For 15 years the Bendigo Community Bank Hastings has been helping our local Biosphere Reserve community to thrive. They return our profits to the people and communities that generate them. Bendigo Bank’s network of Community Bank branches have pumped almost $300 million back into Australian communities. More than $800,000 of that has been right here, in and around Hastings. From youth leadership programs to art shows, community radio to community houses, children’s basketball to bowls clubs, swimming lessons to programs to keep the reserve tidy, together they are building a stronger, healthier and more resilient community.
We are thrilled to announce that we to have been one of the many successful recipients of the Community Investment Program. Alongside many other wonderful community groups doing great things for the reserve, we were invited to the Funding awards night November 21st, held at the Hastings Club, to receive our certificate and meet the other recipients.
Perhaps it’s just as well I never gave in to temptation. As I found out last month, navigating the Tooradin channels is no job for the blissfully ignorant. At low tide, almost half of Western Port is exposed mud and seagrass. The captain of the Tidemaster remains on full alert as he beats a path for the bay through emerging mudflats.
The Western Port Biosphere Foundation has organised the cruise to bring together blue carbon experts and other stakeholders, providing an opportunity to visit the coastline of French Island and explore the seagrass meadows of Western Port.
On board the Tidemaster is a precious cargo: champions, defenders and experts on Western Port, and a few extras like me. Fortunately the collective has been divided into two sailings, so if the boat sinks with all hands, we’ll only lose half of the expertise.
Amidst the sightseeing, birdwatching and morning tea, we hear the latest from the Blue Carbon Lab scientists who are mapping the distribution of blue carbon habitats across the bay. With its wealth of carbon-absorbing marine habitats, including mangroves, tidal and salt marshes, and seagrasses, our bay could play a crucial role in a nature-based solution to climate change.
OzFish uses an underwater drone to show us the seagrass meadows, though today is not a good day as turbidity clouds the view.
That’s actually an insight into the impact of turbidity on the seagrass meadows, as Dr Hugh Kirkman explains. It’s a thrill to meet this world leader in the ecology of seagrass who worked on the influential 1975 Shapiro Report into Western Port, commissioned by the Dick Hamer Liberal Government. Thirty-eight years later, Hugh is still working to protect this bay.
As Ian Stevenson of the Western Port Seagrass Partnership says, there’s no real common denominator. What works at the northern end of the bay doesn’t work at the east. Perhaps the winds are too strong, or the tides. What works in one inlet won’t work in another. We are still learning. Our local Landcare crews are experimenting with various planting methods to determine which has the best survival rate.
Earlier Adrian Flynn of Fathom Pacific has tested our general knowledge. “Why is Western Port designated as a biosphere reserve?” Of course everyone on board knows the answer: “Because of the migratory seabirds and waders.”
Adrift on Western Port, it all makes sense. As the tide recedes, more mudflats appear and the birds arrive in droves: red-necked stints, curlew sandpipers and eastern curlews.
Heading back to the Tooradin inlet, there’s an “All hands on deck” moment. We are a little aft-heavy and in danger of becoming marooned on a mudflat. The captain politely requests some of his passengers to move fore and a marine disaster is averted.
Some people dream of sailing from San Francisco to Tahiti; others of cruising the Rhine. For me it was a cruise through the Tooradin mangroves.
A final special touch: as we disembark the pelicans briefly look up then resume feasting on the mudflats.
Take it from me, there are bellies you’d like to get rid of and there are those worth preserving. Both require a lot of willpower and effort and, to date, the Biosphere Foundation’s efforts to support the Orange Bellied Parrot program at Moonlit Sanctuary are way ahead of my other schedule.
Both efforts are consequential for our Biosphere, but progress on restoration of the threatened Orange Bellied Parrot population is considerably outweighing the effort for reduced consumption of some of the excellent produce from our farmers and vignerons.
Enough of the frivolity, let’s set Project B(elly) to one side, pour a glass of pinot and ponder the extension of our support for the critically endangered Orange Bellied Parrot.
