AG Society update: Wingthreads mission complete

By Chrissie Goldrick 30 May 2024
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On 20 September 2023 scientist, author and artist Amellia Formby completed a circumnavigation of Australia in a microlight aircraft.

The Australian Geographic Society-sponsored journey, described by Amellia Formby as a creative flying quest that aims to foster stewardship of wetland ecosystems, was inspired by the epic migrations of the shorebirds that fly from Australia to Siberia every year to breed – a total round trip of 25,000km. Migratory shorebirds are among the most endangered groups of birds on the planet, mostly due to habitat loss along their migration path known as the East Asian-Australasian Flyway.

BirdLife Australia’s Migratory Shorebird Conservation Action Plan identifies lack of awareness as a major threat to migratory shorebirds during their time in Australia. One of the biggest obstacles faced by shorebird conservation is that of capturing the attention of people long enough to effectively communicate why shorebirds and their habitats are worth protecting.

In 2016, Amellia came up with the idea for Wing Threads: Flight Around Oz to directly address this lack of awareness. “I could see that pursuing a flying adventure as a science educator had the potential to engage an audience unfamiliar with shorebirds and provide a platform from which to target educators and schools to incorporate shorebirds in their curriculum. While not everyone cares about shorebirds, most people are excited by stories of people pursuing their dreams of adventure,” says Amellia.

 Image credits: courtesy Amellia Formby

It took six years of flight training before Amellia was ready to embark on her journey. She left from White Gum Farm near Perth in June 2022. By flying a microlight, Amelia wanted to experience what it’s like to be a bird for herself and by sharing that bird’s eye view, spark empathy for the birds among those following her adventure.

“My aircraft has an open cockpit and is exposed to the elements just like a bird. It’s physical to fly, just like flapping your wings would be, and travels at a cruise speed of about 55 knots – not much faster than what shorebirds fly on migration,” says Amelia.  “As part of the trip, I visited 105 primary schools and spoke to 6550 students in urban, regional and remote parts of the country to promote stewardship of migratory shorebirds and their wetland habitats in collaboration with BirdLife Australia.”

The entire flight was 14,000km completed in 160 hours over 59 flight legs, which Amelia did over 12 months with ground crew support in the form of volunteers all around the country. Each flight leg covered 90-200 nautical miles, taking between 2-3.5 hours.

“In the end, it took 12 months to do what a bar-tailed godwit can do flying non-stop from Alaska to New Zealand in just 9 days!” she says. “It’s given me new appreciation for what these incredible birds do, the challenges they face and their vulnerability with ever-growing encroachment on the places they live. Many thanks to all the generous donors and sponsors, including the Australian Geographic Society, who contributed to make this journey possible.”

Steph Devery stopping for a photo during her cycle through Saudi Arabia. Related: Australian Geographic Adventurer of the Year Awards 2024: Nominations now open!