Moreton Island represents one of the least polluted and least disturbed coastal environments along the Queensland-NSW coast.
This relatively pristine environment with a variety of inhabitants supports some interesting and valuable species.
Moreton Island represents one of the least polluted and least disturbed coastal environments along the Queensland-NSW coast. Most of the island has been included in the internationally recognized Moreton Bay Ramsar Site in recognition of its important wetland sites: the salt marsh, tidal flats, sandy beaches and perched lakes. This relatively pristine environment with a variety of inhabitants supports some interesting and valuable species.
Flora of Moreton Island
Previously know as “Black Boys” the grass tree is a beautiful and extremely strong tree that exists on Moreton Island. They are very slow at growing, only reaching 2.5cm taller a year. Thus a tree that is 5m tall could be 200 years old.
The trees were very important to the Aboriginal people who lived where it grew. The flowering spike made the perfect fishing spear. It was also soaked in water and the nectar from the flowers would give a sweet tasting drink. In the bush the flowers were used as a compass. This is because flowers on the warmer, sunnier side of the spike (usually the north facing side) often open before the flowers on the cooler side facing away from the sun. Once the flowers dried, they would ignite very well. They would light them on fire and carry the spears around like torches to see where they were going and light other camp fires with them as well.
The resin from the plants was used in spear-making and was an invaluable adhesive for Aboriginal people.
Scribbly gum is an Australian eucalypt that is name after the ”scribbles” on its bark. The zigzag tracks are tunnels made by the larvae of the Scribbly Gum Moth and follow the insect’s life cycle. Eggs are laid between layers of old and new bark. The larvae burrow into the new bark and as the old bark falls away, the new trails are revealed. The diameters of the tunnels increase as the larvae grow and the ends of the tracks are where the larvae stopped to pupate.
The coastal banksias is a tall shrub or small tree up to 8m high. It has hard grey bark and smooth dark green leaves, with a distinctive white underneath. The flowers are pale yellow in colour, roughly cylindrical, 6-10cms high.
The Wallam Banksia is a gnarled shrub or small tree that can reach 5m in height. It can be distinguished by the trunk as it often has an orange tinge as opposed to grey. It has bright yellow flowers which are quite large growing up to 20cms. These banksias can be found in the north of the island, especially around the lighthouse car park.
The coastal wattle is a useful and hardy plant with a great root str5ucture for holding the sand together. It usually grows to 3m high and 4m wide. It flowers beautiful bright yellow 3cm rods which are quite dense and attract many birds to the area.
Fauna of Moreton Island
Over 180 species of birds have been recorded on the island – including seabirds, waders, forest-dependent birds and birds of prey. Thirty-one species of migratory birds protected under international agreements (JAMBA, CAMBA) have been recorded on Moreton Island.
The Pied Oystercatcher is one of the most common resident waders on the island. The birds are hard to miss with their beautiful black and white feathers, red eyes, red beaks and red legs. Oystercatchers feed on bivalve mollusks, which are prised apart with their specially adapted bills. Food is found by sight, or by probing their long, chisel shaped bills in the sand. Worms, crustaceans and insects are also eaten.
The Oystercatchers are a monogamous pair, meaning they breed for life. A breeding territory of some a200m is formed and is defended by both birds. Nesting takes place on the sand, just above the high water marks on beaches or sandbars. The two or three eggs are well camouflaged, being pale brown with darker brown and black blotches and streaks. Both sexes share parenting duties.
Also known as the Plover, these birds spend most of their time on the ground searching for food and have several distinctive calls. They are commonly found in pairs, especially when feeding along the coastline and they can also swim.
Breeding season happens after Winter Solstice and the nesting pair then defend their territory against all intruders, calling loudly, swooping fast and low and where necessary striking at the interloper with the conspicuous yellow spur on the carpel joint of the wing.
As you are driving along Eastern Beach you may notice large flocks of white birds resting in the shores. These birds are often mistaken for seagulls but in fact, they are Little Terns.
As their name suggests, the Little Terns have a black cap with a long crest of black feathers on the top of their head which they like to keep flat by facing onto the wind. They have a narrow white forehand band, black legs and a long sharp yellow bill. They have large wings which are medium grey and white, which darken in summer and their wingspan can reach 100cm.
The Little Tern breeds in dense colonies on coasts and islands and nests in a ground scrape and lays two eggs. They feed by plunge diving for fish, normally diving directly down. The offering of the fish by the male to the female is part of the courtship display.
