Media Releases - 18 April 2023

Looming development decision could spell disaster for endangered Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle

A proposed fly-in-fly-out helicopter tourism operation at Lake Malbena, located within the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area (TWWHA), would be likely to severely impact dwindling populations of endangered Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagles. The proposal is currently awaiting a decision by the Federal Environment Minister, Tanya Plibersek, which could be reached by mid-year.

Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagles are federally listed as Endangered, and it is estimated that fewer than 440 breeding individuals remain. Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagles are shy, and increased disturbances to mating pairs, including loud noises and infrastructure development, are a significant cause of the species’ ongoing decline.

The development proposal to build luxury accommodation on Halls Island in the heart of the TWWHA, that is accessible only by helicopter, has been condemned by conservation organisation Wilderness Society. It is one of a series of proposals invited by the current Tasmanian state government that are in conflict with Australia’s obligations to responsibly manage the TWWHA for natural and cultural values.

The public Island, which has now been privately leased—making it potentially illegal to visit—is one of only two World Heritage Areas globally that fulfil 70% of World Heritage criteria. If approved, the helicopter-tourism proposal could see at least 300 helicopters per year flying over Lake Malbena, causing significant disruption to easily startled mating pairs, pushing the Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle closer to extinction.

The decision whether the helicopter-tourism proposal will go ahead is in the hands of Federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek. As part of the Minister’s considerations under the national environment law, the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, thousands of public submissions were lodged on the proposal late last year, and a final report following this consultation is expected in the coming weeks. The Minister will then have 40 days to make a final decision.

Further, this tourism proposal demonstrates a glaring need for national environment laws and decision making processes that provide opportunities for impacted communities to participate in, and even challenge, decisions. The Albanese Government has committed to restoring the community’s trust and confidence to environmental decision-making. This commercial tourism development proposal shows why strong laws that actually protect nature and prevent species extinction are urgently needed.

The reality of the potential scale of this disturbance was made clear to Wilderness Society Campaigner, Jimmy Cordwell, when he visited the area last week. During his visit, Jimmy witnessed a helicopter fly over Lake Malbena, startling a Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle. The encounter was captured on video.

Jimmy Cordwell, campaigner for Wilderness Society Tasmania, said, “Preserving the integrity of this habitat is critical for Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle populations to have a fighting chance at beating extinction. This area must be maintained, respected and protected, not only for the eagles but for all the species, habitats, and the rich Aboriginal cultural heritage that makes it the world’s highest-rated World Heritage wilderness area. These World Heritage values must be restored to the primacy of management for the TWWHA, and the Federal Environment Minister has a key role to play to help ensure this.

“We are calling on Australia’s Environment Minister, Tanya Plibersek, to honour Australia’s World Heritage obligations, as well as her own commitment to no new species extinctions, by rejecting the commercial tourism development proposed at Lake Malbena when the time comes for her to make a decision on whether this helicopter tourism development should proceed, or not.”

Dan Broun, campaigner with the Fishers and Walkers organisation, said, “I've witnessed eagles at this location several times. It's their home range. To stick a chopper pad in the centre of these eagles' habitat renders them homeless. It is a disgrace that this wilderness destroying project should even be considered.

The tourism proposal was already rejected by the local council before being submitted to the Federal Government for approval. Then-Environment Minister Sussan Ley did not approve the proposal, instead sending it back for more information, and citing her concerns for the impacts of the helicopter-accessed tourism proposal on the Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle and on this area’s World Heritage values.