Faure Island is part of the Shark Bay World Heritage Area, tucked between the Peron Peninsula and mainland Western Australia. Being completely feral-free, the island sanctuary is critically important for the conservation of Australia’s threatened mammals, and is also a crucial breeding area for seabirds – recognised as a Nationally important wetland and Nationally important shorebird habitat area.
Located in one of Australia’s richest marine regions, Faure Island is part of the Shark Bay World Heritage Area – one of only 16 natural sites in Australia listed as being of outstanding universal value. It is surrounded by the Shark Bay Marine Park, nestled in the azure sea between the Peron Peninsula and mainland Western Australia.
Faure Island is critically important for the conservation of Australia’s threatened mammals because it is entirely free of feral predators (foxes and cats) and feral herbivores. Before it was acquired by AWC in 1999, Faure Island operated as a pastoral station for over 100 years, and carried sheep and goats. Working in partnership with the WA Government, AWC eradicated all feral animals soon after the purchase of the island. At the time, Faure Island became the third largest island in the world from which cats had been eradicated. Since declaring the island feral-free, AWC has successfully established populations of four nationally threatened mammals: Boodies (Burrowing Bettongs), Banded Hare-wallabies, Western Barred Bandicoots and Shark Bay Mice.
The coastline of Faure Island features russet cliffs, mangrove-lined lagoons and mudflats while the undulating interior is a mosaic of heaths and shrubs which provide ideal habitat for mammals. The coastal wetlands attract internationally significant shorebird populations, while the adjacent waters host three species of threatened sea turtle and the iconic dugong.
Faure Island is an emergent portion of the ‘Faure Sill’, a sandbar overlaying sandstone that crosses the eastern gulf of Shark Bay from Peron Peninsula to the mainland. Interestingly, it is this sandbar that has created the vast areas of sandy hypersaline shallows that support the famous Stromatolites of Shark Bay. The island consists of three major landforms, each characterised by distinctive vegetation:
Some stretches of the shore are bordered by steep cliffs while others have red or white dunes, often covered by beach spinifex (Spinifex longifolius). A series of sand spits enclose shallow lagoons that support regionally significant mangrove communities (Avicennia marina).
The island’s vegetation reflects its semi-arid climate: rainfall varies greatly from year to year, but averages about 220 mm. Faure Island consists of undulating sandy plains and dunes with open acacia shrublands and interdunal ‘birridas’ (seasonally flooded, saline, clay pans). The birridas are fringed by samphire and saltbush species. Detailed mapping carried out during 2009 identified 30 habitats on Faure Island.
The flora of the Faure Island Sanctuary is a subset of that found on the nearby mainland on Peron Peninsula, dominated by arid zone species and intermingled with more temperate species. Over 140 species of native vascular plants have been found and many more species are expected to be recorded on the island.
Into the feral-free environment of Faure Island, AWC has successfully reintroduced four threatened mammals: the Burrowing Bettong (Boodie), Banded Hare-wallaby, Western Barred Bandicoot and Shark Bay Mice.
Faure Island is also home to 36 reptile species and at least 127 bird species. The sanctuary provides a key breeding area for many seabirds, and supports one of the biggest Pied Cormorant rookeries in the region. Far Eastern Curlews, listed as a Critically Endangered species nationally, are reliably seen during the annual shorebird surveys. Populations of three species of migratory shorebirds on Faure are now regularly recorded at numbers that indicate Faure is a significant staging area on their migration route – the Bar-tailed Godwit, Grey-tailed Tattler and Red-necked Stint. Additionally in 2016, nearly 6,000 Red-necked Stints were recorded on Faure, which is more than 1% of the global population of the species. These important population records meet two criteria of the international RAMSAR Convention and suggest Faure Island should be considered an ‘Internationally Important Wetland’.
The region is also vitally important for threatened marine animals including Green, Hawksbill and Loggerhead Turtles, all of which can be seen in the crystal clear waters off Faure Island. The iconic Dugong is also frequently spotted, as are large schools of Tiger Sharks.
