Hot Topics

Protecting Western Port Ramsar Values Project

It has been a quiet few months for our Ramsar project. The pandemic and associated restrictions have drastically reduced recreational boating, which is the focus of our activities. Being conscious of the need to balance human needs with environmental concerns, we are very sympathetic to the impact that the pandemic will have had on many local businesses. Bait shops, for instance, are often small, family-owned enterprises that have had to shut for months. We hope that they will recover, as they are part of the mosaic of activities that form the Biosphere. Looking at the natural world, it is too early to tell what impact this year’s limited human activity will have had on Western Port, and if there will be any lasting effects, for instance on fish-stocks. The restrictions are actually hampering our ability to try to find answers to these questions. For example, the Victorian Wader Study Group has had to cancel nearly all field work this year.

The Foundation’s Ramsar Project Officer was involved in preparing our submission on the AGL EES and in coordinating the MACA forum. In the next quarter, it is hoped that outside rather than office based activities can resume. Meetings with angling clubs and fishing-charter operators are planned as well as continued engagement with marinas to support efforts to stop the spread of marine pests. Finally, with the team behind the magnificent “Melbourne Down Under”, we are exploring the possibility of making a Western Port short-film.


IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Michaela Goggin

Michaela (R) with the Mayor of Frankston, Sandra Mayer and Biosphere Foundation Board Member David Cross

Frankston’s Young Citizen of the Year; 2020
President of the Frankston High School (FHS)’s Eco Team

Tell us a bit about yourself – Who are you? What do you do? What organisation are you from?

I joined FHS’s Eco Team when I was in Year 7, I became President when I was in Year 9 and am now in Year 11.  Membership of the Eco Team has grown from 8 students when she first started to over twenty now.

I have moved house almost 11 times but always around Melbourne’s south-eastern suburbs.  When I think about Frankston, one of the first words that comes to my mind is “beach”.  I do consider Frankston as part of Melbourne but not as busy.  One of the things I like about the city is the Frankston Youth Council.


What led you to become involved with the Eco Team?

I have always had a passion for the environment and became inspired to act on climate change because it directly impacts on my future and the world my generation, and our children’s generation, will have to live in.  This doesn’t mean I am not concerned with other issues.  I have helped refugees and immigrants and support disability and indigenous issues.  However, I feel climate change is the over-arching issue.  It will impact on every aspect of our lives.

Being in the Eco Team and then becoming its President has been exciting, challenging but rewarding.  It is amazing, at my age, to be given so much responsibility, trust and just being listened to (thank you to my parents and teachers for that).

What gets me down is being told “no” for no real reason.  Sometimes I am told I am too young, or perhaps not taken as seriously as I would like because I am a girl, and being in the Eco Team still isn’t “cool”, but that doesn’t bother me.  We are a great team, we are getting things done, like tackling single-use plastics.


What contribution would you like to make?

I have always felt of myself as a leader and am happy being out in front.  I want to continue championing the cause for combatting climate change and inspiring others to join me.


What is your proudest achievement thus far?

(In her own words)

There are two main achievements that are my proudest.

The first is being named Frankston’s Youth Citizen of the year, but not necessarily the award itself and rather the fact that I had made a significant enough difference in my community that somebody wanted to nominate me for the award and thought that I was deserving of it. I try my very best to strive to make a difference in somebody’s life, whether that’s through tutoring Saudi Arabian Refugees and Immigrants so that it is easier for them to immerse themselves in our country and develop better literacy and numeracy skills. or if this is just putting a smile on someone’s face for something silly I did.  The fact that people felt I had made a big enough contribution and a positive one that has impacted on my school and wider community so greatly that they thought I was deserving of this award is astounding.   and just makes me want to do more!

The second achievement is my position on the eco team.  With the help of my supervising teacher Mr Mckinnon who consistently allows me to take full charge and follow any topic or project that I want to do has allowed me the freedom to develop the team to be more greatly recognised and gain more projects and create a bigger impact in the school and wider community.  One of these projects being, getting to be a keynote speaker for the Geography Teachers Association of Victoria and getting to talk about climate change from a student’s perspective, amongst some of the smartest and biggest experts in the field.  It was the biggest honour to be allowed to speak at this conference and a memory I will never forget.  But more importantly through my leadership position in the Eco Team and the constant support from Mr Mckinnon we would not be where we are without him, I have gotten to witness a range of different students, from year 7 to my age gain confidence in their opinions and gain more and more passion to make a difference.  It is amazing to watch and to watch some of the most introverted students stepping out of their comfort zones as they feel comfortable in the team.


Somers Community Park

This community-led project is an initiative which provides for human needs while at the same time protects and enhances biodiversity upon which we and all other species depend. The native flora information helps park-users in planning their home bird-friendly gardens so there’s benefit all round.

