What makes Mel tick?
I’ve always been interested in the world around me and have been fortunate to spend a significant part of my life living, travelling and working in a variety of places. I went hiking in Nepal after finishing university and the amazing natural beauty of the country, along with the friendliness and generosity of the Nepalese people, made an indelible mark on me that I still remember fondly. It also fuelled the fire of my travel bug and I subsequently spent many years exploring various corners of the world. I particularly liked getting ‘under the skin’ of a country rather than just passing through, so I often took up either paid or voluntary work so I could stay longer and get to know the locals. It was during a 5 month long trip to South America that I decided to embark upon a career change – I was volunteering in a cloud forest in Ecuador and realised I wanted to work professionally in the environmental field.
Issue #30 July – September 2021
Chair, WP Biosphere Foundation
Welcome to our Winter 2021 Connector newsletter. Hopefully, we are completely over our latest COVID restrictions by the time we go to press. The last lockdown seems to have really tested the resilience of the community.
In our last newsletter, we said farewell to Greg Hunt who finished up at the end of April and subsequently managed to escape Victoria before the borders were closed. Happy camping and birdwatching Greg! Sadly, we are also saying a farewell of sorts to our fabulous Ramsar Project Officer Stephen Brend who has returned to England with his family for an extended visit. We are, however, looking at ways of keeping Stephen involved from afar so that we can continue to benefit from his passion and knowledge about the Biosphere, not to mention his missives from Red the Red-necked Stint on his journeys to and from Central Siberia. We are recruiting for a Biosphere Program Manager to assist us in his absence.
I am now delighted to introduce readers to our new Chief Executive Officer Melinda Barker, a ‘Biosphere local’ who lives in Balnarring and comes to us with a wealth of skills and experience. Mel has hit the ground running and has been working with staff to finalise the Business Plan for 2021-22 and get to know all our key stakeholders and issues. Please read her “In the Spotlight” article to learn more about Mel and her motivations for joining us. We are incredibly lucky to have her.
Some of you will have been following the news about the G7 Summit in Cornwall. While there was an understandable focus on the COVID response, economic recovery and trade, there was also discussion about other important issues, not the least of which was climate and the environment. The G7 2030 Nature Compact recommits G7 leaders to “taking bold action for delivery of ambitious outcomes for nature” in the lead up to meetings of the parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, both to be held later in the year.
We can only hope that the G7 leaders are able to convince more governments to make similar commitments and more importantly, to act in the short term to address the four pillars of:
It’s now a little over six months since our new cohort of Directors joined the Board. In that time, we have focused on many issues including reviewing our Strategic Plan along with our governance and risk frameworks and our community engagement. There is always more to do and I am grateful for the input of all Directors as we work with the staff to promote the Biosphere and the communities which make it such a great place to be.
Please 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.
If you’re an accountant and/or auditor with an interest in the environment and sustainability, we would welcome your application to join us as an expert independent member of our Finance and Public Fund Committee. There are great opportunities for the Western Port Biosphere Reserve Foundation to take on some significant projects in coming years and we are keen to ensure that our financial insights, management and reporting are well structured, transparent and compliant.
If you are interested in volunteering and available for four or five early evening meetings a year, usually conducted via Zoom, we would like to hear from you. Please send your expression of interest, with a brief outline of your experience to: [email protected].
WP Biosphere Foundation Project Officer
The UN (www.decadeonrestoration.org/), the Australian Government and now fourteen prominent Australasian environmental restoration organisations are behind making the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration count. The 14 groups recently announced the formation of a consortium to collaboratively support the recommendations of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration – with more in the process of signing up (see https://www.miragenews.com/darwin-agreement-to-support-un-decade-on-571908/).
The ‘Darwin Agreement’, was initiated at the SERA2021 Darwin conference (see https://www.seraustralasia.org/) which discussed the ongoing work in restoration in Australia. The agreement commits the groups to promoting the goals of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, with particular focus on:
Tein McDonald and Bruce Clarkson outline some of the background to the UN initiative and activities in Australia and New Zealand which will help guide the efforts for the next decade – read their paper here:
Restoration is necessary across all of our landscapes and ecosystems. There are many actions you can do, large and small, to help to retain ecosystems, reduce our impacts upon them and to repair ecosystems to optimise potential for humanity to revive the natural world that supports us all.
