Hot Topics

Healthy Waterways Strategy Progress

Lance Lloyd
WP Biosphere Foundation Project Officer

The Port Phillip and Western Port Healthy Waterways Strategy 2018-2028 ( was developed by Melbourne Water together with over 220 co-design partners, including the Western Port Biosphere Foundation, and the website was launched last December.  Now the progress towards 10 year catchment targets is available on the interactive website for the Healthy Waterways Strategy Annual Report, which is an important and essential tool for collective tracking and continual improvement in the implementation of the Strategy.

For Western Port, see the report card here  The report card shows that while we are doing well in vegetation protection and community engagement, we need to do more with harvesting and diverting stormwater from streams, allocating more water for the environment and reducing agricultural run-off.  The Biosphere Foundation hopes its Water Stewardship program ( can contribute to meeting these targets.

The website now moves beyond the Annual Report to provide information on each of the waterway values (such as platypus, birds and amenity) and the waterways conditions that are critical for their support (such as vegetation, water for the environment and access).  In addition, there is now a map which visualises key data sets and an expanded resources section where you can find all the key strategy documents can be found.

The website resources allow the community, groups, and agencies to work together to achieve incredible results for the region and continue to progress towards achieving the Strategy’s ambitious targets.


Protecting the Ramsar Values of Western Port: Project Update

Stephen Brend, WP Biosphere Foundation Project Officer

Our current project, funded through the Port Phillip and Westernport Catchment Management Authority is coming to an end.  It has been highly successful.  Specifically focussed on engaging with the recreational boating community, which essentially means anglers, the project aimed to identify ways to minimise negative impacts on the environment.  To our surprise, it turns out that recreational fishing does not adversely affect the bay.  Of course, to the individual fishes it may be catastrophic but, at a population level the fishery scientists are confident that the main target species (King George Whiting, Red Snapper, Gummy Sharks and Squid) are all robust.  The scientists obtain data through a tagging program; they tag and release fish, then people report back when they catch a tagged fish.  This is a great citizen science project producing useful information which helps keep the fishing community engaged with the people who set catch limits.  We wholly support this science based approach.

Our project was originally designed around the interaction between boaters and our migratory shorebirds.  However, our work has revealed that there is actually very little interaction between shorebirds and fishers.  Western Port is so shallow that most boats are out at high tide.  At hide tide, the birds are roosting on dry ground.  Of course, they could still be disturbed by a large bow wave but that would be survivable.  Of more concern is discarded, spent fishing line and dogs let off leash from moored boats.  Here again, though, most people do the right thing.  Litter consciousness is very high amongst everyone we spoke to.

The one thing we did find out is how damaging and unpopular bait pumping is.  This is the process by which silt is sucked up so that people can collect worms and shrimp to use as bait.  This is unsightly and can be smelly and is bad for the environment as deep, un-oxygenated sediment is dumped on the surface.  Furthermore, shrimp stocks can be exhausted.  Stopping, or strictly limiting bait pumping is an issue we will continue to pursue.  After all, there are plenty of alternative baits that people clearly use to great success, so there’s no reason for it.Click on the above image to watch an informative Video

A Clear Vision

Colette Day, MAppSc, BSc chem/Biochem, Grad Dip Marketing, Grad Cert BA
Western Port Biosphere Reserve Foundation Director and Chair of the Foundation’s Science and Education Committee 

It’s easy to be confused.  Simple decisions like purchasing food, or even planning your day, depend on some understanding of the needs and insight into the future.  When we think about our bigger future and then factor in the many challenges that face us, the vision is not clear.  Clearly, tomorrow will not be like today.

Climate change dawns as reality touching every facet of life on Earth, but humans still hold a bunch of keys to open doors to alternative future scenarios.  Tomorrow the activation of technologies pushing the frontiers of communications, energy, food production, environmental monitoring, even space will impact on the way we live and interact with our world.  To know which keys to use and what paths to take requires a vision of the future.  And so the confusion.

For the past three years I have had the opportunity to follow research at the University of Melbourne, studying future visions of food production from the perspective of the consumer, for optimised supply chain and sustainability.  It ultimately led to my involvement in the development of a community garden growing indigenous crops in the seaside suburb of Seaford, part of the Mornington Peninsula and Western Port Biosphere.  This is all on the pathway to my vision for the future.

