Quality control in fauna monitoring

Fauna officers Steve Wilson and Gerry Swan recently relocated 10,150 native animals that had found their way into the open trenches cut during the construction of five pipeline projects across Queensland. Here, they explain the importance of correct fauna handling procedures.

The kilometres of open trenches during pipeline construction pose a serious hazard to native fauna. Relocating 10,150 native animals during the construction of five pipeline projects is an impressive amount – averaging at more than 2,000 animals per project.

The result is all the more significant when considering that 246 of these animals have been officially listed as endangered, vulnerable or rare. In addition, 161 species are regarded as sufficiently dangerous to inflict a fatal bite, signifying a potential workplace health and safety risk to those working in the trenches and bell-holes.

Training, research and development

There is no natural equivalent to a pipeline trench. Sheer-sided and dozens of kilometres long, the trenches slice through the daily foraging ranges of a host of native animals. So, it is no surprise that creatures spill over the edge and find themselves trapped.

In recent years there have been genuine moves to address these issues, with personnel trained in fauna handling employed during pipeline construction projects. Their responsibility is to patrol open trenches to remove and relocate fauna.

Fauna handlers must be skilled in identifying the animals. Knowing what animal is being handled is a critical element when assessing how it is likely to behave when confronted, and what injuries it may be capable of inflicting.

There have also been recent attempts within the industry to offer some limited training, including snake-handling workshops, but personnel employed to remove and relocate fauna should have extensive prior experience, particularly with venomous snakes. Remote areas are not suitable for novices to test new skills using dangerous animals.

In remote areas where little research has taken place, access to a large number of animals offers unique opportunities to collect important scientific information. This is “˜value-adding’ to the fauna
removal job. Keeping accurate locality data has contributed more than 10,000 fauna distribution records to the Queensland Government’s WildNet database. The information – regarded as a “˜scientific treasure-trove’ – is obtained at no additional cost to the industry and is extremely relevant when deciding future management issues along pipeline routes.

The advantages of fauna management

Pipeline construction is a regulated industry that demands a high level of excellence in all of its processes. Yet what is still lacking is a national standard of accreditation in dealing with the important environmental and safety issues of fauna management. Those employed to do the job should have proven experience and the collection of data needs to be applied routinely Australia-wide. The industry has nothing to lose and everything to gain by implementing standardised, verifiable fauna management procedures, which will serve to further enhance the industry’s credibility.

Steve Wilson and Gerry Swan were recently employed by Nacap to monitor fauna during the construction of the 205 km Walloons Development Pipeline running from Wallumbilla to Origin Energy’s Darling Downs Power Station near Braemar, located in southern Queensland.

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