of remaining individuals for the species at less than 500.
Although we still do not know the full extent of the habitat for the species, we know much more now than we did in 2001. Dr Jonathan Parkyn published a PhD in 2014 that suggests that the estimate of remaining individuals is more likely to be approximately 5,000. He also acknowledged in his studies that a colony in Broken Head alone supports a population of approximately 500 individuals.
Throughout the preparation of the referral to DoEE under the EPBC Act, Council engaged expert snail consultant, Dr Stephanie Clark, to review Council’s submission relating to the MRS and the assessment of significance, likely habitat area for the local population, and the pre-clearing protocol for the snail.
Throughout this process and during another meeting with DoEE, Dr Clark indicated that her opinion was that there are far more than 5,000 individuals. This is based on her expert knowledge of the species and invertebrates in general, the more recent work and findings and the likely (previously unknown) habitat distribution in the Northern Rivers.
Council’s referral, supported by Dr Clark, estimates the habitat for the local population of the MRS being approximately 216 hectares (the local population being the colony of snails that occurs within and beyond the bypass area, south to Lilli Pilli and west to Skinners Shoot Road).
Likely but unknown
The bypass directly removing 1.5ha of this area means that the bypass would be responsible for the removal of 0.7 per cent of the local habitat area. It is worth noting that this ‘local habitat area’ does not include the significant known colony at Broken Head, nor any other areas throughout the Northern Rivers, which include Stotts Island, Kingscliff/Cudgen, Nightcap National Park, Lennox Head, Ballina and other areas that are likely, but currently unknown.
It was also acknowledged by Dr Clark on a site visit with Council staff and DoEE to the Lilli Pilli offset site that ‘…this is the best habitat for this species that she has ever seen’. The improvement and further protection of this area under the Biobanking arrangements will ensure that this local colony is protected and can thrive.
Before the clearing takes place, Council’s ecologist team will scour the site and firstly remove any micro-habitat for these snails into adjoining vegetation sections in the local habitat area, subsequently undertaking further searches immediately prior to and during clearing to also relocate any MRS individuals into this habitat.
Council also has plans to improve and protect further areas above and beyond the Biobanking requirements and is awaiting feedback from the Biodiversity Committee on this. This is all part of Council’s commitment to ensure we give back more than we take with this vital project.
Council was aware of and relied on Dr Parkyn’s PhD throughout the Bypass approvals for Biobanking and the environmental impact statements and is confident that this information is best placed to inform the department in making their decision on whether or not the referral should be deemed a controlled action.
It would be little surprise, given what we know above, if the Bypass soon gets the go-ahead to proceed.