The Department of Environment and Heritage Protection is examining a complaint hundreds of flying foxes roosting in trees at the end of Macpherson St, Oonoonba were severely panicked last week by a low-flying helicopter spraying for mosquitoes.
The council, which contracted the helicopter, says it was not aware of the flying fox colony, as it was the first time in three years spraying has been carried out in the area. It is unapologetic over the encounter, arguing it has a duty to protect residents from mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue fever. Wildlife advocate Blanche D'Anastasi, who lives in Oonoonba, said she witnessed the helicopter flying back and forth past the colony, at extremely close quarters, for about 30 minutes on Friday from about 3.30pm. "There were literally hundreds of bats just screaming and panicked flying around in the air at a time when they'd normally be in a resting state in the trees," she said. "The helicopter was repeatedly flying low over the colony, about six times. "During that time the helicopter swooped and I could see mums with little tiny pups clinging to their belly flying around. "I also watched two little pups during the 30-minute episode falling down through the mangrove." A council is only allowed to administer dispersal of a flying fox colony with a damage mitigation permit, approved by the department. Manager of wildlife management operations Mike Devery said the department would meet with council and the contractor this week about the matter. If found guilty, Mr Devery said the maximum penalty for deliberately disturbing a flying fox colony without authorisation was $110,000. The council's director of community and environment Gavin Lyons said the council had been carrying out aerial spraying of salt marsh mosquito breeding sites from Cungulla Beach through to the Northern Beaches. "Aerial spraying uses a target specific insecticide to control mosquito numbers and requires low level passes over a wide area of mangrove areas to ensure effective coverage of breeding sites," he said.