Mission Beach Road research: traffic impacts on cassowaries and other fauna and strategies for mitigation.
Goosem, Miriam, Moore, Leslie, Byrnes, Peter, and Gibson, Marina (2011) Mission Beach Road research: traffic impacts on cassowaries and other fauna and strategies for mitigation. Report. James Cook University, Cairns.
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This monograph describes a series of research projects regarding the impacts of roads on cassowaries. It comprises firstly a literature review of road effects that demonstrates the loss of habitat as a result of clearing, edge effects, weed invasions and traffic noise along the Mission Beach roads. Second it details the highly significant rate of cassowary mortality on the main roads and explains bird behaviour when crossing and whether those killed are adult or juvenile, male or female. It details where most birds cross and where most are killed. It describes the rise in road deaths after Cyclone Larry.
Third we show that incorporation of underpasses for use by cassowaries has only demonstrated high levels of success where these take the form of high bridges with rainforest understorey underneath. Smaller underpass structures were not successful. We detail the level of mortality of other vertebrates along the roads. Fourth the monograph details the traffic volumes and the speeds that vehicles travel along the main Mission Beach entry roads. We show that average monthly speeds along one road with a wide clearing are higher than the 80km/h speed limit and many are travelling at speeds more than 40 km/h in excess of the speed limit. Where a different road has rainforest close to the tarmac edge, speeds tend to be slower and curved roads also tend to reduce speeds. Unfortunately, psychological traffic calming attempts to make the road appear narrower have not been successful, although physical structures such as speed humps may be more successful. Fifth the monograph provides the literature background to potential means of reducing road mortality as applied worldwide.
Finally, we describe how this could be applied to cassowary road kill hotspots in the Mission Beach area. The idea of having wide clearings that reduce road deaths by allowing drivers to see cassowaries before they move onto the road was not supported by the evidence, with more road deaths occurring on a road with a wide clearing. Fencing was not recommended due to observations of cassowaries damaging themselves when trying to push through fences. We describe many known crossing areas and suggest a number of potential options for reducing road deaths at each. There are several areas where large underpasses or overpasses could allow movements of cassowaries and these need to be strengthened, particularly areas that reconnect the Mission Beach population with cassowaries on the mountain ranges to the west.
One holistic way of reducing cassowary deaths would be to reduce the speed at which vehicles travel along the road. This can be done by several means:
• by reducing the road design speed and incorporating traffic calming where possible;
• by reducing legislated speed limits in some road section with high risk, which will only increase main road journeys by about 1.5-3 minutes;
• by greater levels of speed enforcement and using novel strategies to achieve speed monitoring; We suggest government policy and community level strategies that may assist in these goals and provide suggestions for priority areas. However, these need to be implemented using integrated strategies with a consensus between community and government stakeholders.
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