We heard from our researchers at the Faculty of Business and Economics, “that utopian visions of ordinary people can motivate them to engage in social action to change their society“ (Fernando, Burden, Ferguson, O’Brien & Kashima, 2018).  Understanding ordinary people’s visions of the future allows us to understand what futures can be created.  Their research of consumers identified three utopian future scenarios for food production in particular, each with different technologies that enable them to happen.

The Classical Arcadia, which rejects science and technology and longs for simplicity; almost a back to nature without going off the grid.  This vision focuses on land management and animal welfare using artisan and hand-crafted methods and heritage breeds and seeds.  The pathway to this future depends on access to natural and organic food systems.

The Ecotopia – a middle ground between arcadia and super science.  A mix of science and technology with good social institutions, co-existing with the natural environment.  Ecotopia feels more familiar; the future version of this focuses on hydroponic farming with closed systems to ensure clean water and the right amount of nutrient when needed.  Urban Agriculture including roof top farms, possible botanical and natural fortification of food to feed cities.  Food and health are linked by access to clean, local, potentially fortified food systems.

The Sci-Fi bravely embraces super science and technology, and hopes that all human desires are satisfied through the application of this.  3D printing, non-meat protein varieties including in vitro, insects, and various forms of plant protein to deliver personalized nutrition.  Food and health are linked by access to personalized food systems to fit the individual’s health needs.

Utopian visions reflect the ‘desire for a better way of living’ (Levitas, 1990).  Understanding the visions allows us to understand what futures can be created and which pathways will lead us there.

Further research by Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Science of over 7000 consumers showed a promising future for community food hubs to deliver to the desire for a better way of living.  Central to this local food hub model is the provision of a values-based access to local and fresh food.

This means that a local community food hub provides information to the customer on provenance, confidence in supply, variety and expert knowledge about usage.   It can give the grower confidence that the crop will return a premium price and security to develop sustainable practices.  This will in turn drive economic growth and employment opportunities.

From a sustainability focus, research shows increasing human population and demand for more and nutritious food, and a disconnect of consumers from diversified diets have changed the way we produce our food.  To meet the dietary requirements of a growing population, intensive food production has become reliant on a few staple crops and chemicals which has proven to be unsustainable for the long-run.  At the same time climate change has jeopardized sustainability of our food production system from soils to plant health and the production environments.

Research told us that one of the key drivers to mitigate these challenges for sustained environments and food production strongly urges diversification of our food production system potentially through inclusion of long-forgotten indigenous crops (Hollis Ashman, 2019).

These gems of insight have motivated my colleagues and the Down’s Estate Community Garden to develop this sustainable agriculture model for reviving indigenous plant cultivation, to demonstrate to home gardeners how simple and suitable these plants can be to grow and how they can even provide produce to sell to restaurants and local grocers.  In addition, the food scientist at the University builds knowledge to promote the public health, and environmental benefits of this type of agriculture.  Our project involved identifying crops for trial, observations on soil and water management, chef engagement workshops, recipe development, and exploring local distribution models, all done within the framework of local community engagement, culture and history.  This is our pathway to an Ecotopian vision where food production and public health are linked by access to clean, local food systems.

The vision espoused by Bruce Pascoe’s recent article toward 2030 entitled ”Brave Old World”, talks of the indigenous people of Australia taking control of their heritage right as Traditional Owners to cultivate these plants for the commercial benefit of our First nations people.  His vision and ability to motivate social action is a clear pathway to achieve success and I can only hope that these pathways align with others to facilitate an Ecotopian vision for a better future.

Whatever your vision is of the future, your actions can help bring it about; in the way you choose to consume, in the way you choose to treat others and in the way you choose to live in your environment.  Your level of motivation and action can impact the speed and distance along your pathway.  It also follows that leaders of the community must hold clear visions, well supported by science and understanding of the values of their constituents.  Leadership from governments and business, selection of technologies and community engagement are all available to harness if the vision is clear.

