What is World Wetlands Day?
World Wetlands Day is celebrated each year on 2 February to raise awareness about wetlands. This day also marks the anniversary of the Convention on Wetlands, which was adopted as an international treaty in 1971.
A United Nations International Day
On 30 August 2021 the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution 75/317 that established 2 February as World Wetlands Day.
Why World Wetlands Day?
Nearly 90% of the world’s wetlands have been degraded since the 1700s, and we are losing wetlands three times faster than forests. Yet, wetlands are critically important ecosystems that contribute to biodiversity, climate mitigation and adaptation, freshwater availability, world economies and more.
It is urgent that we raise national and global awareness about wetlands in order to reverse their rapid loss and encourage actions to conserve and restore them.
World Wetlands Day is the ideal time to increase people’s understanding of these critically important ecosystems.
What is the theme for World Wetlands Day in 2023?
Wetland Restoration, the theme for 2023, highlights the urgent need to prioritise wetland restoration.
Who is behind World Wetlands Day?
The World Wetlands Day awareness campaign is organized by the Secretariat of the Convention on Wetlands. Contracting Parties of the Convention on Wetlands have been celebrating World Wetlands Day since 1997, when it was first established.
Who can join?
World Wetlands Day is open to everyone — from international organisations, governments, wetland practitioners, to children, youth, media, community groups, decision-makers, to all individuals — as these ecosystems are important for us all.
Wetlands and the Western Port Biosphere.
Many people don’t realise that most of Western Port is listed as an internationally significant wetland under the intergovernmental Ramsar convention – a treaty aimed at the conservation and wise use of wetlands.
Our bay is considered internationally important because of the high representation of marine species and birds that rely on the wetland and the significant expanses of important wetland habitat, including intertidal sand and mud flats and areas of saltmarsh and mangroves.
Seagrass meadows, mudflats, mangroves and saltmarshes start the food chains that sustain the fishery and provide for international migratory shorebirds. These birds rely on the wetland for food prior to their epic migrations to the Arctic Circle.
Local fish like the King George whiting grow to a catchable size in the seagrass meadows of Western Port. Whiting from our bay then migrate along the Victorian coast to spawning sites far along the coast to the west.
Other fish such as the Australian grayling migrate downstream to spawn in the lower freshwater reaches of rivers flowing into the bay. Larvae then drift to the bay before migrating upstream to fresh water as juveniles.
The wetland is also a key breeding area for a range of species including Elephant fish, which are thought to deposit their eggs in the soft sediment between San Remo and French Island.
The Western Port Ramsar Wetlands are one of the primary reasons why the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) declared the Western Port area as one of only five active biospheres in Australia.
To learn more about the ways in which we can continue to restore and protect the Wetlands of Western Port:
By Newhaven Primary School
Students from Newhaven Primary wanted to raise awareness in their local community about migratory shorebirds. Through the Kids for Catalyst program, they worked with Jess Brady, Conservation Officer, to create an art piece for the Wall of Wings exhibition. This exhibition is a project by local activist and artist, Kate Gorringe-Smith, who is passionate about sharing knowledge of these magical birds, which also happen to be some of the most threatened species on Earth. Evidence shows knowledge is one of the key factors in inspiring people to take action to help protect the planet and most people aren’t aware of migratory shorebird species. Art is a powerful way to connect people to the cause. Click here to find out more:
By Stephen Brend, Project Officer
Almost from its inception, the Biosphere Reserve Foundation has been concerned about the Southern Brown Bandicoot (SBB). This small marsupial should be widespread throughout the Reserve and wider area and, probably, once was. Unfortunately, as with so many other species, it has fallen victim to habitat destruction, land use change and introduced, invasive predators such as foxes and cats. Now, SBB are an endangered species. When we find evidence of them hiding in blackberry thickets, we have to ask ourselves which is the greater evil: removing the noxious blackberry and so exposing any resident bandicoots to predation or keeping the weed and helping to preserve a diminishing population of a threatened native.
