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Monday, 28 February  2005  Seagulls

Hear about why seagulls are proving to be a pest, not only for people at the beach, but for the environment as well.

MIKE SEXTON: Australia has only two endemic species of seagulls, the Pacific gull and the silver gull.

But what they lack in variety, they more than make up for in noise.

And the din they make grows louder every year, because gulls are the baby boomers of the bird world.


Since the Second World War, the numbers have gone up exponentially.

They're just increasing fantastically.

MIKE SEXTON: Biologist Jeremy Robertson from Flinders University has been studying seabirds at Port Adelaide for almost a decade, against the industrial backdrop are several islands that are home to major bird colonies.

And although it's impossible to quantify how many, Dr Robertson has seen the area increasingly dominated by silver gulls.

Unlike parts of nature where the spread of human activity has endangered species, the silver gulls thrive because they live off the excesses of our lifestyle.

JEREMY ROBERTSON: They're opportunists and they've, they're taking advantage of human activities - rubbish dumps, for example, fishing discards, aquaculture, that kind of thing.

And just the Australian outdoor life, if you like. Barbeques and things mean there's a lot of excess food around. And gulls really don't, in many cases, live in the wild anymore. They live around people and that's why they're doing well.

MIKE SEXTON: A short flight from Port Adelaide is one of the city's largest dumps and a perfect example of why silver gulls are often referred to as 'rats with wings'.

This scene is repeated around the world, making the spread of seagulls not only a problem for Australian cities and towns, but a global phenomenon.

Twenty years ago, Ian Temby authored a report for a Victorian Government inquiry into waste management that recommended ways of controlling seagull access to tips.

Now he believes the message is even more urgent.

IAN TEMBY: Now we have a figure for the costs to the community of having so many gulls around.

And that, I hope, will provide the spur to get groups of interested people - and that's businesses, airports, municipalities that are affected by these gulls - to get together and lobby for change to the way we handle rubbish.

MIKE SEXTON: Back at Port Adelaide, Jeremy Robertson believes silver gulls have already driven away some terns and are threatening a breeding colony of cormorants.

JEREMY ROBERTSON: The silver gulls, which you can see hanging in amongst the cormorants, will move in and take chicks whenever the nest's left, even for only a few seconds.

So there's a very high mortality of chicks. We've seen 100 chicks taken in a few minutes. It's just extraordinary how quickly they go.

MIKE SEXTON: The best way to lower their number is to cut off the gulls' free lunch.

But Dr Robertson warns against any drastic action, fearing that we've tipped the balance of nature so far one way that anything other than a gradual reduction in food for gulls will see them destroy other species.

JEREMY ROBERTSON: Let's say we effectively close down dumps so gulls couldn't get at them they would have to find alternative food sources and the most likely thing is they'd turn on other birds and things and you could have a real environmental disaster.

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English Bites - Seagulls
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Pacific gull
A large seagull with black wings. Its scientific name is Larus pacificus.

silver gull
The most common seagull in Australia. Its scientific name is Larus novaehollandiae.

make up for
replace or compensate for something , usually something that is damaged or lost

Example: Money doesn't really make up for the time I spent in prison.

gone up

Example: The price of fuel has gone up.
For more on the phrasal verb go up, follow the link.
more information: go up

An opportunist is someone who exploits or takes advantage of a situation.

taking advantage
If people take advantage, they use all the good things they find in a situation.

human activities
things that people do

rubbish dumps
Rubbish dumps are places where people put their rubbish. Seagulls love them, because they are full of food scraps.

fishing discards
Discards are things thrown away, so fishing discards are the bits that are thrown away after you've been fishing. They are often the insides of fish.

excess food
If you have an excess of something, you have too much of it.
So excess food means too much food. There is too much food being thrown away.

in the wild
in nature

an occurrence; something that happens
Phenomenon is the singular form. You have one phenomenon. But this word has the irregular plural phenomena. There are many phenomena.

provide the spur
provide the incentive

driven away
Driven away means forced to go away, or made to go away.

Another type of seabird.

breeding colony of cormorants
Cormorants are seabirds. They have a long neck and a pouch under their beak.

They breed in rocks around the sea. But the seagulls come and eat the eggs and the baby cormorants.

mortality of chicks
Here, the chicks are the baby cormorants. There is a high mortality of the babies. Mortality is the death rate, or the number of deaths.

The past participle of the irregular verb take.
more information: take

turn on
Here, to turn on something means to attack it.
The phrasal verb turn on has several other meanings. Follow the link to hear what they are.
more information: turn on

Increase your vocabulary.

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