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Western Port Ramsar Awareness Project

Western Port Biosphere Ramsar Awareness Project

Eastern curlew
Photo—Mark Lethlean

Boat User Ramsar Awareness Project

A Western Port Biosphere project conducted in conjunction with the Port Phillip and Westernport Catchment Management Authority and funded by the Victorian Government supported by the Australian Government. 

Our project is aimed at conserving the internationally significant Ramsar-listed wetlands of Western Port.

We are engaging with recreational watercraft users around the Bay to raise awareness of the internationally significant wetlands and how, as bay users, we can limit impacts on them.

A wetland of international significance

Many people don’t realise that most of Western Port has been listed as an internationally significant wetland under the intergovernmental Ramsar convention – a treaty aimed at the conservation and wise use of wetlands.

The most recent assessment of Western Port against the Ramsar criteria found that tat the time of listing, the site me seven of the current nine Ramsar criteria.

Our bay is Ramsar-listed because of the high representation of marine species and birds that rely on the wetland and the significant expanses of important wetland habitat, including intertidal sand and mud flats and areas of saltmarsh and mangroves.

A Red-necked Stint foraging in the wrack at Point Leo
on the shores of Western Port.  These amazing birds
migrate from Western Port, all the way to the Arctic to
breed during our Winter!

Photo-Mark Lethlean

Seagrass meadows, mudflats, mangroves and saltmarshes start the food chains that sustain the fishery and provide for our international migratory shorebirds.  These birds (like the Red-necked stint pictured above) rely on the wetland for food prior to their epic migrations to the Arctic Circle.

Local fish like the King George whiting grow to a catchable size in the seagrass meadows of Western Port.  Whiting from our bay then migrate along the Victorian coast to spawning sites far along the coast to the west.

The threatened species - Australian grayling
Photo-Tarmo A. Raadik

Other fish such as the pictured Australian grayling migrate downstream to spawn in the lower freshwater reaches of rivers flowing into the bay. Larvae then drift to the bay before migrating upstream to  fresh water as juveniles.

The wetland is also a key breeding area for a range of species including Elephant fish, which are thought to deposit their eggs in the soft sediment between San Remo and French Island.

What the Biosphere is doing
We’re working towards greater collaboration across the Biosphere with agencies, community organisations and boat users to raise awareness about our bay’s international significance.

We’re directly engaging with boat users about the threats facing this unique pocket of the world, so that we can agree on and adopt best practice responsible boating for Western Port.

The Biosphere is running workshops and meeting with boating clubs to talk about these issues. We are organising field trips across the wetland to provide an immersive experience for boaters to learn more about the complex ecology of our bay.

Much of the bay’s beauty may be hard to see without special equipment.  For example, much of the marine life in Western Port exists in water with high levels of sediment and some live directly in the mud!  So we’re also excited to be exploring ways to bring the bay’s treasures directly to the community through various forms of media.

The Ramsar boundaries
The approx. 60,000 ha Ramsar wetland includes most of Western Port.  As you can see below the designated area surrounds French Island and includes large shallow intertidal areas, deeper channels and some narrow strips of coastal land.

Map of Western Port Ramsar Site
© Commonwealth of Australia 2019

Challenges to our bay

Our region’s population is projected to continue to grow bringing increased pressure on our internationally significant wetland.The focus of our project is on the future challenges related to recreational boat use including:

The focus of our project is on the future challenges related to recreational boat use including:

· Vessel disturbance to shorebirds and roosting sea birds
· Unintended spread of marine pests
· Propeller, vessel and anchor impacts on intertidal flats and the flow on effects to the ecosystem
· Over-fishing of marine species and the flow on effects on the ecosystem

Simple things we can all do as boat users

As Western Port boat users we can help protect our unique bay with these simple actions:

· Avoid disturbing roosting and feeding shore birds
· Monitor for and notify authorities if suspected marine pests are identified
· Check, Clean and Dry between waterways to prevent the spread of pests
· Be mindful of where we anchor and other vessel impacts on flats and sea grass
· Follow catch limits, and
· Be mindful of bait pumping beyond our needs

Northern Pacific Sea Star
— a voracious marine predator—
photo courtesy of Parks Victoria

Working together for mutual gain

Western Port faces challenges in balancing conservation with recreation.  However, responses to pressures on conservation can overlap with improved recreation.  For example, protecting the bay’s seagrass can lead to more fish for us to catch whilst also keeping intact the ecosystem and nutrients our birds need for migration to the Arctic.

Our project is bringing together bay users to collaborate in looking after this special place so that future generations are able to enjoy it like we have.


More information
We are particularly looking for interested boat users to contact the Biosphere if they’d like more information about the project and perhaps to attend an upcoming field day.

Interested community members and those with specific project enquiries can contact Project Officer Casey Lee
Email: po@biosphere.org.au 

Members interested in becoming involved in helping protect the bay can see opportunities here: