By Stephen Brend- Project Officer, Western Port Biosphere Foundation
Can the bandicoot cross the road?
That question is not the start of a joke, we ask it in all seriousness. Southern Brown Bandicoots are one of the Biosphere Reserve’s most iconic but threatened species. These insectivorous marsupials are at risk of localised extinction because of all the familiar threats: habitat destruction; introduced predators; land clearance and climate change. However, they face an additional threat – roads.
Bandicoots do not disperse radially, like ripples from a stone dropped in a pond. Rather, their dispersal is linear, typically along drainage lines which tend to provide the cover they need. The same is also true for road reserves and road edges. Unfortunately, creeks, canals and roads inevitably end up crossing another road. What happens then?
Long term studies, undertaken with the support of the Biosphere Foundation, through the Southern Brown Bandicoot Regional Recovery group suggested that, at best, the local population is stable but could be declining. It certainly isn’t expanding. This is worrying as there are a number of sites where they have always been – those individual groups (sub-populations) have not been lost, so why can’t they expand when we know there is suitable habitat available to them?
That is one of the questions that we hope will be answered by a new project that the Foundation is starting in partnership with Parks Victoria, the Royal Botanic Gardens Cranbourne and DELWP, with funding from the Gippsland Transport Environmental Projects – Pilot Program. The project will identify persistently strong and sizeable populations, suitable vacant habitat and the obstacles to dispersal. Ultimately, it is likely that a translocation plan will be developed. If the bandicoots can’t cross the road, perhaps we can help them.
In praise of Bivalves
To most people oysters are probably synonymous with fancy restaurants or wine bars where they are taken from a bed of ice and slurped straight from the shell. That image is a very good illustration of the concept of “rarity value”; the rarer something is, the more expensive it becomes. When it comes to oysters, it is also an illustration of our impact on the natural world in general and, specifically, on Western Port.
In the 1800s, oysters were poor-people’s food, so numerous they could be harvested virtually for free and sold for cents (well pennies and half-pennies!). As so often happens with an abundant, easily accessible resource, we over-harvested it. Massively. Catastrophically.
The oyster industry collapsed within only a few decades of starting. No one knows exactly how many tens of millions of oysters were taken from Western Port, but it drove the population essentially extinct. Taking out the oysters took away all the ecosystem services they provide: water filtration; habitat for dozens of other species; erosion control and a cultural and an economic resource.
A single oyster can filter a staggering 50 litres of water per day. They digest what they can and the deposit the remainder on the sea floor. This is important as it makes the water cleaner and clearer. This allows more sunlight to reach the seabed and so promotes the growth of sea grass and kelps. Oysters grow on top of each other, forming complex 3D shapes that provide shelter for juvenile fish as well as hunting grounds for lobsters and sea anemones. The simple presence of oysters boosts biodiversity. Plus, they are tough. You can imagine the difference in impact of a wave or retreating tide swirling over soft Western Port mud when compared with the water hitting an oyster reef. Finally, the annihilation of Western Port’s oysters was yet another harmful act perpetrated against the Bunurong/ Boon Wurrung people for whom oysters were an important food.
For all those reasons, isn’t it time we brought oysters back? The Biosphere Foundation firmly believes so and are working on plans to make it happen.
Water Stewardship Update – By Glenn Brooks-MacMillan, Programs Manager, Western Port Biosphere Foundation
This quarter we continued to undertake water stewardship plans across the reserve, specifically on Phillip Island and Mornington Peninsula. We aim to conduct more in Frankston, City of Casey and Cardinia in coming months. We were delighted to be invited to talk to the Mornington Peninsula Farmers Group on Sat 18th June at Peninsula Fresh Organics where Lance Lloyd took the group through the Water Stewardship process. Wayne Sheilds spoke about how his business has been involved over the years and how it helped them obtain a recent grant from Coles. The group then went for a walk to inspect some of the water stewardship actions undertaken on this property.
We have also been successful in receiving a Climate Action grant from Mornington Peninsula Shire to undertake awareness programs in schools and to develop water plans. Raising awareness of human impact on the climate and the systems that support us e.g. hydrological and ecological, is the greatest driver of action and behaviour change. Whilst the project aims to reach four schools, the hope is that the number of students inspired will extrapolate out and affect change across the broader community, as they share their knowledge and skills. The project seeks to skill participants in practical conservation skills, such as revegetating with indigenous plants, designing and putting in frog bogs and ponds, cutting swales, and water capture and storage. Implementation of water stewardship actions will significantly reduce the school’s ecological footprint, enhance the environment for biodiversity and help mitigate against some of the impacts of climate change.