The reasons for why a community park is needed are numerous:

After considerable community discussion it was decided that a designated area for children, teenagers and families to ride bikes, scooters, skateboards, on a purpose-built pump track and jumps, would be a wonderful asset to Somers. Additionally, the surrounds of the park will be landscaped and planted by local volunteers, restoring native flora and fauna in our local environment. Thus, the Somers Community Park project was born. A location has been approved by the Mornington Shire, within the RW Stone Reserve.

This community precinct will be used by all age groups, from those that love to ride, to those that love to explore our indigenous surrounds. This project aims to develop bonds within our community, and therefore be an expression of what the Somers community is. Families can gather in an outdoor locale and pursue healthy, wellbeing pursuits, in a community-focused setting.

A working-group of adults has formed a committee that will support and work with the people of Somers to develop this project. They will also network with local companies and organisations to make this happen. Mornington Shire is making financial and logistical evaluations and will engage in further community consultation and design plans.

To contact the Somers Community Park (SCP) you can email us: somerscommunitypark@gmail.com or look up our Facebook (@somersparkproject) and Instagram (@somerspark) pages and there’s heaps of bike and native flora information there. A GoFundMe has also been launched: gf.me/u/yyyi5j.


The Biosphere Foundation’s Submission on the AGL EES

AGL’s gas terminal for Crib Point? The Foundation says no!

Having a naturally deep port in a Ramsar site, it is almost inevitable that challenges will loom. It seems that Western Port is regularly in the sights of ship-based proposals, whether container ports, asphalt plants or brown coal terminals. Hey, French Island was once mooted to host a nuclear plant.

When AGL first proposed a gas import terminal in Western Port without an Environmental Effects Statement, the Biosphere Foundation bridled. An EES just had to be conducted, the Biosphere and many other groups demanded. Some thousands of pages later as summary reports and technical reports were released, we were given a short time to respond, to consider its adequacy and to see if there were not undue risks to the Western Port environment.

Staff, Board and Board Committee members burnt the midnight oil (bio-derived naturally) to examine the documents. A comprehensive response to the proposal was duly sent to the Planning department for their consideration. While it was clear that AGL did a lot of work to show that they thought it could be done, the Foundation’s assessment, for many reasons set out in the response, is that it shouldn’t.

These are just some of the issues on which the Foundation found the EES to be deficient:

The Biosphere has asked to be represented at the hearings at which objections can be explained. Our full response can be read at www.biosphere.org.au/hot-topics/our-response-to-the-agl-ees


Facebook and the Biosphere

One way of keeping the Biosphere community in touch with what is happening is via the Biosphere’s Facebook page. Check https://www.facebook.com/westernportbiosphere and you’ll see what we mean.

We are running some regular series, Hidden Gems of the Biosphere, highlights the nooks, crannies and wonderful venues around our beloved bay for you to go and visit (when allowed, of course). The adventures of Red, our plucky Red-necked Stint, will have you marvelling at the annual migration journey that this little bird makes, flying between Siberia and Western Port. Fortunately, he’s a dab hand at emailing so he makes contact to let us kow from time to time what he is up to. When he emailed on September 10, he had a Facebook reach of over 13,000 readers, no doubt people wishing him a safe journey on the last leg back to Australia. On September 16, on his arrival at Western Port, he attracted a reach of nearly 5,000 readers. Our post about Glossy Black Cockatoos fleeing bushfire-ravaged Gippsland and turning up around Western Port had a reach of nearly 10,000.

The editorial policy we follow is to include posts that give news regarding conservation and development that meets human needs that is relevant to the Biosphere region. This might be news and activities of our local government partners, foreshore committees or Landcare and other community groups. We might sometimes venture further afield, but the issues and/or activities featured must have some relevance to the Biosphere and to conservation and/or sustainable development. This could include issues and ideas gleaned from regional or wider media.  After all, as Red’s adventures show, what happens in one place may have an effect on our Biosphere.

If you have articles, issues and ideas that fit with these criteria, please make contact. If you have photographs to go with the articles, all the better as our analysis shows that text with image prompts the widest reach. Please send us your ideas for your Hidden Gem and please remember, we’re building up an image bank for use in publication and other media – and we’ll always acknowledge you as the photographer.


Biosphere Foundation Community Forum: Navigating the Marine and Coastal Act 2018

On Thursday 1st October, the Foundation convened a virtual Community Forum to examine the Marine and Coastal Act.

This legislation, which came into force in 2018, aims to improve management and oversight arrangements for the state’s marine and coastal environment, and, importantly, specifically recognises climate change and an active role for Traditional Owners.  These are all issues which are of fundamental importance to the Biosphere Foundation.