This year the City of Casey was fortunate to participate in the Victorian Government’s Working for Victoria initiative along with 59 other councils, to help get Victorian job seekers back into work, while also making positive changes to Casey’s open spaces.
Commencing in January 2021, 30 passionate, enthusiastic and hardworking individuals were recruited to joined Council’s Sustainability and Environment Team as part of the Environmental Crew for the 6-month project.
Throughout the program the crew has been maintaining open spaces and supporting natural resource management works through weed control and litter collection, while also conducting path and fence maintenance.
The crews have now begun the next phase of the project which includes planting over 85,000 native plants in various reserves across the community. The plants will help create important wildlife corridors and improve habitat connectivity for native plants and wildlife.
40,000 trees will be planted at the Cardinia Creek Parklands to support the Grasmere Creek realignment project delivered by Melbourne Water and Parks Victoria. This project will also support an important breeding habitat for the critically endangered fish species Dwarf Galaxia.
Plantings will also take place at Essex Park in Endeavour Hills to support the installation of 1.5km of paths and activation of the site. Additional planting is also scheduled for Hessel Road Reserve in Harkaway, building on the community efforts at the 2017 Plant your Roots community tree day.
If you are interested in learning more about Casey’s environmental initiatives, please join our Green Living Facebook Group.
WP Biosphere Foundation Project Officer
The Parliamentary Inquiry into the problem of feral and domestic cats, provocatively called “Tackling the feral cat pandemic: a plan to save Australian wildlife”, contained numerous recommendations. In essence, however, there were only two physical ones: create fenced “safe havens” and predator-free islands. It is great to see both strategies are being pursued in the Biosphere Reserve.
Phillip Island Nature Parks has eradicated foxes from the main island and Churchill Island, and has established a virtual fence on the bridge from San Remo that sends an alert if a fox tries to cross. On French Island, the Port Phillip and Westernport Catchment Management Authority is leading the cat eradication program, supported by Parks Victoria and the local Landcare group. There are also efforts on French island to eradicate deer and feral goats.
That just leaves Quail and Chinaman’s Islands as the only other islands in Western Port. Both are managed by Parks Victoria who maintain a camera trapping program on the islands and run fox control programs as and when funding permits. These islands are significant as they are known refuges for Southern Brown Bandicoots, one of the Reserve’s iconic marsupials, and they also are connected to the mainland via land bridges, at low tide. The bridges obviously increase the risk of recolonisation by foxes and cats even if they are eradicated from the islands. The Biosphere Foundation has started to look at whether it would be possible to guard the land bridges with Artificial Intelligence (AI) controlled bait stations. More news on that later.
On the mainland, we are helping our partners at the Cardinia Environment Coalition (CEC) reinstate their predator proof fence around Bandicoot Corner, near the town of Bayles. CEC also maintain a camera-trapping program to monitor the fauna inside the reserve. They were understandably very disappointed when a cat appeared inside the fence. Given this is such important bandicoot habitat, the Biosphere Foundation stepped in to assist with repairs and an upgrade to the fence.
We are also keen to work with landholders to expand the range of bait stations around the region. We will keep you updated in future editions.
Former EO, WP Biosphere Foundation
We all know that Western Port is a pretty special place, the summer home of choice for the thousands of migratory shorebirds that fly annually between here and Siberia. But did you know that there are migratory birds that stay closer to home – flying annually between mainland Australia and their breeding grounds in Tasmania? I’m referring, of course to Swift parrots and the charming Orange-bellied parrot, or OBP to us twitchers.
The colouful OBP, Photo: Moonlit Sanctuary
OBP population numbers have plummeted alarmingly over the last 50 years, due to a range of factors that include competition with we humans for coastal real-estate. They are found particularly around salt-marshes, a habitat that is all-too-frequently drained for other land uses or that is threatened by too-frequent inundation as sea-level rises become apparent. The population is estimated to be around 50 wild birds and around 500 in breeding programs.
