The King of all battles: wind farm vs golf course vs shearwater

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The nation's biggest wind farm development on King Island is being threatened by golf course developments — that themselves threaten 80,000 mutton birds. David Looker reports.

Short-tailed Shearwater
Short-tailed Shearwater

THE Short-tailed Shearwater, commonly called the mutton bird, is an unassuming bird whose habits capture the imagination.

It breeds in coastal sand holes dug in massive rookeries across southern  Australia and then flies in a figure of eight pattern, across the Pacific, to feeding grounds as far away as the Arctic Ocean off Alaska. It is a prolific species — Parks Tasmania estimate there are 23 million of them.

The shearwater often returns to breed in the same hole and with the same mate — sometimes for over a decade. Flights of up to 17,000 kilometres have been tracked.

Now, despite their seasonal absence, about 80,000 of these birds currently in the Northern hemisphere have unwittingly flown right into the King Island wind farm debate. They don't know it yet, but they will find out when they return to Cape Wickham, King Island next year and find their holes have been "relocated" to make way for a golf course under the Cape Wickham Lighthouse.

This golf course proposal is contained in a Development Application (DA) lodged with the King Island Council by Lighthouse Properties Australia Pty Ltd. (It can be read in full here.)

Lighthouse PA is a development by Turnpoint, which has successfully developed many golf courses. Ironically, they are currently developing one on Phillip Island called "Shearwater".

(Image: screenshot from Turnpoint website.)
Turnpoint build golf courses. (Image: screenshot from Turnpoint website.)

The report by Richard Chamberlain Golf Design, which accompanies the DA, casually states it is an "inevitable " part of building the golf course that a Short-tailed Shearwater colony of  42,000 holes (presumably meaning 80,000 birds) will suffer "dislocation". According to the Chamberlain Report, this has been approved by Parks Tasmania.

This might ordinarily have plenty to do with ecology and nothing to do with wind farms, except that the DA proposal was tabled in the very same week that arguments were presented to a tightly controlled public meeting on a socio-economic report that implied that golf versus wind  farm was a central issue for King Island residents to consider in weighing up their vote in a forthcoming plebiscite to decide whether or not the Islanders wish to proceed with a feasibility study on Hydro Tasmania’s proposed $2 billion wind farm.

Bird interests strongly allied themselves with this argument and with the Golf Courses. They now appear conflicted – or ‘dislocated’– in their alliance.

The population of King Island is split in the lead up to a plebiscite for the $2 billion Project (REF), involving construction of a proposed  200 wind turbines on the Island. TasWind have said they will be bound by this vote.

It may be hard to see competing aims between wind farms and golf courses, but on King Island that is how the debate is being framed.

The shearwater rookery at Cape Woolamai on Phillip Island. (Image: Craig Abraham / The Age.)

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