The format for the forum was an initial series of presentations before we heard from representatives from local foreshore committees and the local Working for Victoria team.  Foreshore committees are very much at the pointy end of coastal management, maintaining the facilities that give us all access to the wonders of Western Port.  As we heard, they face a number of issues and challenges and it is clear there are opportunities to support them.  “Working for Victoria” is a State Government initiative to reduce the impact of the pandemic. The local team has been very active in replacing aging infrastructure and tackling invasive weeds, such as sea spurge.  The final presentation was on the Healthy Rivers, Healthy Bays project, which combines in-school education and citizen science.

We are very grateful for the informative presentations from DELWP, the agency responsible for the Act, and the Marine and Coastal Council – DELWP’s advisory body.  Copies of their slides are available on our website at https://www.biosphere.org.au/community-forum/


3 December 2020 – Save the Date

Our next community forum, to be held on Dec 3. looking at Water, Food and Agriculture, with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals providing the context

Depending in the status of the pandemic, it will either be face-to-face at a venue to be confirmed or else held in cyberspace.


Birds and Biospheres

There are currently 701 Biospheres across the globe (4 in Australia) in the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere program. At a meeting later next year that might become 702, if the Sunshine Coast’s application is approved.

There are Biospheres up and down the East Asian Australasian Flyway. This is the path taken by Western Port’s 35+ migratory bird species as they fly between their northern summer breeding grounds and their southern summer feeding grounds.

There has been a serious decline in the population numbers of many of these migratory shorebirds. Many fly between Australia and their first landfall in Taiwan, refuel there, then perhaps go on to Japan, Korea or China, with short stops to feed before finishing in Siberia or Alaska to breed. It is on those landfalls that they face significant challenge.

Firstly, there is less land on which to fall as reclamation of marshes and mudflats for farmland gathers pace. Without mudflats, there is no mud to harbour their food species so they deplete their energy reserves. They are also directly hunted. If these species are to survive, let alone thrive, we have to become better at their conservation. People everywhere along the flyway need to know about them, value them, and then very importantly, do something to protect them.

With the network of Biospheres along the Flyway, each with its engaged community, we have a chance to join in collaboration to communicate the wonder of these species. We can share the challenges that they face and present the strategies we are implementing to care for and protect them. We can learn from the successes of others and we can offer our own approaches.

The East Asian-Australasian Flyway Partnership eaaflyway.net is already carrying out conservation projects for the birds that use the flyway. Our region’s network of UNESCO Biospheres has audiences ready for collaboration for this important work. These bird species, with their awe-inspiring migration flights, help us realise the value of the region’s Biospheres.


From the Chair: Jo McCoy

Welcome to our Connector newsletter. I hope you’ll find it full of interesting articles that will distract you from any stresses associated with our continuing COVID lockdown which is sadly dragging on far longer than we all hoped or expected. At least Spring is here.

Two Biosphere Directors, Rod Anderson and John Ginivan retired at our September Board meeting. Rod oversaw the Board’s governance review in 2013 which led to changes in our constitution and was instrumental in the introduction of skills-based directors. This alone leaves an ongoing legacy for our operations. While John was with us for a shorter period, he also made significant contributions to our planning and procedures. I thank them both for their service to the Biosphere and look forward to their ongoing involvement from a slightly more distant vantage point.

The September meeting also saw the appointment of four new directors who have joined the Board following the recent Expression of Interest process.  Dr Philip Bachelor, Geoff Brooks, Isabelle Higgins and Karen Hook bring skills, experience and enthusiasm which will help drive the Biosphere to some great outcomes in the years ahead.  Of note are their collective skills in governance, communication and community engagement which will help to revitalise our committees and operations.  Thank you to the Selection Panel of Peter Woodgate, Gillian Sparkes and Nicola Ward for their assistance and advice throughout the process.

We intend to highlight all our new directors in coming editions of Connector, but you can go straight to the Biosphere website to read about them now.

Many of you will be aware that under the Biosphere’s constitution, the Annual General Meeting (AGM) needs to be held within five months of the end of the financial year. Our AGM had been planned for the evening of Thursday 12 November, but the Board has decided to apply the two-month extension allowed by ASIC due to the pandemic. We have a new Board and we felt that a face to face meeting for members and the Board would be more appropriate. Of course, we trust that the move to Thursday January 28, 2021 will allow us to gather and meet each other. Members will be advised of the meeting venue and other arrangements as soon as possible.

The Biosphere’s 2020-21 Business Plan is available on the Biosphere website following Board approval. Please note though that there may be some additions to what we want to achieve based on suggestions from the new directors. Several new projects are being developed to utilise some of the funding provided by the Federal Environmental Restoration Fund. These include Biodiversity in Schools, Food and Agriculture, Banishing Biosphere’s Pests and a French Island Biodiversity Plan.