To beat that dilemma and so secure a local future for bandicoots, the Biosphere Foundation successfully applied for funding from the Gippsland Transport Environmental Projects – Pilot Program. In partnership with the Royal Botanic Garden Cranbourne and Parks Victoria (West Gippsland), we designed a three-phase project: 1) assess the feasibility of translocating bandicoots from one safe space to another; 2) identify source populations and then; 3) identify potential release sites and what infrastructure may be required there.
This pilot project doesn’t actually involve moving bandicoots from one place to another. Hopefully, that will come later. But, without this work, it can never happen. In keeping with our name, we are laying the foundations to help save one of our iconic species.
By Annie Leitch, Communication and Events Coordinator for Western Australia’s Fitzgerald Biosphere Reserve
Travelling by road through the Fitzgerald Biosphere in Southwestern Australia (known to be within a global biodiversity hotspot) this time of year there’s a good chance the grain carried by that truck you were stuck behind on the South coast highway was sourced from a property within the 1,184,720 hectares that make up our transition zone. Harvest is well and truly underway.
The Fitzgerald Biosphere Group (FBG) however (one of two landcare/natural resource management groups within the Fitzgerald Biosphere) are partway through a collaborative project that aims to understand and address a resurgence of dryland salinity within the region. The balance between increasing agricultural productivity without degrading natural resources is a problem for all farmers. It is hoped that Biosphere Reserves can provide an area for farmers to work cooperatively to experiment and learn about natural resource management, incorporate conservation objectives into farming systems and manage agricultural off-site impacts.
The Nowanup Caretakers (Rangers) who form a critical part of caring for country with the Gondwana Link program that is reconnecting wildlife habitat between the Stirling Range and the Fitzgerald River National Parks, are working hand-in-hand with FBG and farmers to heal Noongar Boodja (Noongar country) for the project Regenerating saline land: a new approach to an old problem.
The project began in 2021 with local farmers responding to advertised revegetation opportunities with their desire to remediate salt affected areas in addition to preventing further spread of dryland salinity whilst restoring aesthetic and biodiversity values of remnant vegetation patches on their land.
Basic information provided by landholders was assessed virtually (QGIS) and followed up with on-ground site assessments around state of the existing/former vegetation systems, proximity to sourcing salt tolerant species with local provenance, which revegetation methods would be most suitable and connection to significant remnant vegetation and waterways to allow for connectivity conservation methods. Seed collecting will be staggered over the next few months taking in seeding cycles of various species and techniques used.
Noongar Caretakers Rob, Connor, Errol, Marlin and Tyronne assisted their coordinator Jim and FBG Projects officer Carrie last week in order to begin collecting from target species that are currently presenting good seed and would do well to establish in the early stages of the project i.e., Saltwater paperbark (Melaleuca cuticularis). Carrie shares:
‘Some of the rangers had done a lot of seed collection so were able to help me with cutting techniques, identifying which seeds were and weren’t ready, tips for storing (sieving and storing seeds once dropped) to ensure mice/insects/winds don’t cause losses, laying tarps over the top of foliage to speed up the seed dropping and plenty more!’
There are challenges in managing natural resources in agricultural landscapes. Conservation objectives are often in conflict with those of increasing agricultural production. Revegetation efforts designed to help with the impact of salinity contribute toward positive social, economic and environmental outcomes for various stakeholders who all have vital roles to play in improving the places we live and work within our Biosphere Reserves. Local Noongar Caretakers (Rangers) are playing an important role in implementing the project while also building their capacity to do such restoration work in a culturally appropriate and empowering way for this and future projects.
Stay tuned with progress updates in 2023.
