Photo by LiquidGhoul

Green and Golden Bell Frog

The Green and Golden Bell Frog (often abbreviated to GGBF) has a conservation status of "Endangered" in NSW (source: NSW Government Office of Environment and Heritage). There are very few populations left in Sydney and one is in Arncliffe, on the edge of the current golf course site.

This section is just a summary with emphasis on the development of Cooks Cove. A have a separate site with more information about the Arncliffe GGBF.

There are two documents in DA-2017/179, "Appendix G - Green & Golden Bell Frog Management Plan Part 1 - Cook Cove Southern Precinct" and "Appendix G - Green & Golden Bell Frog Management Plan Part 2 - Cook Cove Southern Precinct" which describe how a habitat is to be established for the Green and Golden Bell Frog in Cooks Cove South. That has to be good thing, right? Well, it's not so simple.

First, a bit of background information (source: Green and Golden Bell Frog Plan of Management, Arncliffe, prepared for Roads and Maritime Services which I will call the GGBF RMS plan). When the original M5 was built through Arncliffe between Eve Street and the site of the current golf course, the RTA (Roads and Traffic Authority), in order to preserve the GGBF population, built two ponds for the GGBF, on the edge of the golf course. The GGBF breeds in this habitat and occasionally in other bodies of water on the golf course. It also forages in the land around water bodies.

As the Westconnex work is impacting on the frog habitat, the GGBF RMS plan prescribes that the habitat be extended to the other side of the M5 to an area between Marsh Street, Eve Street and the M5. This extension would be connected to the existing habitat via frog tunnels and would have three new ponds. I looked at the RTA ponds in June, 2016 and it was clear that some work on Westconnex had already commenced. I looked at the habitat extension site on January 10, 2017 and saw no evidence of work on the habitat extension having commenced.

I sought an explanation and based on emails from the Westconnex Community Relations Team I can report the following: Approval for the project requires the habitat extension to be completed within one year of the start of construction. Westconnex considers construction to have started in November 2016. All prior work was preparation work. They have already completed geotechnical and contamination testing, are planning to start creating the extension in the first quarter of 2017 and expect to finish in the third quarter of 2017.

That is not quite satisfactory. Westconnex work is well under way but not the habitat extension.

Back to the development application. Below is a quote from the second GGBF document in the DA. The Marsh Street breeding ponds referred to are the ones to be created in the habitat extension by the RMS:

"Note that no translocation of Green and Golden Bell frogs into these additional breeding and foraging ponds will occur. The successful utilisation of these ponds is dependent on the persistence of the Green and Golden Bell Frog population in the RTA ponds and the successful establishment of these frogs in the Marsh Street breeding ponds. As the management of the RTA ponds and the Marsh Street breeding ponds is out of the control of Cook Cove Inlet, the successful utilisation of these ponds is also to some extent beyond the ability of Cook Cove Inlet to control."

While elsewhere the document suggests that a translocation may take place, it is fair enough that the developer is not promising it. You can't just pick a whole bunch of endangered animals up from an established habitat and put them somewhere else. Approval is required which potentially may not be given. Basically, the RMS habitat extension is a critical stepping stone so that the frogs can populate the Cooks Cove South habitat extension by themselves. However, even if the RMS habitat extension goes ahead and is successful, there is no guarantee that the frogs will populate the Cooks Cove South habitat extension.

The other piece of context that is required is that although no development application has been submitted for it as of January 11, the developer is intending to use the existing golf course site to develop high rise buildings (source: Cook Cove Indicative Development Proposal - Kogarah Golf Course Relocation). Having development on the site is also NSW government policy, see section Background: Increasing Densitities. This will place the GGBF under additional pressure.

There is something rather curious in the second GGBF DA document in the section on Frog-proof Fencing. We have these quotes:

"This frog-proof fencing will initially be constructed 12 m from the RTA ponds but will require shifting to within 5 metres of the RTA ponds as construction proceeds. This will effectively confine the frog population of the site to a band around the ponds."

and

"Once construction in each area has been completed, the frog-proof fencing around the RTA ponds and the Eve/Marsh Street wetlands respectively will then be removed to allow the frogs to forage over much of the site and have access to the new breeding areas."

That suggests to me that final development will come quite close to the ponds, even if it's not to within 5 metres. And the fences will then go which will expose the frogs to dogs and cats and possibly cars. But the curious part is that an aspect of the development of the current golf course site found its way into the development application for Cooks Cove South. Is this an attempt to sneak something through? Or is it just a mistake? I don't know.

In a sense, the GGBF plans are compensation for impacts on the GGBF that will be revealed in more detail in a future DA. It is also worth remembering that the land around the RTA ponds is actually government owned (Bayside Council and NSW government). See section Land Ownership and Tenure. So if development were to take place there (and I am not expressing approval for such development), the sale of that land should bring in a huge amount of money of which some can be used to establish a Cooks Cove South habitat extension without the developer's help and without giving away almost all of Cooks Cove South.

In summary, the GGBF plans for Cooks Cove South in the development application are not grounds for objection. But when looked at in context and taking into accounts all the things that have to go right for this to work, the potential appears to be there for the frogs to fail to establish themselves in the new habitat extensions and for the habitat around the RTA ponds to become not viable. The result would be extinction of the GGBF in Arncliffe.