The Mornington Peninsula and Western Port Biosphere came into being because the United National Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) endorsed it as internationally significant for its biodiversity and importance.
Our challenge is to ensure that it remains that way by advocating and facilitating local communities geographically centred around Western Port to live in harmony with nature.
The Western Port Biosphere captures four National Parks (three marine and one terristorial), plays host to the annual migrations around the world of many species of birds and features seagrass, mangrove and salt marsh zones that play a significant role in maintaining a healthy marine environment able to sustain marine life.
It sounds idyllic, but our Biosphere communities place constant and increasing pressure on the fragile balance that sustains this environment. Surrounding areas are populated by a mix of expanding residential zones, heavy industry and agriculture. Add to that the impact of Earth’s warming climate and you have a set of complex interactions that must be sustainably managed if we are to retain the valuable natural assets under our stewardship.
The questions on which we must focus as we enter this decade include exactly what is the current status of the Biosphere and where to from here? What can we reasonably expect that this wonderful environment will be decades from now?
You can help shape the answer to the latter question by getting actively involved in supporting our work.
One of the most precious and vital resources for maintaining a healthy environment is water use – consumption and waste management. Whether you’re an individual or commercial enterprise, it’s worth taking a look at our flagship Water Stewardship program. Involvement can deliver real benefits to the environment while making a real difference to your household budget or business bottom line.
We are also willing to engage with special interest community groups on local environmental projects – whether by providing information and advice, or helping to facilitate activities or awareness.
It’s easy to feel that the big environmental issues of the day – climate change, plastic pollution, deforestation and others – are beyond our scope and capabilities to make a difference as individuals.
However, resolving these global issues will not be the remit of governments alone. It will be by collective individual effort advocating and achieving change at a local level.
The declaration of the Western Port Biosphere in 2003 has earmarked an important part of the world where we can all make a difference.
Make becoming a member of the Western Port Biosphere your first step towards shaping the future of the region in which you live and work (join here). From there, the possibilities are endless.
For more information on the global Decade of Ecosystem Restoration, click: https://www.decadeonrestoration.org/
Geoff Brooks, Director, Western Port Biosphere Foundation
It’s a big idea and it may be a wrong assumption we’re making about other planets but, right here on Earth, it permeates every aspect of sustainability. We drink it, cook in it, clean and bathe in it. It is ubiquitous to processes in industry, agriculture and commerce.
It is no surprise therefore, the United Nations has assigned a special day to recognise and promote its importance. World Water Day was held on 22 March 2021 (https://www.worldwaterday.org).
The Western Port Biosphere Foundation team has understood the importance of water to the sustainable development and conservation of our environment for some time.
Several companies and our environment have benefitted from our Water Stewardship program, through which we advise and coach companies in our region to consume less water and discharge cleaner water through their processes.
For companies like the Ingham’s Chickens in Somerville, the rewards have been, not only better citizenship, but real bottom-line benefits.
Fresh water, including waste outflows from our daily living, ultimately finds its way into both Western Port and Port Philip Bay, including internationally recognised Ramsar wetlands – vital breeding grounds for fish, birds and other animals and sustaining the plants that shelter and nurture them.
In this context, it is vital that the reach of our Water Stewardship program extends into the many businesses that consume and/or expel our precious water resources, including horticulture, agriculture, tourism, industry and mining.
World Water Day is one day of the year, but water stewardship is a matter that should concern us all day, every day.
If you have a business or social connection who might benefit from becoming a Biosphere Water Steward, why not refer them to our expert team for a no obligation chat about how we can help improve their bottom line in harmony with our environment?
Western Port Biosphere Water Stewardship Project
0412 007 997
Our “Protecting Ramsar Values” project is multi-faceted. Obviously, we are hugely concerned about the impact of industry on Western Port, hence our comprehensive response to the AGL proposal. We are also concerned about maintaining roosting and feeding sites for our migratory shorebirds, as well as other areas of research such as into the bryozoan reefs or resident dolphins. However, the main focus of the project is to minimise any impact recreational boating has on the environment. In Western Port, recreational boating essentially means fishing.
