Stephen Brend- Project Officer
Our examination of the feasibility and practicalities of translocating Southern Brown Bandicoots continues to go well. This is a three part study funded through the Gippsland Transport Environment Program. The first part of the study simply considered the feasibility of translocation to support the conservation of the species. As Practical Ecology, the consultants we are working with, concluded “The multiple successful translocations of SBB in other states and EBB in Victoria prove that risks associated with translocation can be mitigated and that translocation is now a powerful tool to successfully establish new populations of bandicoot and, also, supplement the genetic diversity of existing populations.” So that’s a yes.
The second phase of the project, which is ongoing, is looking at potential source populations from which individual bandicoots could be taken for later released in the Biosphere Reserve or wider West Gippsland area. This is proving more complicated for two reasons. The first is that there are simply very few bandicoot populations left in the area. Really only the Royal Botanic Gardens Cranbourne has a large enough population to sustain the losses caused by the removal of animals for translocation (which would be done in a way to mimic natural dispersal). However, the second issue then comes into play. Southern Brown Bandicoots have limited genetic diversity as a result of being driven into smaller and more isolated populations. Only taking from RBG Cranbourne would exacerbate that. Therefore, we are working with State-wide experts to identify source populations that would broaden the genetic base of any translocated populations.
The final part of the study is to find suitable release sites. There are pretty strict criteria surrounding this. For instance, a release site must be a minimum of 700 Ha and obviously has to be safe and suitable habitat. However, we remain quietly optimistic that a site can be found.
We’ll keep you updated on our progress.
By Stephen Brend- Project Officer
After twenty years of painstaking negotiations, finally, there is a commitment to protect the high seas. These are the areas of the world’s oceans that lie outside any one country’s jurisdiction. They were quite literally, virtually, lawless.
Agreed on the 4th of March, the High Seas Treaty is a legally binding commitment to ensure the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction. That’s about two-thirds of the world’s seas. While the effectiveness of any law depends on enforcement, this is still a hugely significant moment. To put it in perspective, the High Seas are about half of the entire plant’s surface area. The UN’s Secretary General described the Treaty as “ crucial for addressing the triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution.”
Conservationists have been celebrating. The Australian Marine Conservation Society called the agreement a “huge leap forward”. The Minister for Foreign Affairs said “The new global oceans treaty is a remarkable milestone”. For us in the Biosphere Reserve, who look to both the land and the sea, we are delighted. Water is crucial to everything and everyone. The oceans provide us with the ultimate source of freshwater, as well as food, climate regulation and connectivity. To have 193 countries commit to respecting those ecological and human imperatives is fantastic.
By Stephen Brend- Project officer
As you are no doubt aware, virtually every activity carries with it a carbon footprint. Achieving net zero means reducing that footprint as much as possible and then off-setting the elements that can’t be cut out. Recently, the Biosphere Foundation has been considering the carbon footprint of recreational fishing and how that can be reduced. From the outset, let me make it clear, we are not against fishing. Far from it. Recreational angling is an important element in the sustainable use and development of Western Port. Nevertheless, it is in everyone’s interest to minimise any environmental impact.
There are some obvious carbon emissions: travel to the launch site; engine fuel; refrigeration. All of these can be tackled in the same way as anything else involving an internal combustion engine and the electricity grid. For fishing, however, there was one standout source of emission and that is damage to seagrass meadows, predominately through anchor damage but also from boats missing the navigable channels at low tide. Individually, the impact may not be great but, given the thousands of boats that visit Western Port, the collective impact may be significant. So how to stop it?
One idea we had was to see if the act of anchoring could also be used to replant the seagrasses. Imagine a little hessian sack filled with sand and seed attached to the anchor line. When the anchor hit the bottom, the sack would detach, and the seed could take root. We would need to test the idea in practice, but it has some appeal. For the fishers, it would mean they would be adding fish habitat every time they fished plus the amount of carbon being absorbed by the seagrasses wouldn’t change.
Another intriguing but more expensive idea is stopping anchoring all together. There are now small electric engines, connected to a GPS system, that will keep a boat in the same spot without ever needing to drop anchor.
Our sense is that will be a bit too high-tech and costly for most people. Still, it is good to know the ideas are out there.
A beautiful morning greeted members of the Merricks Coolart Catchment Landcare group and a large number of volunteers on one of the many Saturdays over the past 12 months that we gathered to continue revegetation of an area in Balnarring township, recently cleared of 240 Monterey Pines.