And It’s Goodbye From Me

Greg Hunt
Former EO, WP Biosphere Foundation


It’s a few weeks now since I handed over the reins at the Hastings office to incoming CEO Mel Barker.  There does come a time, no matter how enjoyable the job and how much promise there is about to be realised, when it’s right to go.  I’ve failed at retirement a few times while the list of places I wish to go and things I wish to see continues to grow.  And it is a truism that one does not grow younger.

An organisation that enjoys a mix of stable staffing and new ideas is in a happy place and that is the Biosphere Foundation now.  There is a raft of great projects about to commence and these need the full attention and long-term commitment that Mel can bring.

It is a rare privilege afforded to the fortunate to work with both head and heart aligned.  At the Foundation, I have had that fortune.  The founding principle on which the UNESCO Biosphere program is based, that we must find new ways of meeting human needs while protecting the environment on which we and all other species depend, is fundamental to delivering the future that we want.  To go to gatherings around the region and sell the idea is the easy bit, to bring about the new ways of living is harder.  It requires us to align our thinking across the community, garner government support for the policies that are needed and then work purposefully to implement change.

It can be done, as the recent government response to the AGL proposal shows.  An active and engaged community that is working strategically and is served by sound science is a tough opponent.  More than 6000 submissions were made showing a level of community engagement that is truly spectacular.  That the proposal was knocked off shows that campaigns are worth our involvement.  Please remember that when the next issue arises.

It was the sound science lacking in AGL’s EES that led to the success of the campaign.  Since the 1970s and the work of Maurice Shapiro’s team, there is much that we know about Western Port.  There is a need to review what we know, update it (check for change over 50 years), add new disciplines (for example, add in climate change impacts) and use new technologies (e.g. LIDAR imaging) – in short, a Shapiro Mark II.

There’s a new focus too for Shapiro II, to make the science accessible to all who would use it for safeguarding Western Port and for the Biosphere Foundation to use as a base for imminent projects.  Protecting Western Port’s migratory shorebirds that move up and down the East Asian Australasian Flyway, visiting Biospheres en route; controlling and removing the pest species, foxes and feral cats, that eat their way through our biota; enlisting the region’s students in biodiversity protection, and making our businesses better water stewards all call for sound scientific knowledge.

This is what Mel and now her team have in front of them, not a daunting prospect but rather one to relish.  I happily pass on oversight of the Biosphere to her safe hands and wish her every success.  I shall look forward to future editions of The Connector with intense interest.

I thank you all for the support I’ve enjoyed over my time at the Foundation, but now I’m off to go birdwatching.  I’m on 662 species, there’s about 850 species in Australia, so I’ve a lot ahead of me.


Photo:  Dianna Wells

CEO’s Report

Mel Baker
CEO, WP Biosphere Foundation

General Introduction

It’s been a busy few months since I started with the Biosphere Foundation!  The team and Board have been very welcoming and helped me to settle in quickly.  I’d also like to acknowledge my predecessor, Greg, and his ongoing support over the past few months.  As many of you know, his history and knowledge of the Biosphere and Foundation runs deep, which is a great asset for me to be able to tap into.  You’ll read a farewell note from him in this edition and I also asked him if he’d write an article to let you all know about a sighting of a wild Orange Bellied Parrot in the Biosphere (he didn’t take much persuading!).


You’ll get a great snapshot of some of our activities by reading the Connector articles from Stephen Brend and Lance Lloyd from the Foundation team.  There are also several articles from other organisations in our network.


We’ve recently executed a Memorandum of Understanding with the three Landcare networks within the Biosphere Reserve:  Bass Coast Landcare Network, Mornington Peninsula Landcare Network, and the Western Port Catchment Landcare Network.  It’s great to be able to formalise our partnership and we look forward to continuing to work closely with them.




In the Spotlight


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.


Tell us a bit about your professional background

After graduating from the University of Adelaide I started out in consulting working as a Business Analyst at manufacturing and logistics companies – my first role was at Pilkington Glass in Dandenong.  I then got posted overseas and did similar work in Hong Kong, the UK and Europe.  After deciding to make a career change I ended up coming back to Australia to do a Master of Environment at the University of Melbourne.   Coincidentally, the timing of my career change (2002) aligns with the year the Western Port Biosphere Reserve was designated by UNESCO as meeting the criteria to join the Global Network of Biospheres (places which have both environmental significance and people that live within them).

