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Climate and environment will benefit as finance runs the maths on risks

By Geoff Brooks, Foundation Board Director

There’s a somewhat cynical finance industry saying that self-interest beats compound interest every time. But it accurately reflects the reality that the environmental cause would only ever gain real momentum when the downside effects of climate change and ecosystem degradation and loss started hitting hip pockets.

The Insurance Council of Australia commissioned the McKell Institute to investigate the annual cost of natural disasters to households. McKell’s report ‘The Cost of Extreme Weather’ was published in 2022, revealing the costs averaged $1,532 over the 2021-22 financial year, up from $888 ten years earlier. It went on to project that this would rise to $2,500 per household by 2050 – coincidentally the year targeted for net zero emissions.

McKell attributed this to every Australian shouldering recovery costs in terms of government expenses paid for through taxes, insurance costs, uninsured damage and increased prices due to supply chain shortages.

Outside of the Biosphere Foundation, I spend some of my time providing communications consultancy to financial services organisations across investment, superannuation and financial planning. Much of this is focused on writing thought leadership pieces for various consumer and trade publications. I have been doing it for more than 20 years.

For a large number of those years for many investment houses, ESG (Environment/Social/Governance) screening was largely a point of differentiation, to apply a Paul Keating line to some fund ESG claims “all tip and no iceberg”.

This is not over. There has been substantial media coverage of ASIC’s crackdown on a major super fund which the regulator alleges claimed to “exclude investments in companies involved in carbon-intensive fossil fuels”, alcohol production and gambling, but was invested in nearly 50 oil, coal, beer and wine, and gambling companies, including AGL, BHP, Whitehaven Coal, Treasury Wine Estates, Crown Resorts and Tabcorp.

The regulatory crackdown has reportedly led to several substantial funds removing their responsible investment reports and disclosures from websites having found “anomalies”. The bottom line is that the industry is not there yet.

However, I get a sense that change is occurring and ASIC’s current push will only accelerate it.  There is a noticeable shift in the conversation. I am writing much more about investor perspectives on sustainability, the risks associated with climate change, energy consumption, degradation of ecosystems and biodiversity loss. The penny, or more appropriately the millions, appears to be finally dropping.

Those advocating from the heart on environmental issues have been doing it for years, with limited resources. Researchers have spent much of their time looking for funding rather than evidence. The everyday need to earn a living and nurture families have made the environmental crusade a part-time affair for volunteer campaigners.

We should therefore embrace the potential firepower that the finance industry’s focus on sustainability will bring to our cause. Climate, environment and sustainability are now welded onto the core risk assessments being made by most responsible investment managers.

There will always be outliers and we can certainly debate the answers that some of those assessments produce, as evidence by the current ASIC crackdown but, having worked within the system for some time, I can assert that integration into risk matrices is happening and is a substantial step forward.

So what do I see as the benefits of the full engagement of the finance sector in climate and environmental risk assessment? Consider the following:

  1. Self-interest

This is not just on the part of the industry, but its clients. The best investors understand risk as well as returns. Their assessments are made on the basis of expected ‘risk adjusted returns’ rather than absolute returns. They want to understand how risks can be managed or removed. Environmental stewardship is now high on the list for a growing number of industries wanting to maintain or attract on-going investor support.

  1. Good at maths

Finance runs on mathematics. The industry can afford to attract the best and brightest and does so. So there is a lot of really smart people whose job roles now include building models for assessment of climate and environmental risks. This ultimately translates into powerful advocacy to government, economists, investors and consumers on the need for climate action and the protection of biodiversity. I have just worked on a piece informing investors of the risks associated with unsustainable agricultural and the need to support a shift to regenerative and targeted agricultural practice.

  1. Moving money

The power to move money will be an important influencer in the ways companies take responsibility for their environmental footprint, which will need to reduce. Financial institutions, led in Australia by the industry super funds, are demonstrating their capacity and willingness to do this. It is a global trend.

  1. Influence

Arguably outside of the pharmaceutical industry, there are no more powerful lobbyists than those deployed by the finance sector. Banking, superannuation, financial planning and various investor and shareholder groups have the access and influence at national and state level that others can only dream about. If finance wants to move the dial on climate action and environment, it will add great weight to the efforts of those who have been advocating on those fronts for decades.

  1. Demographic change

Boomers like me are locked into the outgoing tide. It’s happening within the finance sector as it is everywhere else. The evidence of recent elections shows the emerging power, influence, culture and priorities of Generations X, Y and Z. They are laser focused on the impacts climate change and environment will have within their lifetime. Most of the end users of my services a now run by these generations. It is refreshing and optimistic to see them hitting the refresh button on sustainable business.