This area constitutes the first section of the group’s Balnarring to the Bay Biolink, which will see 43.5 hectares of public and private land between Balnarring and the mouth of Merricks Creek at Somers, revegetated or enhanced to provide habitat and corridors for native species, especially the sadly diminishing local Koala population.
Only between 20% to 30% of the Mornington Peninsula’s native vegetation remains, so Landcare members and concerned locals know that action must be taken to ensure that their natural environment is protected and improved.
It has been truly wonderful to see up to sixty-five adults and twenty children of all ages getting involved and working together to plant 1,100 indigenous trees, shrubs and grasses along the old railway reserve. What a great opportunity for youngsters to be inspired to make a difference and be able to enjoy watching their plants grow and provide habitat.
The day’s activities were complemented by the Healthy Rivers Healthy Bay Team from Swinburne University, two bushland management staff from the Shire and the local Community Bank, which provided lunch for all and making a donation to the Balnarring Lions Club to come along and run the barbeque.
Merricks Coolart Catchment Landcare group set themselves a significant challenge when they applied for the permit to remove the 240 pine wildings along the first section of their planned Biolink. With the permit secured, raising the necessary funds to undertake the removal and revegetation in a reasonable time frame then occupied their minds.
An application to Community Bank Balnarring & District for support was successful and the $20,000 contributed by the bank allowed the project to get underway, demonstrating the Landcare group’s capacity to manage such a project and providing valuable leverage to raise the remainder of the funds required to complete Stage 1 far more quickly than had been envisaged.
This project has become a powerful community partnership, initiated by the Landcare group and then supported by their local Community Bank, Mornington Peninsula Shire, Hillview Quarries, Arcare, Bluescope Steel, state and federal government grants and donations from the community. Together, we can ensure that our very special natural environment is valued, protected and enhanced, now and into the future.
We will now move on to Stage 2 which will involve further revegetation, but this time on private properties. It will adjoin Merricks Creek and provide an extended area for our local fauna once planned weed control and revegetation are completed by members and volunteers.
Enter up to 10 photos that you’ve snapped right here in Cardinia Shire for your chance to WIN!
The best pictures will then be shortlisted by our judging panel and posted right here on Facebook! The picture with the most ‘likes’ will be our winner!
• First prize: a $500 visa gift card
• Second prize: a $200 visa gift card
• Third prize: a $100 visa gift card
From our stunning hills region to our fertile farmland, our townships, people, and unique flora and fauna – there’s no shortage of inspiration in Cardinia Shire! Happy snapping!
Entries close Thursday 4 May. For full terms and conditions, as well as details on how to enter, head to the link in our bio
Entry is free – https://whatsoncardinia.com.au/photocomp
By Lance Lloyd – Water Stewardship Program Adviser
Rewilding is an ecological restoration action which is warranted when species are lost from our landscapes and cannot just return due to lack of nearby populations or corridors to a site. However, a pre-cursor to rewilding is ensuring ecological processes and habitats exist. Restoring native Ecological Vegetation Communities (EVCs) to support Endangered Species requires restoration of functional ecological webs, including soil microbiota, invertebrates, flora, and fauna.
While information is available to identify historic habitats and vertebrate species associated with them, far less is known about the microbiota (bacteria and fungi) and invertebrates (mites, spiders, insects -millipedes, centipedes, ants, bees, bugs, butterflies, moths etc) that are critical to the existence of both the EVCs and vertebrate fauna. Understanding invertebrate communities associated with specific habitats could identify missing invertebrate species and highlight possible opportunities to replace these invertebrate species and/or enhance environmental elements that support them. In so doing, success in the re-establishment of EVCs, and vertebrate fauna that these EVCs and invertebrate communities support, could also be enhanced.
Harewood is a coastal site on the north shore of Western Port on which ongoing landscape restoration for conservation purposes has been carried out for over two decades. Previous vegetation survey work has identified eleven EVCs (some of which are endangered habitats) while vertebrate survey work has identified three endangered species (Growling Grass Frogs, Southern Brown Bandicoots and Swamp Skinks), all of which rely on invertebrates as a substantial part of their diets.