For about 10 years now, breeding programs have been carried out at a number of venues, including Healesville Sanctuary and Pearcedale’s Moonlit Sanctuary. Following is an excerpt from their latest News from Moonlit Sanctuary:
Last month Moonlit Sanctuary released a group of Orange-bellied Parrots (OBPs) in Western Port Bay as part of the OBP Mainland Release Trial. This week a very exciting discovery was made, with the sighting of a natural wild migrant OBP feeding in saltmarsh alongside two captive-released OBPs from this year’s release and another OBP from last year’s release.
The natural migrant is a juvenile from the 2020/21 breeding season and has made its first ever migration across Bass Strait before settling in Western Port Bay with the mainland release birds. This is the first time a natural migrant OBP has been confirmed in Western Port Bay for over a decade.
The Orange-bellied Parrot Mainland Release Trial is being delivered by Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, Zoos Victoria and Moonlit Sanctuary Wildlife Conservation Park.
For the fifth year, the project team has released captive-bred birds into ideal habitat at Victorian sites in autumn, in a bid to attract wild birds and increase their chance of survival.
Moonlit Sanctuary is working on the conservation of a number of endangered species and their work is extremely valuable for the biodiversity of Western Port, and wider. Check their website www.moonlitsanctuary.com.au, subscribe to their newsletter and why not go down to Pearcedale and see for yourself what they’re doing?
This group is over 25 years old and has contributed greatly to the Point Leo Foreshore area in respect to planting observations and planning for this pristine coastal habitat.
As many know only 5% of the original coastal flora habitats exist on the Mornington Peninsula and the loss of this critical habitat greatly affects the inner boundaries of the Mornington Peninsula.
These critical coastal corridors provide access for many animals including Koalas, Wallabies, Kangaroos, Echidnas many reptiles including our favourite Blue Tongue Lizard.
Coastal birds are an essential part of allowing the intertidal zone to be in balance with its marine species both high and low tide inhabitants.
We will invite all of our neighbours and surrounding coastal villages to visit us and understand how important it is to maintain coastal habitat.
Koalas and other wildlife on the Mornington Peninsula are sadly declining due to habitat loss and urban development, mainly. Their habitat of which more than 70% is on private property has diminished. Koalas are still present from Seaford/Frankston to Flinders and Boneo but only in low numbers. Local wildlife habitat is heavily fragmented with connections between areas of bushland as a food source needing to be established and maintained. Tree canopy is fast disappearing all over the Peninsula and needs to be retained and restored.
To increase koala habitat, this winter from June to October, Mornington Peninsula Koala Conservation (MPKC) is planting in excess of 15,000 native trees and shrubs. This year the focus is on Somers and Dromana, to improve tree canopy cover. This is requiring a community effort, and lots of volunteers are needed for this massive project. You can join as follows – all events are published at: www.mpkoalas.org.au and on Facebook: Mornington Peninsula Koala Conservation. There will be an immense number of trees to give away.
The first tree planting days were held on 12/13 June and then every fortnight following at the weekend until end of October.
Madeleine Pitt and
Lance Lloyd, WP Biosphere Foundation Project Officer
Pelicans are magnificent birds, often flying long distances to feed, yet few formal studies of the pelican have been completed in Victoria, especially on Western Port. Those that have been done indicate the species is declining in the state. Of 10 historical breeding sites recorded in Victoria, only 2 remain. A breeding colony on French Island in Western Port became extinct in 2001, and the abundance of pelicans in Western Port has declined. It is important to know more about the habits of the pelican from the catchment area so the bird and its environment can be sustained and protected as needed.
These issues have been the drivers behind the development of the Western Port Pelican Study Group (see their facebook page at www.facebook.com/groups/532493277609873).
The Western Port Pelican Study Group is looking for members of the community to be on the outlook for any banded pelicans. If any are seen, please note the leg tag number and colour, date of sighting, time, location, condition of bird, number of other pelicans present, and anything else of interest. A photo would be awesome, which you can email to [email protected] or be uploaded on their Facebook page.
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Photography credits: J Harrison (eastern curlew).
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