From the perspective of the Biosphere Foundation and others advocating for climate action, ecosystem protection and sustainable living, there is potential for new partnerships with major players in Australian commerce.

Our foundation is attracting growing attention and support from all levels of government, but we are also uniquely positioned to act as a facilitator and centre of new multi-sector partnerships between business, community and government to bring new investment into promoting and preserving the future of the Western Port Biosphere Reserve.

Should we be worried about an El Niño? 

By Stephen Brend, Project Officer 

Image from:

The short answer to the question posed by this piece’s title is “no, but we should be prepared.”  It has been said that the weather is a bit like a person’s mood, but climate is like their personality.  El Niño is a climate driver; it will affect the character of the coming summer. 

How an El Niño develops is complicated, involving oceanic currents, sea temperatures, prevailing winds and atmospheric conditions.  Given all those factors it is not surprising that, when they all come together, the impacts are felt around the world.  Indeed, even though El Niño is primarily associated with the Pacific Ocean, and so Australia’s East coast, it can cause droughts in Southern Africa.  The “Climate Dogs” series of animations, developed by the Bureau of Meteorology and available on You Tube, are a great summary of the science and impacts.   

In Australia, El Niño years are associated with hotter, drier conditions.  This obviously increases the risk of bushfires.  This is why we should be prepared.  While this is obviously true of every summer, an El Niño increases the risks.  Readers can look at the CFA’s “Plan and Prepare” webpages for more information.   

It is encouraging that the 2018-2019 El Niño, which was Australia’s hottest summer on record, was not marked by catastrophic fire.  Nevertheless, it looks likely that we will enter an El Niño this year and so we should get ready. 



CEO Report

By Mel Barker, Biosphere Foundation CEO

Welcome to the winter edition of the Connector.  I’ve been enjoying starting some of my days with a coffee overlooking Warn Marin (Western Port) near Hastings Pier.  Whilst the temperatures are currently rather refreshing (!), I like to spend 5 minutes appreciating the beauty of the Bay, as well as reflecting on its significance – both economically and environmentally.  In recent weeks all four UNESCO Biosphere Reserve Councils surrounding the Bay (Bass Coast, Casey, Cardinia and Mornington Peninsula) have confirmed their united support to see this critical economic and environmental asset managed effectively into the future through the development of a Strategic Framework for Western Port. If you’d like to add your support, then you can do so here. 

As you can read about in the updates from the team, they’ve continued their great work on a range of projects, research initiatives, education programmes and community engagement around the Biosphere Reserve.  Our engagement spans a wide gamut, from participating in community events, to speaking at a Melbourne Business School event, to presenting to the Bass Coast Distinctive Areas and Landscapes Standing Advisory Committee.  I believe it is important for us to participate in a wide range of fora to share our scientific knowledge, as well as listen to different perspectives and identify opportunities for us to partner with other organisations to deepen our impact. 

One of our partners, Moonlit Sanctuary, has provided an update for this edition about their conservation program for the pookila (formerly known as the New Holland Mouse).  I was delighted to be invited to attend the opening of Moonlit’s new Discovery Lab, launched by Minister for Water, Harriet Shing.  The Biosphere Foundation’s Water Ecologist, Lance Lloyd, was on hand to answer all the tricky questions from the kids that were present!  We’ve been starting to collaborate with two new partners for the Biosphere Foundation and look forward to announcing those very soon. 

I’m heading off to the World Network of Island and Coastal Biosphere Reserves conference on K’gari (Fraser Island) in September.  This will be a great opportunity to leverage knowledge and share ideas with other Biosphere Reserves from around the globe tackling similar issues to ourselves. There are several events coming up this year, including our AGM so I encourage you to keep an eye on our socials for the details. 

Energy from Waste 

By Stephen Brend, Project Officer 


Your non-recyclable wheely bin is emptied, and your rubbish is taken away.  Where does it go?  For most residents of the Biosphere Reserve, it will be to landfill which is simply a hole in the ground into which stuff is dumped before it is buried.  Once upon a time, this was considered the most cost-effective solution to disposing of household waste, but not anymore.  Landfills are in short supply, increasingly costly to operate and concern about contamination and methane emissions mean that they fall at the bottom of the EPA’s waste management hierarchy.   

