Experts shocked at dieback
A CRACK team of environmental experts were shocked by the dieback of plant species in former swamp forest on crown land to the east of the Tugun Bypass tunnel when they inspected the site yesterday. The group of about 25 people included environmental scientists and representatives of a wide range of groups who have been voicing concerns that dewatering of the area was creating %serious problems that were being %denied by the Pacific Link Alliance responsible for the construction works. They said an area of about one hectare that was normally swamp forest, even in times of severe drought, was now tinder-dry and protected species such as rare orchids, sedge grasses, gahnia and swamp banksias had died. The endangered brown sword grass butterfly relies on the gahnia. The group included a representative of the Environmental Defenders %Organisation, members of the Gold Coast and Hinterland Environmental Council (Gecko), the Tugun Cobaki %Alliance, the Greens, Landcare, Wildlife Carers, the public liaison committee and concerned individuals. Project managers with Main Roads and the Pacific Link Alliance had previously told the Tweed Daily News that there was no dieback in the area and that the swamp forests "could not have been affected". The environmentalists said the area could be killed off for decades in a place that was wet even through dry times, including in 2002 when it experienced the third driest period on record. They estimated the groundwater had been lowered by up to two metres and emphasised how close the western side of the tunnel was to the Cobaki lake system. Environmental scientist Steve Phillips said the state of the dead vegetation was an ecological disaster for the endangered wallum froglets and rare orchids were also severely threatened. by this because they also liked wet ground. "There were many studies done on the management of threatened species before construction started, including data from two honours students, but it was all ignored," he said. When asked how the problems of acidity caused by dewatering the acid sulphate soils could best be solved he said he suspected that it was "not fixable". Gecko member Lois Levy said it was "death by 100 cuts". "They say it doesn't matter if rare species die here because there are some living somewhere else," she said. Environmental scientist Ian Fox said he estimated the area experiencing the dieback to be about one hectare and it was six to eight cms deep in water last time he was there. "Last time I was here, about 18 months ago, this was this was six to eight cms deep in water and that was in the middle of the drought," Mr Fox said. Environmentalists said they were concerned the management plan for the wetlands when the bypass was completed had still not been finalised.