The Black Rocks sports field is being used as a launching, flying and landing site for model aeroplanes and other aircraft in close proximity to koala habitat and the only naturally occurring osprey nest on the Tweed Coast . The following is a summary of the evidenced aeroplane activities since 2011:-
21 July 2015: Helicopter flying very low over koala habitat adjacent to access road.
26 July 2015: Two very noisy para-motoring aircraft flew low over koala habitat and residences in Toshack Place, and in close proximity to the osprey nest. One landed on the sports field and then took off in an easterly direction
2011: A helicopter landed on the sports field.
28 November 2013: A model glider aeroplane crashed into koala habitat close to where a koala was resting in a tree on the southern edge of the sports field. Two plane operators entered the bushland to remove the plane, but returned without success. The koala became agitated by the commotion and scrambled down the tree. A plane operator stated that they regularly enter bushland to retrieve crashed planes.
30 June 2014: A model glider aeroplane crashed and was retrieved from koala habitat adjacent to the sports field in close proximity to the osprey nest.
24 July 2014: Damage to koala habitat believed to be caused by a model aeroplane crash and two operators attempts to retrieve it from a tree canopy with a bamboo pole and fishing line.
13 November 2014: Four model aeroplanes were observed flying over koala habitat and the osprey nest. [NOTE: The ospreys, which were attempting to breed in the nest, did not have chicks in 2014 and abandoned the nest. Model aeroplanes hover over the nesting site on a weekly basis, and it has been suggested by an osprey expert that the stress from this activity is the most likely cause contributing to the absence of chicks.]
31 January 2015: Model aeroplanes were observed flying over koala habitat and in close proximity to the osprey nest.
8 February 2015: Model aeroplanes were observed flying over koala habitat and in close proximity to the osprey nest.
4 November 2015: A very loud petrol-powered model aeroplane flew for approximately 2 hours at the sports field, performing very complex manoeuvres and flying very low over trees where koalas have previously been sighted. An ecologist has advised that one of these koalas (photographed on 6 January 2015) has most likely perished from the stress-related disease Chlamydia. The plane operator's motor vehicle had gained access to the sports field, even though the boom gate at the western end of the access road was locked. The model aeroplane was refuelled several times during its operation.
6 November 2015: A model glider aeroplane hit a bystander on the leg.
10 November 2015: Model glider aeroplane, which descended from the sky in a vertical downward direction, crashed on the sports field approximately 60 metres from where I was standing. It broke up into a number of pieces as a result of crashing at high speed [PHOTO]. It appears that the Black Rocks sports field is being used for testing model aeroplanes and the devices that control them, and that operators may not have the experience necessary to safely operate and control their planes.
25 October 2015: A council-approved model aeroplane competition was held at the Black Rocks sports field during koala and osprey breeding seasons. This event involved 5-6 model glider planes being launched simultaneously at least 10 times in the direction of the only naturally occurring osprey nest on the Tweed Coast, which also flew over a Toshack Place residence.
17 April 2015: Helicopter flying back and forth for almost an hour including over the sports field and on a number of occasions very low over the surrounding koala habitat and close to the osprey nest.
3 May 2015: An extremely noisy petrol-powered model aeroplane flew over the sports field and over and close to koala habitat and the osprey nest, with the plane operator refuelling the plane at the western end of the access road (inside the sports field entrance). Before departing the sports field in his vehicle, the plane operator revved the plane's engine for approximately 10 mins to purge the fuel tank, holding his fingers in his ears to block out the noise. The purging took place adjacent to primary koala habitat and where a koala suffering from the stress-related disease Chlamydia was sighted on 6 January 2015, and near where another sick koala was captured on 27 January 2014 and euthanased due to this disease. It was also adjacent to where another koala was sighted on 13 July 2015. An osprey was perched low in a branch below the nest during this event. Watch video here
10 May 2015: An extremely noisy petrol-powered model aeroplane flew over the sports field and over and close to koala habitat and the osprey nest.
21 May 2015: A model glider aeroplane flew over and close to koala habitat in the direction of the active osprey nest.
29 May 2015: Helicopter flying very low over koala habitat and close to the osprey nest
The Threatened Species Conservation Society Inc believes that it is not appropriate or safe for the aeroplane activities listed above to be conducted at the Black Rocks sports field, considering the surrounding environmental values and the close proximity to the bushland and residences. On the Sunshine Coast there is a designated site specifically for model aeroplane activities adjacent to Coolum's Quanda Park industrial estate. Even in a less impactive area, the following potentially dangerous incident occurred: http://www.sunshinecoastdaily.com.au/news/its-chocks-away-for-model-plane-flyboys/568696/
This is a summary of the Sunshine Coast Daily news report: On 2 occasions model aircraft flew out of control and on one of these occasions a plane narrowly missed workers on the adjacent industrial estate, which was believed to be caused by failure of the plane's battery. Within an hour of the second incursion, the model aeroplane club's operations were shut down. Even though the club resumed flying after adding extra safety regulations to their rules, Planning Minister Stirling Hinchliffe said an extension to the club's three-year lease on the site would not be considered.