Sitting above landfill, in the hierarchy, is energy from waste or, as it is often called, “advanced waste processing”.  In such a system, rubbish is screened so that any recyclable products are removed before the remainder is incinerated.  In much the same way as a coal-fired power station works, the heat from the burning of the waste is used to create steam which, in turn, drives a turbine that produces electricity.  In the UK, a typical “energy from waste” plant can produce enough electricity to power 30,000 homes (while coal fired may power 100,000).  The smoke from the incinerator is “scrubbed” to remove the worst toxins and as much CO2 as possible.  Finally, the resulting ash is sent for use in industry, particularly for road construction.   

Currently, there are no advanced waste processing facilities in our region.  However, we are drawing your attention to it as it seems highly likely that pressure will build to find an alternative to landfill.  An energy-from-waste plant may well be proposed.  How do you feel about it?  We have our thoughts but would be interested to hear yours.  You can contact us through [email protected] 

Sunshine Coast Biosphere logo design wins multiple awards

The Sunshine Coast Biosphere, Australia’s newest UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, has received both national and international recognition for its logo and branding in two graphic design awards.

Designed by Sunshine Coast Council’s Senior Graphic Designer, the logo design brief was to create a unique and meaningful identifier representing the Sunshine Coast Biosphere and the region: its history, community, lifestyle, economy and natural beauty. It needed to reflect the vibrancy and energy of the Sunshine Coast, provide flexibility of use and reflect the connections within the Biosphere Reserve. Sunshine Coast Biosphere Community Reference Group members provided input to ensure community views and opinions were incorporated into the design process for this brand representing the region.

The logo features fanned out leaves positioned in a radial pattern to show the energy of the region and the outward vision of the Sunshine Coast Biosphere. Each leaf represents a different element of the biosphere reserve, ‘celebrating people and nature’.

While creating a recognisable visual identity for the Sunshine Coast Biosphere, the branding is also intended to inform and resonate with the local community to create a sense of ownership, ensure positive engagement and support action for a sustainable Sunshine Coast.


Pookila conservation program at Moonlit Sanctuary

By Michelle Raki, Moonlit Sanctuary

Our Threatened Species Team has had a very exciting month!

Photo credit: Vic Zoo

Some soft squeaks led to the discovery of not one, not two, but FOUR adorable Pookila pups in their enclosure. This remarkable event marks the largest litter currently recorded at Moonlit Sanctuary.

The breeding of this pair has resulted in some very important genetic combinations that will contribute greatly to the recovery of this species. Once the pups are big enough to be weaned, keepers will be able to determine their gender which in turn may determine their role in the recovery program, whether they go on to breed when they are older or if they are potentially considered for the release aspect of the program down the track.

Keepers are also seeing and hearing some very positive signs from our other breeding pair so hopefully, some more success is on the way.

The Pookila Conservation Breeding and Reintroduction Program is a collaboration between the Victorian Department of Energy, Environments and Climate Action, Gippsland Water, Moonlit Sanctuary, Parks Victoria, the Australasian Zoo and Aquarium Association, Zoos Victoria and members of the national Pookila Recovery Team.

Bandicoot Habitat Garden at Koo Wee Rup Primary

By Corey Everitt- The Pakenham Star 

After almost 3-years of planning, education and support from the Western Port Biosphere Foundation, the Cranbourne Botanical Gardens and the Cardinia Shire, The Koo Wee Rup Primary School has been able to successfully re-vegetate the school’s Bandicoot Habitat.

Camera trapping from David Nicolls and Stephen Brend of the Southern Brown Bandicoot Regional Recovery group revealed at least one Southern Brown Bandicoot living onsite, alongside foxes, dogs and cats. Principal Benton Zimmerle says the project began with curiosity in 2020, then quickly grew into a vision of how the school could make a real impact on the future preservation of the Southern Brown Bandicoot.

On Thursday May 11th, with the help of staff, parents, Bendigo Bank staff, Western Port Swamp Landcare Group, Eilish of the Royal Botanical gardens Cranbourne, Jess of the Western Port Biosphere Foundation and all students of the school, 500 indigenous plants were planted as part of the Bandicoot Habitat Garden.

Mr Zimmerle feels that we can teach children about conservation, endangered animals and the importance of playing our part in creating a sustainable future, however this project has enabled the students at Koo Wee Rup Primary School to live the experience and participate in a truly worthwhile project that he hopes will create a legacy that will continue beyond their primary school years. Mr Zimmerle’s experience of the project has been one of a real privilege, to see the passion within our students to re-create this space for our local bandicoot population; a space where teachers can now use to teach the students the important role we can all play in conservation.