We have been spending time at boat ramps talking to boaters, we have spoken with Fishing Clubs and attended the recent Whiting Challenge run out of Hastings. The point of this work is to identify when, where and how the sport puts pressure on the environment and to, collaboratively, work out potential solutions. What we have found out has been very interesting. It has certainly disproved a lot of our preconceptions.
Firstly, boats have little impact on the shorebirds. People tend to fish around the high tides when the birds are normally roosting. Even when the birds are on the mudflats, the wash of a boat rarely reaches them. There is more chance of encountering a water bird or gull but, again, it seems birds and boats rarely meet. Litter, particularly bait bags and discarded line, was another area of concern. Just like on land, however, it seems 99% of people do the right thing and do not pollute the environment. One charter-boat operator commented favourably how he sees much less litter in the water now than in years past. The damage anchors do to reefs and sea grass beds is an issue but, we must be realistic in recognising that boats will always anchor so the question becomes how to minimise the damage. The boaters already know the answer and most of them follow best practice, lifting the anchor straight up not dragging it out. Our final concern was the size of the “take”; surely the sheer number of people fishing plus the popularity of fishing competitions must be putting pressure on fish stocks? Perhaps not. Recent conversations with fisheries scientists suggest they are comfortable with the level of fishing in Western Port. In their opinion, climate change with possible changes to the currents in Bass Strait plus altered rainfall patterns are likely to have a greater effect.
So, what are we left with? Recreational fishing does have a lot of benefits. Through the purchase of boats, gear and bait, there is an obvious contribution to the economy. It is a social, outdoors activity which has implications for general health and well-being. The level of knowledge many people develop of tides, winds, and seabed characteristics all translate into an appreciation for the environment. Finally, no one wants the fish to disappear so there is widespread observance of catch limits. In keeping with the Biosphere Foundation’s mission of connecting people and nature, we have to acknowledge those positives.
We remain concerned about antagonism between people who are fishing and seals. This seems more of an issue in Port Phillip than Western Port and, moreover, has obviously been going on since people first went to sea. Nevertheless, it is an issue we need to be conscious of. Finally, there is the lingering sense that thousands of people taking dozens of fish out of the bay cannot go on forever. That is why, the take home message of the project has become “be happy when you have caught your dinner, not your limit.”
Stephen Brend, Project Officer, Western Port Biosphere Foundation
We all know that Western Port is a pretty special place, mudflats and mangroves, seagrass beds and salt-marsh. But it’s not just us that think that; thousands and thousands of others do too. Shorebirds such as stints, godwits, curlews, tattlers – they all choose, of all the places in the world, to spend all summer here in Western Port. In vast (but sadly declining) flocks, more than 30 species of these birds migrate annually between feeding grounds here and breeding grounds in Siberia and Alaska.
We’re pretty keen on them continuing these millions of years of annual migrations. And that’s going to depend on the quality of the environments where they spend their time. I derive great hope that the environment is in good hands when I see what is happening in schools in the Biosphere.
Project Officer Stephen Brend and I visited St Josephs Primary School in Crib Point in early March to talk about the Biosphere and the birds. We left almost moist-eyed with respect for the charming ways of the students and the thoughtful learning programs the teachers have created in the school. The children were informed and respectful, they were innocent, curious and enthusiastic – they were everything you would like to see in the next generation into whose hands care for the environment will fall. They were extremely impressive.
They were discussing the bird species of the area, they were learning about their habitat needs and they were carrying out activities to improve the local environment. A group of students, the Mangrove Warriors (who had worked with Dr Tim Ealey – aka Dr Mangrove), had painted, highly accurate in their colouring, a number of these species for inclusion in an art exhibition at a public gallery in Mornington. After some group discussion about birds and migration and a trip outside to see what species we could find, the students came inside to their scientific drawings, yet another means to learn about the species with which we share this special place.
As I said, the next generation is in a sound position to make a better fist of environmental care and protection than our generation. The least we can do is offer every support we can to help them. St Joeys is doing a sterling job in showing how to do this.
Greg Hunt, Executive Officer, Western Port Biosphere Foundation
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Photography credits: J Harrison (eastern curlew).
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