It is one of only three migratory parrots in the world. Breeding in south-west Tasmania during spring and summer, Orange Bellied Parrots migrate to the southeast coast of mainland Australia, where they spend the autumn and winter in Victoria and South Australia.
Numbers of Orange-bellied Parrots have declined from perhaps several thousand in the late 1800s. Threats to the species include past and ongoing loss and degradation of habitat (including non-breeding habitat), loss of genetic diversity and inbreeding, stochastic environmental events, and predators and competitors.^ Principally a ground feeder, the parrot eats seeds, fruits, flowers and berries.
According to our partners at Moonlit Sanctuary, the wild population numbered less that 20 adults at the start of the 2017/18 breeding season. Thanks to breeding programs, including Moonlit’s, the returning population reached 70 individuals at the start of the 2021/22 breeding season, with optimism that this would result in about 140 parrots returning to the mainland.
The Biosphere Foundation has supported Moonlit’s program with two tranches of funding, the first courtesy of the Federal Government’s just-concluded Environmental Restoration Fund (ERF) and the second enabled by our public donations.
The first provided monitoring equipment to help understand the relationship between the temperature in parrot nesting boxes at Moonlit Sanctuary and successful breeding and fledgling nurture.
The second advances this foundation work, assisting Moonlit to purchase cameras to not only record temperature, but also visually record the behaviours and any other influences that maybe contributing to inconsistent fledging duration.
Normally, the Orange Bellied Parrot breeds mainly within southwest Tasmania’s Melaleuca region. Birds typically begin to arrive at Melaleuca in late September. Nests are occupied from mid-November, with nesting occurring in artificial nest boxes or, where available, hollows of eucalypt trees (typically Eucalyptus nitida).
Pairs do not mate for life. The female stays in the nest for several days before the first egg is laid and clutches average 4.6 eggs (range 1–6). Only the female incubates the eggs during the 21-day incubation period. After hatching, the female remains on the nest for 10 days, being fed by the male.
After the 10-day brood period, the chicks are fed by both parents before fledging at four to five weeks of age. Fledglings are fed by both parents until the adults depart on the northern migration in February–March. The fledglings typically depart between March and April. Juveniles are also individually colour banded (using leg bands) from nest boxes each year which forms the basis of population studies.*
Moonlit Sanctuary is one of several facilities running programs to ensure the Orange Bellied Parrot can be brought back from the brink. However, the Moonlit team is also gaining important insights into the role that saltmarsh habitat, which abounds in the Biosphere Reserve, can play in the bird’s survival.
This could provide valuable insight into the importance of saltmarsh preservation, which our Foundation is evaluating as part of the major blue carbon assessment and works undertaken with support of the Victorian Government and the Bunurong Land Council’s environment team.
It highlights the importance of on-going public donations to the Foundation and how their impact can be amplified as knowledge from a single project feeds into the wider matrix of work to preserve our Biosphere Reserve for future generations.
As for dealing with that other belly, the less public donations the better!
There are some wonderful and occasionally pristine habitats comprising the core zones of the Western Port Biosphere. Among these are our internationally acclaimed Ramsar wetlands, multiple national and marine parks and areas yet untouched by our urban spread.
Protecting these areas lies at the heart of what we do. In the conjoined battles against climate change and biodiversity loss, the preservation of these wilderness areas will be critical to ensuring future generations will enjoy the natural aesthetics and healthy living environment that we enjoy today.
While acknowledging this, perhaps the greatest potential for achieving our vision lies in the buffer zones with the Biosphere Reserve. UNESCO recently endorsed the significantly expanded tracts of land designated as such within our reserve.
The richness of their potential lies in the fact that these former terrestrial forests and grasslands have been re-purposed to support urban demand for agriculture, tourism, recreation and out-of-town residences, all of which lend themselves to application of improved practices and behaviours supportive of our goals.
We already have evidence of how we can engage with the mostly private landholders who ply their business within the buffer zones. Over the past year, we have worked alongside many property owners and businesses to optimise water management through our water stewardship program.