 Fry, J 2013 Improving Integration of Agriculture and Conservation through Biosphere Reserves Publication No. 13/022 Project No. PRJ-006634
 Fry, J 2013
By Jess Brady, Western Port Biosphere Foundation
French Island, Nov 26th, 2022
November saw the Western Port Wader study take place on French Island as part of Birdlife Australia’s ongoing commitment to the preservation of the migratory shorebirds that call Western Port their part time home.
The team of twitchers were a mix of Friends of French Island (FOFI) members and island residents, who broke into two teams, one to Tortoise head and the other to Rams Island. It is worth noting that Rams Island bird observations have been modified and restricted, with viewing to be made only from the foreshore. This is to support Fairy Tern breeding (Nov-March) and limit interference to the successful breeding of these critically endangered birds.
Supported by Rachel Ferguson of Parks Victoria, I was assigned to the walking group bound for Tortoise Head. Leaving from Tankerton, we began our walk through the incredible salt marsh, with the rain preceding the event had created extra swampy conditions and wet socks. The objective was clear however, to record every single bird, and Richard took on the huge task of recording them all. It led me to a huge gap in my bird knowledge, colloquially termed LBJ (Little Brown Jobs). There certainly were many little, brown jobs (birds) and I was most grateful for the expertise within the group who helped identify and record them. 39 species in total were counted during this walk on the saltmarsh.
Once we hit the beach, there were another 18 species sighted, including many firsts for myself. It was a huge buzz to see the birds whose stories we passionately espouse in real life!
I did have one personal objective that I had mentioned to team leader Des during a conversation on the ferry, and that was to see an Eastern Curlew. Des assured me that it would be likely, but to see approximately 130-140 on the wader roost at Tortoise Head was a true delight. There was even a possible Whimbrel within the roost, and I really couldn’t stop looking, grinning, looking, grinning on repeat.
The trip back through the saltmarsh had an extra layer of challenge due to the rubbish we felt compelled to collect while on the beach. There was a huge range of things collected, ranging some stubby coolers right through to couch cushions. As the time sped up, there was a collective feeling we may be pushing it to make the ferry home, so took an alternate route home via resident David’s property. It was here we encountered not one but two grumpy snakes, a good reminder to adhere to the suggested safety mechanisms, i.e., gaiters! (Thanks Glenn, they’ve already paid for themselves).
I would like to extend my thanks to the team that accompanied us on the day, Richard, David, Daisy, Irene, Dom and in particular Des, who kindly lent me a far superior pair of binoculars than the ones I had bought along, which helped immensely for the count and for my personal experience. It is always such a privilege to be on country with such passionate and experienced volunteers, who in their own small way, contribute to big change for all. If the results of the wader study interest you, please email me on firstname.lastname@example.org to request a copy.
By Michael Mann, volunteer
It has long been suspected that the introduced species of Indian Myna and Starling are threatening indigenous bird populations through behaviours such as taking over nesting hollows and destroying eggs and chicks. For the last 15 years I have been working (as a volunteer) with the Rangers at Darebin Parklands in Alphington in reducing the numbers of Indian Mynas in the Park.
I have lived in Hastings for 5 years and found that Indian Mynas and also Starlings are a problem in my garden. Over the last few years, I have been trapping Starlings and Indian Mynas on my property and in 2022 I decided to investigate further by installing several nest boxes in the Hastings and surrounding areas as a pilot study in conjunction with WP Biosphere to see to what extent the Indian Mynas and Starlings are a problem on the Mornington Peninsula. I would like to share with you my methodology and findings to date. I will continue to monitor and collect data through 2023 to build a better understanding of the actual risks these species pose, and to begin to formulate strategies to manage populations going forward.
Nest boxes designed to house species such as Eastern Rosellas, Kingfishers, and smaller parrots, were erected in trees across two properties. I also included a friend’s property where I had made and erected nest boxes a while ago and my own nest boxes in my garden, in this pilot study.