The field programs at Faure Island include an integrated weed control and fire management program, monitoring for feral animal incursions, wildlife translocations and a regular program of ecological surveys.
One of the legacies of the pastoral era on Faure Island was the introduction of a suite of weeds. The most significant weed species are Buffel Grass, which is found across 35% of the island, Lupins, Boxthorn, and other pasture grasses. They are controlled through targeted herbicide spraying. The encroachment of Buffel Grass has the potential to increase the fire risk on Faure Island by creating a more continuous ground cover of flammable material. Fire management also involves the regular maintenance of mechanical breaks on the island.
There are no feral cats, foxes, or any feral herbivores on Faure Island. At the time of acquisition by AWC, there were more than 2,000 feral goats on Faure Island. These goats were removed by trapping and shooting. Feral cats and foxes are widespread across the adjacent mainland and are a major threat to wildlife populations. This highlights the importance of Faure Island and other feral free islands in Shark Bay as secure habitat for highly threatened mammals.
Since 2002, five species of threatened mammals have been reintroduced to Faure Island in 16 different translocation events. Healthy wild populations of four species now occur on Faure Island. The population of the Burrowing Bettong (Boodie) is estimated at around 20,000 animals (at least half the global population). There are stable, self-sustaining populations of the remaining three species (Banded Hare-wallaby, Western Barred Bandicoot and Shark Bay Mice) and Faure Island was used as a source population for translocations of these species to Mt Gibson in 2017.
The fifth species reintroduced to Faure Island was the Greater Stick-nest Rat. Unfortunately, they have not been recorded in several years – numbers are either too low to detect or the reintroduction has failed.
The successful establishment of native mammals on Faure Island is significant because, after over 100 years operating as a pastoral property stocked with sheep and goats, there were no native mammals left on the Island (other than the Northern Freetail Bat) when AWC acquired the property in 1999. AWC conducted a fauna survey, including an analysis of sub-fossil remains, and found evidence of prior occupation by Woylies, Western Barred Bandicoots and Shark Bay Mice. While no evidence of Boodies or Banded Hare-wallabies was identified, these animals were found in other parts of the Shark Bay region and are likely to have previously existed on Faure.
Regular surveys are carried out on Faure Island, to measure ecological health, and track the populations of highly endangered mammals. In total, AWC ecologists undertake each year more than 400 live trap nights, 500 scat and tracking plot nights, 50 bird surveys at 17 sites, 41 km of spotlighting transects and 15 vegetation surveys. Among other things, this survey effort measures the diversity and abundance of key faunal groups including terrestrial and shore birds, top order predators (goannas) and other reptiles.
In collaboration with experienced members of Birdlife Australia, shorebirds have been surveyed annually. The results are used to monitor trends in abundance and species richness of shorebirds visiting Faure Island.
Native vegetation and weeds are monitored at sites set up in four of the dominant vegetation types on the island. At each site, the impacts of mammal grazing on the vegetation structure is measured using exclusion fences.
Detailed monitoring is carried out after all translocation events. For example, when 30 Banded Hare-wallabies were translocated to the island in 2013, 25 were radio-collared including 4 with GPS collars. The data obtained helps measure the success of the translocation, and informs the development of strategies for future reintroductions.
The Banded Hare-wallaby is the sole survivor of an ancient group of kangaroos which included the giant short-faced kangaroos.
Burrowing Bettongs (or often referred to as Boodies in western and southern Australia), are a small, thick-set, kangaroo-like animal.
AWC successfully reintroduced Western Barred Bandicoots to Faure Island in 2005.
Feral cats and foxes have wreaked havoc on Australia’s mammal population. Combined with habitat loss and feral herbivores, many small and medium sized mammals have disappeared from their previous range. When AWC acquired Faure Island, there were no native mammals remaining after over 100 years of pastoral use. After removing all feral animals from the island, AWC has since reintroduced four threatened mammal species. These populations are now wild and self-sustaining, while many other populations are declining elsewhere.