With access to fresh water essential for dealing with a progressively hotter and drier climate for our Biosphere Reserve and its surrounds, maximising water capture, reducing its consumption and better managing waste water are central to what sustainable water stewardship is about.
Our team has demonstrated that what is good for the environment often improves profitability. Investment in prudent use of water can be as rewarding as prudential financial management.
At our ‘All things Western Port’ forum in Hastings, held and hosted with support from Melbourne Water, we heard how building biolinks on private land is producing bottom line dividends.
Mornington Peninsula Landcare’s Project Co-ordinator, Greg Holland, told the audience how his organisation was making great gains with its construction of a biolink ‘spine’ for the peninsula, primarily due to word-of-mouth referral from landholders, including farmers, who were spruiking the benefits of environmental restoration to neighbours.
We are engaged in similar conversations on the other side of Western Port, partnering with the Bass Coast Shire and activist groups like Save Western Port Woodlands, to persuade sand mining companies to ensure allocations of land to biolink construction – something that can allow some expansion of their commercial operations, while preserving and connecting terrestrial forests areas designated as ‘nationally significant’.
We have yet to engage closely with the tourism sector, clearly one with a substantial and growing footprint across the Biosphere Reserve. It is something of a no-brainer that a UNESCO-recognised region has huge potential for development and recognition as one of Australia’s premier ecotourism destinations.
As an industry that traverses both agriculture and tourism, the region’s wine industry is already playing a key role in attracting visitors into the region. Add a quality-focused boutique brewery industry, a growing array of food and cultural festivals and some of Victoria’s best hiking, biking and boating experiences, and it is evident that balancing business opportunity with environment risk management will be a growing focus for the Biosphere Foundation’s engagement in planning and advice for the tourism sector in coming years.
While the latter may impact on core habitats within the reserve and increasing numbers of visitors must be educated to tread lightly, the bulk of the action will be in our buffer zones, as people flock to enjoy the amenity of high quality tourism facilities, attractions and infrastructure.
It is from our buffer zones that the impacts of modern society flow into our wilderness. Whether it be people traversing from urban to nature, water flowing from towns and farms into rivers and bay, silt eroding into our estuaries and wetlands, or microplastics being transferred almost by osmosis from modern consumables into animal consumption, it nearly all must negotiate the corridors of these intermediate zones.
Perhaps the most exciting thing about our Biosphere buffer zones is that the people who live and work within them are perhaps the most empowered in our community to have huge impacts on the long-term future of our special region.
In preserving the future, we must think beyond simply the preservation of our core ecosystems. It is essential that we partner with those who control the destiny of our buffer zones to develop solutions and practices to enhance what feeds and nurtures our Biosphere Reserve.
By Lucy Kyriacou- Project Manager
Following in conclusion of the Environment Restoration Fund funding in June 2023, we are in the process of applying for grants to fund the next round of our Water Stewardship program. However, we are continuing to support the Water Stewards in our network with their plans and activities through some of the money we gratefully receive through memberships and the public.
For the latest Water Stewardship newsletter, which has information about becoming a Water Steward and the importance of water conservation and sustainable practice for healthy catchments, ecosystems, and biodiversity, as well as a case study to celebrate one of our latest Water Stewards, you can find the newsletter here: Water Stewardship News- 2023.
For more information please contact:
Lance Lloyd – [email protected]
Lucy Kyriacou – [email protected]
By Kelly Smith – Koala Awareness Project officer
By Jo McCoy- Chair
Welcome to the Summer edition of Connector. I want to start on a high note by thanking everyone who came along to our 2023 AGM and the following 20th Anniversary Celebrations held in Hastings on 29 November. It was heartening to be able to welcome some of the key community protagonists who played crucial roles in the establishment of the Foundation over two decades ago.
Together with staff, directors, partners and stakeholders, we had a fabulous evening reflecting on our past, showcasing our current work, and looking towards the future. Guests were treated to keynote presentations from inaugural chair Rob Gell and Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability Gillian Sparkes. These were followed by a Q&A panel that also included Willum Warrain CEO, Uncle Peter Aldenhoven who spoke about our Healing Water Country partnership, and our own CEO Mel Barker.
