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Dr Eric Woehler - Medal of the Order of Australia

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Tuesday, 22 June 2021

Tags: Environment, Biodiversity

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Speaker, I rise on behalf of the Tasmanian Greens and all bird lovers in this beautiful island to warmly congratulate Dr Eric Woehler, Tasmanian BirdLife convenor, who last week was awarded an Order of Australia medal for his lifetime services to bird ecology. According to the CEO of Birdlife Australia, Dr Woehler has been a renowned scientist and passionate volunteer who has led the conservation of Tasmania’s birds for decades and remains a strong public advocate for the protection of our natural world.

Anyone who knows Eric knows that he is a true champion of nature and is so well-deserved of this recognition. He has been behind every bird conservation effort I am aware of over the last four decades. It has either had Eric out the front championing the birds, Eric on the side, Eric in the middle, Eric as an adviser, or Eric behind the research and the population data of the birds seeking to be saved.

Every single part of Tasmania’s shoreline has been walked by Dr Eric. He has made it his own personal mission to document the populations, the species and the numbers of different birds, all around the shoreline of Tasmania. He says it is his way of keeping fit and gives him time to meditate. He is just the biggest fan of birds and nature and it obviously gives him a great deal of personal solace to be amongst the birds because he is also bearing witness to a number of changes in the ecology and really huge global shifts in threats to birds and he is right at the forefront of the research in Tasmania and for the whole southern Antarctic bird zone. He has been working as a researcher with the Menzies Research Institute, leading research in the Antarctic, supervising PhDs and other students doing really important work.

Dr Eric Woehler’s work along with Priscilla Park were key to the saving of Ralphs Bay. Eric gave a voice to the pied oyster catcher and it was through his work that we understood the enormous conservation values of Ralphs Bay which was why that area was saved.

Dr Eric has also done the incredible depth of work around the Robbins Passage-Boullanger Bay wetlands and the understanding we have of that world, a site that ought to be Ramsar listed. It has been identified for its extraordinary importance, thanks to Dr Eric’s work and his leadership with other students. He brings other people with him to walk across Tasmania, to look at where fairy penguins have their nesting habitat, to understand the threats of dogs and foxes and cats.

He is there speaking out about swift parrots when their nesting trees are going to be bulldozed in the north-east, he is there speaking for the wedge-tailed eagles and the swift parrots. Just today, on behalf of Birdlife Tasmania, he submitted a submission against the proposed cable car on kunanyi and made the point that the proposed loss of between 75 and 90 feeding and nesting trees that provide critical habitat for critically endangered species is indefensible. The last thing a critically endangered woodland bird species needs is the deliberate destruction of nesting and feeding trees. ‘It is sheer lunacy,’ he said, on behalf of the birds of Kunanyi.

Dr Eric has married both passion and the cool head of a scientist in his work for Tasmanian birds. He has undertaken really pivotal long-term research on Australian shore birds as well as Tasmanian shore birds and that has directly contributed to the inventories we have and the assessment of population breeding changes. He has spoken up for migratory birds and dispersive birds, the native ducks that are threatened each year in Moulting Lagoon and elsewhere across Tasmania by duck shooting which really must be banned. Dr Eric has documented the different species and where they come from other parts of Australia.

He has also been working with locals to protect the birds that are ‘softly protected’, not strongly protected within the Orford Bird Sanctuary. The red-capped plovers, the pelicans, the little terns, the fairy terns and hooded plovers and pied oystercatchers, these are all the birds which he understands need greater protection in the Orford area than they currently have.

Hundreds of birds are caught each year in fish-farm nets. Dr Eric can detail all the birds that are caught, he understands the terrible problems with having nets that are catching hundreds of birds from cormorants and a whole range of seagulls as well as seals which drown.

So, thank you Dr Eric Woehler, on behalf of Tasmanians who live here now and in the future who listen to the sweet songs of birds and who are moved to tears to look at the beauty that native Tasmanian birds provide us in their natural habitat. He is there protecting them, he is doing the research which underpins that protection, and we hope he enjoys the rewards that he so richly deserved.