The Western Port Biosphere is supporting a research project led by Dr Pat McWhirter, owner of Harewood, Professor Heloise Gibb and Dr Nick Murphy from La Trobe University, Ecologist Nic McCaffre, and the Biosphere’s Ecologist Lance Lloyd, to survey the habitat present, the terrestrial invertebrates present and undertake an eDNA survey for aquatic invertebrates. The work will identify the invertebrates associated with the habitats that have been mapped on the site.
This project is seen as a pilot program for both rewilding at Harewood and across the Biosphere Reserve. The goal is to undertake a pilot program to establish the feasibility of a long-term and integrated rewilding program at Harewood. This is also aimed at learning lessons which would be applicable at other sites within the Biosphere Reserve. For instance, we hope the work will identify the invertebrates that support growling grass frogs (listed as Endangered under the FFG Act in Victoria) which in turn, supports rare species such as the Australasian Bittern (Critically Endangered, FFG Act Victoria).
By Lucy Kyriacou, Project Manager
2023 has begun with visioning the future for the Biodiversity in Schools program, thinking about how we can continue to offer schools the chance to learn about the UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, and to build connections between schools across the region. We are modelling the idea of creating a Schools Biosphere Network to map schools across the Reserve, provide information to all schools about what we do, and a platform for schools to share stories about what they are doing for sustainability and wildlife.
We would love to hear your thoughts about this idea. If you have any feedback about how we could best support your school as part of this unique UNESCO World Biosphere environment, please contact me at [email protected].
This term we have continued to deliver the Healthy Waterways from Source to Sea program, funded by the Mornington Peninsula Shire’s Climate Action grant. We have dates booked for Western Port Secondary to learn about blue carbon ecosystems with a fully funded excursion to Woolley’s Beach Reserve in term 2, and to design and implement a Water Stewardship plan.
We have delivered an incursion to Somers Camp Enviro Group to start their Water Stewardship process and been back onsite to do a full water audit. Students enjoyed learning about migratory shorebirds and why healthy waterways are so important for their survival, and also bug dipping to assess water quality by following the aquatic invertebrate fieldwork guides.
Grade 10 students at John Paul College have enjoyed a blue carbon ecosystem incursion to learn about UNESCO World Biosphere Reserves, Ramsar wetlands, and some of the species found in Western Port’s coastal wetlands that are carbon capture powerhouses. They have an excursion booked for term 2 to visit these ecosystems in the field.
We have been raising awareness about our latest workshop offering, Koala Awareness, run by koala expert and Wildlife Ecologist, Kelly Smith. Kelly is searching the whole of Western Port for koala scat to research DNA because it is now known there are remnant populations of koalas thought to be extinct. It is imperative we gain an understanding of their range and extent to help protect and conserve them into the future. If your school is interested in a Koala Awareness workshop, please click here to make a booking. If you are interested in volunteering to help collect scat, please contact Kelly on [email protected].
For all our school workshops and programs, and for bookings, please click here.
By Adie Smith
By Mel Barker, Biosphere Foundation CEO
Much has been happening within the Biosphere Reserve the past few months. The team continues to work hard with our partners to deliver some great projects on ground. This newsletter contains an update from Glenn on our expanding blue carbon project (mangroves, saltmarsh and seagrass), Lance provides an update on our Rewilding pilot, Lucy on our Term 1 schools programme and Stephen on our bandicoot project.
As I’ve mentioned previously, we are working with an alliance of groups to drive the development of a Strategic Framework for Western Port. It’s an internationally significant wetland and it currently doesn’t have an overarching plan. It’s been great to see the support coming from all quarters – the sustainability of the Bay is in all of our interests. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to find out more and pledge your support at actforwesternportbay.au. Given the recent announcements for a Victorian Renewable Energy Terminal for wind farm components at Hastings, as well as a hydrogen export facility, the need for an overarching framework for Western Port has never been more pressing.
We are also participating in the Public Hearings for the Bass Coast Distinctive Areas Landscape Program. A significant proportion of the Bass Coast is within the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The focus for our presentation at the Hearings is the area known as the Western Port Woodlands. This area highlights the issue facing all Biosphere Reserves around the world – how to balance conservation and development? The Woodlands area is home to nationally significant flora and fauna, as well as a number of sand quarries. It is critical that a wildlife corridor is prioritised and established through this area to protect nature – whilst also ensuring that the sand quarries are meeting best practice standards from both an environmental and community engagement perspective.