For a full rundown of the evening, including links to the 2023 Impact Report, our new 2023-2028 Strategic Plan, plus the presentations and lots of great images, please click on AGM and 20th Anniversary Celebrations – Western Port Biosphere on our website.
It’s now been a few weeks since the end of the COP28 summit in Dubai. There were some positive outcomes from this latest talkfest for nearly 100,000 delegates, especially if you look at the official website (and note the logo looks remarkably like ours!).
Many climate activists, however, were left angry and disappointed by the lost opportunities. In the face of fierce opposition from the likes of Saudi Arabia and Russia, fossil fuels were explicitly named in the event’s final text, but drafts referring to their phase out were abandoned. Instead, we ended up with a reference to “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science”. Let’s hope it’s enough.
Compare too, the names of the 159 countries who endorsed the “Declaration on Agriculture, Food and Climate” and the 143 who signed on to the “Declaration on Climate and Health” to the mere 13 that signed the “Declaration on Climate Finance” which sought to unlock the investment required to meet earlier commitments. This last one, for example, included the UK, USA, France, Germany and India but not Australia. For analysis of what COP28 achieved and what it failed to do, see these articles from the Sydney Morning Herald and Chatham House.
In circling back to some of the key themes about which the Biosphere will be focused in coming years, I was interested to read a recent article on LinkedIn Five Big Ideas that will change sustainability in 2024 There remains room for optimism!
And that brings us to the end of another year. I opened with thanks and will finish with some more, this time by giving a big shout-out to the core Biosphere team, led by our CEO Mel and supported by Glenn Brooks-Macmillan, Lucy Kyriacou and Jess Brady. Throw in the likes of Lance Lloyd, Kelly Smith, Kat Palthe, Stephen Brend, Cindy Devonport and Tahlia Cruise who have worked on various projects throughout the year, and we have a great group. Thanks too to all the Foundation’s directors, especially our Treasurer Geoff Brooks and Secretary Isabelle Higgins for their dedicated work in supporting the team.
Please feel free to write to me at [email protected] if you have any comments or suggestions for issues or updates that you would like to see included on the website and/or addressed in future editions of Connector.
The Western Port Biosphere Foundation and Willum Warrain are thrilled to announce the completion of the first phase of our Healing Water Country Project.
This initiative aims to establish a biolink along the water course between Willum Warrain’s pun pun (wetlands) and the Warrangine.
In collaboration with Willum Warrain, the project emerged from conversations in early 2021, fostering a partnership to design, plan, and implement a project supporting the conservation of the local waterway. The goal is to transform it into a thriving habitat corridor, contributing to ongoing conservation efforts.
Funding from Esso’s Community Engagement and Partnership Program, aligned with UNESCO’s vision for Biosphere Reserves, has been instrumental in kickstarting this transformative venture. The first phase, supported by Mornington Peninsula Shire Council, involved weed removal and native plantings. Community involvement has been paramount, with input from Willum Warrain members and supporters shaping the project’s design. This collaborative effort ensures engagement and ongoing support for the restoration and protection of our environment.
A recent milestone meeting at the Healing Water Country site brought together representatives from Willum Warrain, Western Port Biosphere Foundation, Esso Australia, and Mornington Peninsula Shire’s Natural Systems team. The occasion was marked by a smoking ceremony led by Uncle Alvin Rajkovic, accompanied by beautiful artwork from Willum Warrain artists Sammy Trist and Bree Webster.
As we celebrate this achievement, we eagerly anticipate the future stages of the Healing Water Country Project, grounded in the principles of community, connection, and conservation. Together, we’re creating community, connection and conservation.
Read more about this project here
By Carrie Taylor Project Officer and Annie Leitch Communications coordinator within the Fitzgerald Biosphere
Nine months after commencing native seed collection alongside Nowanup Rangers and Nathan McQuoid, our saltland revegetation sites for 2023 are finally taking shape! This represents a positive step in restoring biodiversity to unproductive agricultural areas within the Jerramungup Shire of the Fitzgerlad Biosphere that have become salinised since being cleared.