It’s never been more important to act for the Southern Brown Bandicoot, and having the local community come together for this cause has been wonderful. Southern Brown Bandicoots are preyed on by cats, foxes, and dogs, and desperately need coverage in densely planted native strappy plants to survive, and hopefully one day thrive, in these urbanised environments.

Southern Brown Bandicoots bring so many benefits to a landscape: their conical diggings allow for water penetration and nutrient circulation in the soil, they help spread seeds and beneficial fungi, and ultimately improve plant growth and health.

We look forward to watching this Bandicoot Habitat Garden grow at Koo Wee Rup Primary School, alongside the students and school community. Many thanks to all of those who played a role in this project and to the funders who assisted in the re-creation of this space, Junior Landcare, Cardinia Shire, and Commonwealth Government Environment Restoration Fund.

Water Stewardship at Luxton Park  

By Jessica Brady – Communications and Engagement

Lucy Kyriacou and Lance Lloyd with Catriona

The Western Port Biosphere Foundation had the recent pleasure of signing off local property Luxton Park, as part of the Biosphere’s Water Stewardship Program. The program uses the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) International Water Stewardship Standard as a tool for businesses and land managers that use water to address the shared and site-specific challenges of the catchment.

The AWS has been developing a global water stewardship system since the Millennium Drought in 2006. During this time, the Western Port Biosphere Foundation has worked with multiple landowners and businesses within the Biosphere to improve water management on their properties and to positively influence local waterways. 

Luxton park is a 100-acre pasture property, including 17 acres of reclaimed wetlands. Owners John and Catriona work together. John with the use of regenerative methods to support his farming enterprise of Wiltshire horn sheep, while Catriona focusses on the wetlands and revegetation efforts.  

It was a single, huge, Eucalypt thought to be 100’s of years old and pre-dating European settlement that provided Catriona with the impetus to start to try and return the land and water to what it was in some capacity.  Catriona came to learn that the original billabong at the end of the creek on their property had been recorded or noted prior to European settlement and that it may have been a place where First Nations camped alongside this constant and deeper fresh water source. “Once again this history encouraged me to try and protect not only the land and the water but honour the space that may have been used for millennia as a source of food, water, protection from the wind by the aboriginals whilst protecting the indigenous plants and animals” says Catriona.  

Beginning in 2001, what was once an empty flat over-grazed paddock soon became the first wetland. With a series of lagoons of varying size and depths, teamed with 20 years of planting and natural regeneration, this wetland is now home to a huge array of fauna, a family of echidna, black snakes, koalas, swamp wallabies and blue tongue lizards. Numerous species of birds inhabit the trees; yellow Robins, superb Fairy-wrens and Honeyeaters. Reed-warblers, crakes and rails are regularly sighted at the water’s edge.  Black swans cruised centrally on occasion and, as always, the little Australian Grebe proudly patrolled the central larger dam.  

A second wetland began development in 2015, with more plans to continue to keep planting indigenous plants whilst slowing the transit of water to improve pastures.   

Catriona with her Water Steward gate sign

The Biosphere Foundation supported Catriona to develop a Water Stewardship Plan for the property.  This plan is a form of catchment and water management which is easily developed and implemented, built on existing works and planning. The plan calls for continuation of the revegetation along water inflow pathways to wetlands and dams to ensure sediment and nutrients are trapped in vegetation (grasses and shrubs), revegetation around wetlands and along fence lines and areas not supporting agriculture directly. Monitoring water quality, possibly with help of nearby school groups, will help chart the success of the wetland development and revegetation. Managing the farming enterprise to be sympathetic to biodiversity, water and water quality – such simply as good pasture and grazing management (part of the philosophy of this enterprise anyway) – will continue as a matter of course! Lance Lloyd, Water Stewardship Advisor at Western Port Biosphere says “These actions will help manage water in the landscape, improve biodiversity on Luxton Park and the downstream Merricks Estuary and ensure the farming enterprise is sustainable.” 

If you would like to know more about Water Stewardship or any of our other work, you can find us on

Vital work to preserve Strzelecki koalas

By Celeste Brittain- Sentinel Times 

In recent months through scat analysis (examining koala poo) Strzelecki koalas have been found in the woodlands, an area to date they were not known to inhabit. Ecologist Kelly Smith from the Western Port Biosphere is the researcher making the Strzelecki koala discoveries in the woodlands.

“This find is pretty special,” she said.