I enjoyed participating in a recent Regenerative Tourism workshop hosted by Destination Phillip Island out on Millowl (Phillip Island). It was interesting to hear ideas from a range of stakeholders about ways we can give back more than we take and leave places better than we found them. The Foundation team has also been out and about at a range of festivals and events, including Womin Djeka in Balnarring, Intrepid Landcare and Harewood Heritage Day in Cardinia Shire. I recently had the opportunity to get muddy planting mangrove seeds in Western Port with Mornington Peninsula Shire, OzFish and Melbourne Water. I heard recently that it’s looking like the planting has had an 80% success rate which is an excellent outcome. Mangroves are a very effective carbon sink, so it’s great to see local climate solutions like this happening around the Biosphere Reserve that also provide a range of complementary benefits like coastal protection and fishery habitats.
by Jo McCoy
A gentle warning to readers that I find myself straying into areas that some might regard as political commentary later in this piece. I try to avoid that in this forum, but given the recent announcements from our Federal Government surrounding both climate and environmental policy and the absolute importance of both to the work of the Biosphere and the wider community, I’ve gone there. Please note that these are my personal opinions.
The board held its annual planning day in February to help us confirm elements of the next iteration of our Strategic Plan to be launched by June 2023. The main features of the Plan including the vision, purpose and mission statements along with strategic objectives and principles have been workshopped with the staff and will be further tested in coming months through consultation with key stakeholders including our council members and partners. Please be on the lookout for your opportunity to participate.
In the last edition of Connector, I touched on the issue of our new Federal Government’s signature climate policy and its potential local impact. The Safeguard Mechanism is now set to force industrial polluters to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. See the Climate Council’s explainer. In positive signs, BlueScope Steel’s Chief Executive has already endorsed the recent changes. See Safeguard mechanism wins backing of BlueScope Steel
While it’s great to see that Australia finally has climate legislation in place after more than a decade of inaction, it’s disappointing that our political parties are not yet all on the same page on this issue. That’s despite the most recent IPPC report and its very sobering warnings about the dire consequences we all face, if immediate, more significant action is not taken. See the IPCC press release or go to the full document.
We have seen that bipartisanship on major policy is possible as evidenced by the recent decision to invest $368 billion over three decades on nuclear-powered submarines. It’s beyond time that our politicians agreed that the clear and present dangers we face are the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss, more so than the theoretical threat of hostilities with China.
On the topic of biodiversity loss, I’ll aim to focus instead on remaining upbeat and positive. This was the advice given by the very excellent Nicola Toki, CEO of Forest and Bird New Zealand who gave an inspiring and very funny keynote at the recent Women in Conservation Breakfast on International Women’s Day. See Nicola Toki | LinkedIn
A Market for Biodiversity
Elsewhere in our Federal government, Minister Plibersek has introduced the Nature Repair Market Bill to parliament. See also – Nature Repair Market – DCCEEW and Agrithinking: nature repair market: KWM. This legislation, if passed, would “establish a market for biodiversity certificates that would be regulated by the Clean Energy Regulator and traded similar to Australian Carbon Credit Units”. Landholders including First Nations people, conservation groups, governments and farmers, would be paid for projects such as planting native species, removing feral cats and weeds or fencing livestock out of waterway.
On the face of it, this sounds great. Any mechanism which supports the production of ecosystem services and increases investment in protecting and repairing our environment is worth exploring. According to Prof. David Lindenmayer from the ANU’s Fenner School of Environment and Society, this could help motivate farmers to do some science-based, evidence-based work on their land. He also adds that monitoring compliance, input and outcomes would be critical to ensuring that nature repair markets worked and that a biodiversity dividend was achieved.
Given that this legislation builds on a similar plan and pilot implemented by the former Agriculture Minister – David Littleproud, it is to be hoped that the aforementioned bipartisanship might be achieved and that the objectives of the legislation are realised.
As might be anticipated though, when it comes to important legislation, there will always be groups who advocate for improvements. See for example the submission from the Australian Conservation Foundation. I will be watching the progression of this legislation with some interest and look forward to the contributions of the Greens and the crossbench along with other key players.
At the very least, the media surrounding both these issues hopefully means that the impacts of climate change and biodiversity loss remain high in people’s consciousness and inspire action at the local as well as national and international level.
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.
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Photography credits: J Harrison (eastern curlew).
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