Seeds were collected, sorted, and sieved by FBG (Landcare Group) & Nowanup Caretakers (Rangers) from November to March, prior to being sown in July/August. On the day of seeding, seeds were separated into fine and coarse mixes, bulked out with vermiculate, then treated with homemade smokewater, fungicide, and ethepon for optimal growth by Greening Australia’s Glen Steven.
Kicking off on July 31, the first site involved a lot of weaving among the existing Yate trees, one broken hose, and 4ha worth of beautiful seeding lines comprised of local provenance species collected from right next to the site. The 2nd site presented different challenges, with a mixture of soil, weed, and salt types to navigate. Despite this, the locally collected, salt-tolerant native trees and shrubs are now ready to spring up across ~ 14ha of successfully seeded land, thanks to some well-timed rain on the day of completion!
Nowanup Caretakers completed in-fill planting with salt tolerant seedlings in spots the seeder couldn’t reach. Just as circles are reflected in indigenous art, Noongar involvement from seed collections to final plantings has come full turn.
Thanks very much to Glen from Greening Australia for executing the seeding, Nowanup for all the seed collection work, and to our wonderful landholders for all the time spent planning, spraying, ploughing, marking out fence lines, and most of all, being so willing to restore some of your land to a biodiverse ecosystem!
By Mel Barker, Biosphere Foundation CEO
One of the highlights for me last month was attending a UNESCO conference up on Butchella Country on K’gari (Fraser Island). There were representatives from island and coastal Biospheres in all corners of the globe (including Finland, Brazil, the Maldives and the Isle of Wight to name a few), as well as from UNESCO itself. Island and coastal biospheres are all particularly vulnerable to climate change, so it was a great opportunity to share with each other the projects and solutions we’re developing and implementing to leverage our joint knowledge. Blue carbon projects involving mangroves and seagrasses were a common theme so we will continue to utilise these international linkages for our own Blue Carbon program here in the Western Port Biosphere Reserve (see hot topic here for more information about the Ministerial announcement Climate action gets a $1.2 million boost in Western Port – Western Port Biosphere).
The Butchella people are the Traditional Custodians of K’gari and they shared their knowledge of Country with us, as well as the importance of the recent formal recognition by the Queensland Government of their connection to Country through the change of name to K’gari this year. I wasn’t aware of the origin of the name ‘Fraser Island’ – if you’re interested, there’s some background here.
Voting is now open for the Referendum on the Voice to Parliament to recognise First Peoples in the Constitution. The Biosphere Foundation supports a ‘Yes’ vote – more details can be found on our website, in this Connector and through our socials.
I’d like to thank Luke from McConnell Dowell for inviting me to visit a significant road upgrade project in Koo Wee Rup to see the habitat initiatives they’re implementing. Traditionally roads have represented a threat to fauna as they are barriers to wildlife traversing the landscape. If animals do attempt to cross roads, this can often result in accidents with cars, or death. I’ve heard that there has been an increased number of wildlife incidents on roads on the Mornington Peninsula in recent weeks. This issue is another example of the challenges of our modern society – how to balance the needs of nature with the desire of humans to drive around? Wildlife corridors are a critical part of the solution, so it is great to see the increased construction of road crossings for fauna. At the Koo Wee Rup road upgrade, there are dry tunnels under the road in a number of key points to allow bandicoots to cross roads safely, as well as wet tunnels and ponds to provide frog crossings and habitat. Monitoring will be put in place to assess the effectiveness of these designs, which will support their continuous improvement to see better outcomes for wildlife.
We’ve had very positive feedback about our recent ‘All Things Western Port’ forum in Hastings. Thanks to Melbourne Water for supporting this event – it was great to bring together community members, scientific, and our partners to discuss both the on-ground work, as well as the scientific research underway for the Western Port region. All the tickets were snapped up for this event, so we look forward to having more events like this to continue the conversations and bring people together.
I hope you enjoy the articles from the team and our partners and hope to see you somewhere in the Biosphere soon !
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Photography credits: J Harrison (eastern curlew).
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