There are some wonderful and occasionally pristine habitats comprising the core zones of the Western Port Biosphere. Among these are our internationally acclaimed Ramsar wetlands, multiple national and marine parks and areas yet untouched by our urban spread.
Protecting these areas lies at the heart of what we do. In the conjoined battles against climate change and biodiversity loss, the preservation of these wilderness areas will be critical to ensuring future generations will enjoy the natural aesthetics and healthy living environment that we enjoy today.
While acknowledging this, perhaps the greatest potential for achieving our vision lies in the buffer zones with the Biosphere Reserve. UNESCO recently endorsed the significantly expanded tracts of land designated as such within our reserve.
The richness of their potential lies in the fact that these former terrestrial forests and grasslands have been re-purposed to support urban demand for agriculture, tourism, recreation and out-of-town residences, all of which lend themselves to application of improved practices and behaviours supportive of our goals.
We already have evidence of how we can engage with the mostly private landholders who ply their business within the buffer zones. Over the past year, we have worked alongside many property owners and businesses to optimise water management through our water stewardship program.
With access to fresh water essential for dealing with a progressively hotter and drier climate for our Biosphere Reserve and its surrounds, maximising water capture, reducing its consumption and better managing waste water are central to what sustainable water stewardship is about.
Our team has demonstrated that what is good for the environment often improves profitability. Investment in prudent use of water can be as rewarding as prudential financial management.
At our ‘All things Western Port’ forum in Hastings, held and hosted with support from Melbourne Water, we heard how building biolinks on private land is producing bottom line dividends.
Mornington Peninsula Landcare’s Project Co-ordinator, Greg Holland, told the audience how his organisation was making great gains with its construction of a biolink ‘spine’ for the peninsula, primarily due to word-of-mouth referral from landholders, including farmers, who were spruiking the benefits of environmental restoration to neighbours.
We are engaged in similar conversations on the other side of Western Port, partnering with the Bass Coast Shire and activist groups like Save Western Port Woodlands, to persuade sand mining companies to ensure allocations of land to biolink construction – something that can allow some expansion of their commercial operations, while preserving and connecting terrestrial forests areas designated as ‘nationally significant’.
We have yet to engage closely with the tourism sector, clearly one with a substantial and growing footprint across the Biosphere Reserve. It is something of a no-brainer that a UNESCO-recognised region has huge potential for development and recognition as one of Australia’s premier ecotourism destinations.
As an industry that traverses both agriculture and tourism, the region’s wine industry is already playing a key role in attracting visitors into the region. Add a quality-focused boutique brewery industry, a growing array of food and cultural festivals and some of Victoria’s best hiking, biking and boating experiences, and it is evident that balancing business opportunity with environment risk management will be a growing focus for the Biosphere Foundation’s engagement in planning and advice for the tourism sector in coming years.
While the latter may impact on core habitats within the reserve and increasing numbers of visitors must be educated to tread lightly, the bulk of the action will be in our buffer zones, as people flock to enjoy the amenity of high quality tourism facilities, attractions and infrastructure.
It is from our buffer zones that the impacts of modern society flow into our wilderness. Whether it be people traversing from urban to nature, water flowing from towns and farms into rivers and bay, silt eroding into our estuaries and wetlands, or microplastics being transferred almost by osmosis from modern consumables into animal consumption, it nearly all must negotiate the corridors of these intermediate zones.
Perhaps the most exciting thing about our Biosphere buffer zones is that the people who live and work within them are perhaps the most empowered in our community to have huge impacts on the long-term future of our special region.
In preserving the future, we must think beyond simply the preservation of our core ecosystems. It is essential that we partner with those who control the destiny of our buffer zones to develop solutions and practices to enhance what feeds and nurtures our Biosphere Reserve.