For the last 18 years that the Western Port Biosphere Foundation has been operating, I’ve worked in a range of management and leadership roles at EPA Victoria, Sustainability Victoria and on a large CO2 reductions project.  I have completed an Australian Institute of Company Directors course and sit on a national charity’s Governance, Finance and Risk board sub-committee.


What led you to join the Biosphere Foundation?

The most important reason for me was that the purpose and priorities of the Biosphere Foundation aligned with my own values.  With the increasingly urgent need to take action on climate change and ecosystem protection and restoration, I wanted to take on a leadership role with an organisation that was playing its part in tackling these issues.

After 18 years in State Government, I was also ready for a change and a new challenge.  Whilst I’d volunteered with a number of independent non-profits over the years, I’d never actually worked for one.  I’m excited to be working locally given I live within the Biosphere Reserve and I’ve really enjoyed being able to work together with the team at our office in Hastings (COVID restrictions allowing!).


What would you like to achieve as CEO of the Biosphere Foundation?

Lots!  But to be more specific…… of my main aims is to broaden the awareness of the Western Port Biosphere Reserve so that the Foundation can deliver more projects and programs to make the Biosphere a better and more sustainable place.

I’ve learnt a lot about the Biosphere since I joined and it truly is a unique and special part of Victoria.  It’s the only place in Victoria recognised by UNESCO under its Biosphere Program and has a wide variety of species and habitats that are protected under State, Commonwealth and International legislation.  For me, one of the key challenges lies in trying to balance the protection and restoration of the environment against the needs and impacts of us humans.  This is one of the underlying reasons UNESCO established their Biosphere Program 50 years ago, and I’d like to see the Western Port Biosphere Foundation play a key role in tackling that challenge and driving better outcomes locally.

From the Chair: Jo McCoy

Welcome to our Autumn 2021 Connector newsletter.  I am sure readers will find lots of in

teresting articles to explore, including a few penned by one or two of our new directors who have quickly demonstrated their capacity to contribute to our organisation.

I wonder how many readers are aware of the significance of 2021 for the Biosphere.  This year marks the 50th Anniversary of the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Program, the 50th Anniversary of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands and the start of the UN Decade for Ecosystem Restoration.

At the Western Port Biosphere, we are in regular conversation with our sister biosphere foundations in Noosa, Great Sandy (both Queensland) and Fitzgerald (WA) about how to best promote awareness of biospheres in Australia and, this year in particular, how to celebrate the anniversary.  The occasion will be marked internationally with a launch on 24 March in Paris which will include a message from Dr. Jane Goodall, the MAB 50th Anniversary patron.  Please watch for further information on our Facebook page but also have a look at the UNESCO Forum on Biodiversity website for lots of great material.

The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration will be launched on World Environment Day on 5 June and will run until 2030, the deadline for the Sustainable Development Goals and the timeline scientists have identified as the last chance to prevent catastrophic climate change.  It will be led by the United Nations Environment Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization, and aims to “build a strong, broad-based global movement to ramp up restoration and put the world on track for a sustainable future“.  That will include building political momentum for restoration as well as thousands of initiatives on the ground.”  Once again there is lots of useful information and resources to be found on the website.

Coming back closer to home, I’m proud to note that the Biosphere is close to finalising a Memorandum of Understanding with the three Landcare Networks within our region – Bass Coast, Mornington Peninsula and Western Port Landcare Networks.  The MoU recognises the synergies and common aims between our organisations and has been developed to facilitate opportunities for us to work cooperatively and collaboratively where possible.  The main objective for all organisations is to care for and conserve the Mornington Peninsula and Western Port region’s natural environment while supporting environmentally sustainable productive enterprise that meets human needs.

In the last Connector, I advised that our Executive Officer, Greg Hunt, would be retiring soon.  In fact, he now has only a few weeks left with us before he will be free to plan new bird watching adventures at will.  We will soon be able to announce our new EO, he or she will have some big boots to fill.  Again, I take this opportunity to thank Greg for his enthusiasm, passion and dedication to the Biosphere, its members and stakeholders.

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.