Sharing our coastal spaces with resident and migratory shorebirds

Dr Vicki Stokes1, Mr John Graff1

1BirdLife WA, Floreat, Australia


Migratory shorebirds are one of the most threatened groups of bird globally, largely due to loss and changes in the wetland and shoreline habitats they rely on. In areas highly populated by humans, shorebirds also contend with sharing the habitat they need to forage and rest with recreational users of waterways. Repeated disturbance can potentially disrupt feeding and roosting time and negatively impact on birds’ ability to recover from and prepare for their migration to northern breeding grounds.

As part of a citizen-science project we examined the frequency of human activities across multiple sites of the Peel-Harvey Estuary in the south-west of Western Australia and the level of disturbance this caused to shorebirds using the sites. This region has one of the fastest growing populations in Australia, is an important over-wintering site in the south-west supporting thousands of migratory shorebirds annually, and is heavily used for recreation such as boating, fishing, crabbing and a range of water sports.

We found high levels of potential anthropogenic disturbance to shorebirds at some sites, particularly on weekends, public holidays and during the crabbing season. Shorebird numbers were negatively correlated with levels of potential disturbance and shorebirds left sites on 25% of occasions when disturbed. Birds also tended to avoid using sites of high crabbing activity once the season commenced. These findings and ongoing shorebird monitoring data can be used to inform appropriate management of shoreline habitats used by shorebirds so that humans and shorebirds can coexist.


Vicki Stokes is the Program Manager for BirdLife Australia in Western Australia. She is very actively involved in the coordination and delivery of monitoring and citizen science programs across coastal and wetland areas in WA and uses science to advocate for the protection of these areas for waterbirds including shorebirds.