Webber chopper's tern for the worse
Formula One driver Mark Webber's adventure marathon has blown up a wildlife storm in Tasmania, where an event helicopter rotor-blasted a nesting colony of threatened fairy terns.
Teams in the multi-sport event were kayaking near Scamander on the island's east coast when the helicopter swooped to within 20 metres of the colony, according to the group, BirdLife Tasmania.
Event organiser Mark Perry, confirmed the "most unfortunate" incident, which he said was a brief, inadvertent maneuver over a bird sensitive area at the mouth of the Scamander River.
"When the nesting was observed the helicopter immediately moved away, after less than 40 seconds in the area," Mr Perry said.
BirdLife Tasmania convenor, Eric Woehler, said the incident jeopardised the colony's breeding season.
Dr Woehler, said it was highly probable there would be some loss of life among the terns, but the colony could not be assessed without disturbing them further.
"The high temperatures at Scamander during the incident could easily have caused the eggs and chicks to die from heat stress, resulting in low to nil breeding success," Dr Woehler said.
The fairy tern, a small black-capped member of the seabird group, is nationally listed as vulnerable and numbers only around 9,000 adults across Australia.
The Scamander colony represented up to half of all known breeding fairy terns in Tasmania. Dr Woehler said years of local community work protecting the colony had been undone in minutes.
He said a permit issued by the state Parks and Wildlife Service specifically called for the protection of beach-nesting birds to prevent just such an event.
A spokesman for the state Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and the Environment said it was taking the report very seriously, and monitoring the site to determine any impact.