Of the 13 model aeroplane field sites TSCS has researched on the web, none were on sports fields. All were on private land or fields specifically designated for the flying of model aeroplanes.
Research by TSCS has revealed that another model aeroplane competition is scheduled for the Black Rocks sports field on 1 to 3 October 2016 [ refer 2016 Glider/F5J Events Calendar ] http://www.flyelectric.com/news.html and as at mid-March 2016 the questions dot pointed below after a similar event on 25 October 2015 have not been answered in relation to safety regulations for, and impacts on threatened species by, such an event.
* What credentials do model aeroplane operators have to ensure the safety of others?
* Do they receive training, are they licensed?
* Was designated air space allocated for the model aeroplane competition on 25 October 2015?
* What restrictions and regulations are in place with regard to the distance model planes and other aircraft can be safely flown from residences?
* What environmental legislation is in place to protect threatened species and their habitat from these activities?
* Were these issues considered when giving approval for the model aeroplane competition to be conducted at the Black Rocks sports field?
TSCS believes that it is Council's duty of care to take the necessary precautions so that people are not harmed by out-of-control model aeroplanes on community land, and that the three threatened species (koala, bush stone-curlew and osprey) and endangered ecological communities adjacent to the Black Rocks sports field site are also not harmed. Petrol-powered model aeroplanes have the potential to cause a bush fire should they crash in adjacent bushland. The Black Rocks sports field is located within a regional wildlife corridor at the junction of three koala linkages. Should a fire occur at this location, the Rural Fire Service could be faced with fighting a fire on three fronts, two of which are difficult to access.
In response to a report of damage to koala habitat as a result of the crashing and retrieval of a model aeroplane, on 3rd September 2014 council replied that the area was not core koala habitat and any damage to trees by the person flying/retrieving the plane would be due to carelessness. Since no clear intention to enter the area and damage trees could be established, no offence had been committed. Council would not investigate even if an offence had been committed as they didn't have the resources and their priorities lay elsewhere.
Council has incorrectly stated that the bushland surrounding the Black Rocks sports field is not 'core koala habitat', and has allowed model aeroplane activities to continue even though there have been many reports of stress and disturbance to koalas and ospreys and damage to koala habitat.
Model aeroplane impacts on ospreys
A dead osprey was found on the ground in close proximity to the only naturally occurring osprey nest on the Tweed Coast (50m north-east of the Black Rocks sports field) on 31 October 2015, only 6 days after the model aeroplane competition on 25 October 2015. In an email from Tweed Osprey Group on 8 November 2015, it states:
We can't be certain about how and why the bird died, although we can certainly say that disturbance from aircraft may have contributed to its death.
The following is an extract from a letter from the Tweed Osprey Group dated 23 September 2015:-
Ospreys however are susceptible to disturbance which can cause breeding failure. Since the Black Rocks housing estate has been developing, breeding success has been spasmodic, and it is likely that disturbance was a factor in the years when breeding was unsuccessful. We are very concerned that further development of the open space adjoining the nest (50m) could jeopardise breeding at this last iconic natural nesting site on the Tweed Coast. In particular low-flying model aeroplanes or other motorised air-craft and intensive sporting or other recreational activity so close to Ospreys that have enjoyed relative isolation for so long could put successful breeding at risk.
For more information about ospreys click here
Model aeroplane impacts on koalas
Model aeroplane operators regularly set up and have used on several occasions a loud speaker immediately beside the trees where a mother and joey were sighted on two occasions during the 2015-2016 breeding season.
On 13 December 2015 the joey was captured for treatment of conjunctivitis (a symptom of the stress-related disease chlamydia) (see below) and would have died if not treated. After successful treatment the joey was released on 7 February 2016. See video here.
TSCS has been informed by Friends of the Koala that the mother (from whom the joey contracted conjunctivitis) would also have the disease, and unless captured and treated, will suffer a slow miserable death in the bush.
Based on evidence which has been collected by Dr Steve Phillips, which is being peer reviewed and will be published later this year, there is an established link between episodic disturbance and stress-related disease in koalas. Dr Phillips (26/1/2015) states: It may already be that the levels of disturbance at Black Rocks are already contributing to elevated levels of disease in the small population that is now left following the recent fire event.
TSCS believes that it is likely that the impacts of model glider and very noisy petrol-powered aeroplane activity in close proximity to resident and breeding koalas may have contributed to the 8 known incidences of Black Rocks koala disease and/or death over the last two years, and the decline in successful osprey breeding outcomes since the sports field was constructed and open to the public.
The NSW Office of Environment & Heritage has recommended that no model aeroplanes should be flown by the Pottsville Men's Shed members during osprey breeding season. The Threatened Species Conservation Society Inc has called for a total ban of model aeroplane flying at the Black Rocks sports field site.