“This area hasn’t been found yet, hasn’t been studied yet for this Strzelecki genome. It just proves, you know, that quite possibly these koalas could be all across Victoria, we just need to study them. And it can be done easily through scat analysis.”

Through conducting scat analysis in the woodlands as part of her Honour’s thesis at Federation University and using the help of about 30 volunteers (citizen scientists), Kelly found one Strzelecki Koala in the Grantville Nature Reserve late last year.

Kelly undertook further research through a grant from Melbourne Water and Bass Coast Shire to conduct more scat analysis in the woodlands this year, through a Koala Awareness Program with the Western Port Biosphere.

She found two more Strzelecki Koalas at the Grantville Natures Reserve. Kelly and her team of citizen scientists also found two Strzelecki koalas in Inverloch and Cape Paterson.

She believes the discoveries of Strzelecki koalas in the woodlands are significant because they show that another important species exists within the woodlands that needs to be protected.

The Strzelecki koalas are an important species because of their genetic make-up.

Unlike others found in the state, the Strzelecki koala, originating in the Strzelecki ranges- Gippsland, has not been translocated from the Island colonies of French Island or Phillip Island.

According to a 2013 report by Friends of The Strzelecki Koala this means that they “a more genetically intact example of a wild population of koalas.”

They also survived hunting in the 19th century which adds to their significance.

As Kelly explains in her research- A Population genetic study of koalas using scats collected by citizen scientists on the Mornington Peninsula, Victoria- the translocation of koala populations occurred after European settlement.

At that time there was a decline in koala populations due to disease, fire, extensive hunting and drought.

To increase the numbers, the state government introduced a breeding program where koalas from Island colonies (French and Phillip Island) were brought to the mainland.

These translocated koalas were however founded on small numbers, so their genetic diversity was low plus inbreeding occurred which resulted in them having abnormalities and diseases.

Kelly says the Strzelecki Koala is “very special and needs protecting.”

Unlike its northern koala counterparts, it is not currently listed as endangered under the EPBC Act 1999 but rather listed as secure.

The Strzelecki Koala faces many threats (climate change, predators, bushfires), but the biggest is loss of habitat which Kelly said is occurring at an alarming rate

Kelly said koalas are not going to thrive in an island of vegetation; they need to move through bio-links.

She said there is a lot of revegetation work being done and she will be joining the Mornington Peninsula Koala Conservation Group to work on a bio-link program that she said also involves the Cardinia shire, South Gippsland Shire and Bass Coast Shire.

If interested in assisting for the Gippsland region (north of sale and sub alpine areas) please contact Kelly at – [email protected]


Do you want to help solve the mystery of the other Bunyip Bird ?

 By Lance Lloyd, Water Stewardship Adviser

Image: BirdLife Australia

The Australasian Bittern, and its lesser known cousin the Australia Little Bittern, are endangered and cryptic wetland birds which have a booming call and in many indigenous communities regarded as the call of the Bunyip, hence they are sometimes referred to as Bunyip Birds. 

You can imagine our surprise about four years ago, while setting up our display for World Wetlands Day next to Tootgarook Wetlands that a Bunyip Bird burst out of the reeds next to us and flying over the heads of noted birdo, and our EO at the time, Greg Hunt and local ecologist Cameron Brown. One of the main reasons for having the event at these wetlands was in part to promote the plight of this bird which has now become endangered across is range in Australia. It was so good to see! 

Bunyip Birds are listed in the EPBC Act, which means sites with this species present and threatened by some sort of development must be assessed against the “Matters of National Significance” test. The interesting thing is the species migrates from here to Northern Vic/Southern NSW and this individual has been located in swamps and rice fields in southern NSW as well after its migration. Both areas need protection for the species to survive. 

Image: BirdLife Australia

A team from Charles Sturt University is on the lookout for a PhD student to take on the challenge of reedbed management in the #MurrayDarling for key species like the Australian Little Bittern. Students have the opportunity to work with the well-known Dr Damian Michael and Dr Matt Herring. It is open to domestic and international students. Check out #27 in the booklet

Damian and Matt say “The Australasian Bittern population in Tootgarook migrate from the Murray to Capel Sound each spring and summer. The Australasian Bittern has been regularly documented within the Tootgarook Swamp since 1891. Recent observations, including breeding calls in spring, lead to the belief that breeding could potentially be occurring in the 650-hectare wetland.” Here are some links to learn a bit more about the species. 

So, get in touch with Damian and Matt if you are interested in studying these species and help them protect the species and habitats across the Biosphere and in the Murray-Darling Basin!