We are also looking at writing a Biosphere History. While the twenty-year anniversary of the designation of the Biosphere in 2022 and the first meeting in 2023 are a few years away yet, it is already twenty years since a passionate and dedicated group of community members first started the process.  We have recently received a veritable treasure trove of information from a former director and founding member of the Biosphere which will prove invaluable in the task.  Please feel free to contact our Executive Officer Greg Hunt with any other material you think might not already be in our files.

I hope that you will be pleased to read that the Biosphere made a submission to the AGL Gas Import Terminal / APA Pipeline to Pakenham Environmental Effects Statement which can be read on our website. We know that the regional community looks to the Western Port Biosphere Foundation to act as an informed steward on its behalf in monitoring and protecting the environmental values of Western Port. We strongly believe that a huge gas-filled ship permanently moored in the middle of an internationally protected Ramsar wetland is a very bad idea.

Staff, volunteers and directors all contributed to our comprehensive response and I want to thank everyone for the considerable time and effort that was devoted to the task.  Please take the time to have a look at it if you have not already done so. We hope that Biosphere representatives will be asked to appear before the panel that is hearing objections to the EES.

I also wanted to mention the fate of the Holden Proving Ground site at Lang Lang as I know many of you were worried about the potential for sand mining and the associated loss of habitat that could have occurred, depending on the buyer.  The announcement of Vinfast, a Vietnamese car manufacturer with strong links to General Motors, means that the worst-case scenario has been avoided.  The Biosphere will be keen to work with the new owner, as well as the Bass Coast Shire, Parks Victoria and community groups such as Save the Holden Bushlands and the Bass Coast Landcare Network to ensure the best possible future for the site and the species which depend on it for survival.

Some of you may have noticed that the Biosphere website looks a little different. It has recently undergone a structural upgrade which will allow us to manage and edit it in-house. The next step is to go through all the material and information it contains and to make sure everything is topical and up to date – a huge task for our part-time staff. Please bear with us while this is happening and alert us if you come across something that needs attention.

Please feel free to write to me at chair@biosphere.org.au if you have any comments or suggestions for issues or updates that you would like to see addressed in future editions.


Editorial: Working in the Virtual Biosphere

COVID hasn’t beaten us – we’re just a little tamed. Whether the changes it has brought about will remain into the post-COVID phase, we’re yet to see.

There’s more likely to be a much greater incidence of working from home. This will lead to more time with our families and more time in our communities as we are given back the hours spent on the commute to work. Whether we reduce transport carbon dioxide emissions will depend on the balance of the drop in commuting and the drop in public transport patronage as workers opt for the safer isolation of their cars.

We’ve found new ways to keep in touch though. Anyone who bought shares in Zoom, the price of which has risen by almost 500% year to date, will be basking in their forethought. We’ve had staff meetings, Board meetings, Board committee meetings, workshops to discuss the AGL EES and the quarterly Biosphere Community Forum, all via Zoom.

The workshop attended by over 25 participants helped shape the Biosphere Foundation’s response to the EES for AGL’s floating gas terminal. In the end, there was too much science that hadn’t been done and too many risks that weren’t convincingly assuaged to give the proposal a tick. In the workshop we held, the technology allowed participants to give their two bob’s worth, share presentations and data and hear and respond to questions. We sent in 20 pages of our response, available here: https://www.biosphere.org.au/hot-topics/our-response-to-the-agl-ees. Even post-COVID there’ll be more of these workshop sessions by Zoom, I think.

The recent Biosphere Community Forum, focused on Victoria’s Marine and Coasts Act, heard the story directly from DELWP staff involved in implementing the Act. We looked at projects that stem from it and we looked at issues that foreshore and management committees need to consider as changes due to the Act filter through coastal communities. Face-to-face is ideal as there is so much more to comprehensive communication that just the verbal, but a 2-hour meeting is just that, 2 hours. One only has to walk from one room to another so there’s no travel time and there’s barely a need get out of pyjamas. Recourse to more e-meetings is one change that is likely to linger long after lockdown is over.

We’ve been planning projects too, even though we’ve been unable to get out and deliver. When lockdown is over, we will be out to deliver on Biodiversity in schools, initially in Mornington Peninsula Shire and then moving to the other four LGAs in the New Year. We will induct more businesses into Water Stewardship, we’ll get cracking on the Banishing Biosphere’s Pests project and start work with the French Island community on a Biodiversity Plan.
If you want more information on these projects or if you have ideas on further projects that the Biosphere could consider, please contact the office on admin@biosphere.org.au or give us a call on 5979 2167.