If you observe the sky carefully, you might be able to see a beautiful osprey. They are also known as Fish Hawk, Seahawk or Fish Eagle and are a medium-large bird of prey which is a specialist fish eater and breeds on Moreton Island.
It is a medium size raptor, reaching 60cm in length with a 1.8m wingspan. The Osprey is predominantly whitish on the head and underbelly, with a brownish eye patch and wings and as its other name suggest, the Osprey’s diet consist of almost exclusively of fish. Prey is first sighted from around 10-40m above the water. After spotting prey, the bird hovers momentarily above the water. It is able to dive to around 1m deep.
The Whistling Kite is another medium-sized raptor sighted regularly on the island. It is named for its loud whistling call which it is often gives in flight. The Whistling Kite ranges in size from 50-60cm, with a wingspan between 123 and 146cm. Adult birds are pale on the head, breast and tail, with browner wings and black flight feathers.
They love to eat small mammals, fish, birds, reptiles, amphibians, crustaceans and insects. Most food items are taken either from the ground or from the water surface, though insects are sometimes hawked directly from the air.
The Brahamy Kite is another bird of prey reading 45-50cm in height. Both female and male are similar with rich chestnut bodies, white head, neck and breast with a white tipped tail. You may see them gliding along the shores of the beaches looking for small mammals, reptiles and fish.
At the base of the lighthouse, while looking out into the ocean, you may have noticed the kestrel. Kestrels are most easily distinguished by their typical hunting behavior which is to hover at a height of around 10-20m over open country and swoop down on prey, usually small mammals, lizards or large insects. They often require a slight headwind in order to hover and can do this for quite a long period of time.
As you drive towards the north of the island, you will hear the loud chirps of the tiny bird, the White-cheeked Honeyeater. They are found in heath land and amongst the banksia trees as they love sucking the sweet nectar out of the middle of the flowers. They will also eat insects and often feed in small groups.
The White-cheeked Honeyeater is a medium sized black and white honeyeater with a long, sturdy bill that curves downwards. It has a bright yellow tail and wing panels, with a large conspicuous white cheek patch on a mainly black head. In breeding season they also pair monogamously with the male acting very territorial to protect his babies.
There are a number of snakes living on Moreton Island, but you’ll be lucky (or unlucky) to see one as they are typically very shy. There is a carpet python which isn’t dangerous to us as they don’t have venom. Being a constrictor, the way they kill their prey is by strangling it to death. They have around 100 sharp teeth angled down their throat so their prey cannot escape once captured.
There are other dangerous snakes on the island such as the brown snake, and red-bellied black, amongst others. There are also lizards such as monitors and skinks, which love to sun-bake, commonly on the open sandy tracks, which is the most likely place you would find them while driving around the island. As with all fauna on the island, the safest practice if you come across a snake is to give it a wide berth and allow it to escape without threat.
Green Sea Turtles:
These amazing creatures can be spotted from Cape Moreton on the base of the lighthouse. The turtles love to swim around the rocks to feed on the sea-grasses and jellyfish. Being almost 90m above sea level looking down into the water the turtles may seem quite small, when in fact they can be 1m in length. They are most easily seen when surfacing for air every couple of minutes. The females come to shore to lay their eggs in the dunes every year between November and March. They lay around 100 ping-pong ball liked eggs, which take 6-8 weeks to hatch.
The graceful bottlenose dolphin is regularly spotted all around the island throughout the year. They range from 2-4m in length and can weigh from 150-650kg. Dolphins are commonly spotted in pods of around 10m from the cape but also it can just be a mother and baby playing in the bay. They have also been seen coming quite close into shore to catch their dinner, consisting of different species of small fish and occasionally squids and crabs.
If you visit Moreton Island between the months of June to October, you may be lucky enough to see humpback whales from the Cape. The whale is quite an acrobatic animal, often breaching and slapping the water. They only feed in polar waters in summer and migrate north in winter to warmer waters to breed and give birth. The adults range in length from 12 to 16m and weigh approximately 36,00 kg. Their diet consists of krill and small fish.
The dugong is a large, grey brown animal with a flattened bluked tail, like that of a whale, with no dorsal fin, paddle-like flippers and a distinctive head shape. Fully grown they may be 3m long and with up to 400kg. The broad flat muzzle and mouth are angled down to enable ease of grazing along the seabed. The dugong’s eyes and ears are small, reflecting the animal’s lack of reliance on the senses.
Dugongs are vegetarian, feeding exclusively on sea grass and prefer wide shallow bays and areas protected by large inshore islands.