Over the course of the 2022 nesting season, several examples of how Indian Mynas and Starlings impact indigenous species were observed. Firstly, many of the boxes on one of the properties had Starling and Indian Myna nests in them, demonstrating one of the ways they outcompete other species. Secondly, we found evidence of eggs being stolen and destroyed. I caught an Indian Myna pecking and removing an Eastern Rosella egg, on video, in one of my own nest boxes. Luckily the Rosella went on and laid 7 more eggs. All the peck marks on the destroyed eggs appear to be from Indian Mynas, but it’s not yet clear if this is something Starlings do, or whether they just outcompete local species by taking over nesting boxes and nesting hollows.
The new nest boxes in this study, put up at the beginning of the nesting season, only had two occupants, both Eastern Rosellas, and both had their eggs destroyed by what I suspect to be Indian Mynas. However, I trapped Indian Mynas in three of the older nest boxes and this has resulted in three pairs of Eastern Rosellas nesting and eight healthy chicks being raised this year.
I have more nest boxes ready for the next nesting season, which are going to be placed in properties in the area. I look forward to continuing to observe the habits of these introduced birds and creating evidence-based strategies for managing populations to help protect and conserve local species, including parrots, rosellas, and kingfishers, into the future.
By Jo McCoy
Welcome to 2023 to all our readers. I’m choosing to approach it optimistically with the expectation that the positive momentum generated towards the end of last year will result in significant gains for the environment within the Biosphere Reserve, across Australia and worldwide.
It was heartening to see the leadership role adopted by Minister Plibersek at the Biodiversity COP in Montreal in December and to read about the landmark Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), in the national media.
For those of you interested in the details, there’s plenty of articles from various perspectives summarising the outcomes of the two-week meeting.
A few links are included above for those who may have missed these reports or watch this 3-minute recap from the ACF.
Despite some commentators choosing to focus on what was not agreed upon, it was nevertheless a significant achievement to secure 188 signatories to the plan to guide global action on nature through to 2030. As an aside, it was also great to see that the United States and Australia have agreed to work together to better measure the economic value of nature – in other words, to agree on the basics of environmental accounting – it’s been around for a while now but has so far, failed to attract much support at government level.
Of course, we’re used to big announcements about global treaties with ‘binding’ targets that are seldom met. The success of this agreement will largely be measured by the number of wealthy countries with the political will to assign the vast sums of money required to make a difference in reaching the 23 targets for 2030 – both in their own countries and in their poorer neighbours.
Nature Positive Summit
Our Federal government estimates that over $1billion per year will need to be spent to protect and restore Australia’s natural environment. Following the COP, Minister Plibersek announced that in 2024 Australia will host a global “Nature Positive Summit“, to help supercharge private investment in protecting and repairing our environment. The Western Port Biosphere and indeed the four other Australian biospheres are well positioned to capitalise on the momentum that these announcements will generate.
More recently, we have seen announcements about the Federal Government’s signature climate policy – the Safeguard Mechanism which it believes will go a long way towards achieving its election commitment of reducing Australia’s greenhouse emissions from 2005 levels by 43 per cent by 2030 – and to reach net zero by 2050. The Safeguard Mechanism was originally a Coalition policy, but crucially, this version includes pollution limits on our 215 biggest carbon polluters (those that create more than 100,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases a year).
The companies covered by these caps – including the Bluescope facility in Western Port – will have to cut their pollution, for example by investment in clean technologies or by capturing their emissions. If they are unable or unwilling to meet their limits, they will have to purchase carbon offsets equivalent to the volume of emissions that exceed their cap. It remains to be seen whether the necessary legislation gets an easy passage through parliament and whether our biggest polluters simply decide to buy their way to compliance. Again, I am choosing to be optimistic that we will see positive outcomes from this latest initiative. See this opinion piece from the Grattan Institute for further detail.
Closer to home I am pleased to say that following our board expression of interest process, three new directors were introduced to members at our October AGM and are settling in well to their new roles. Heather Johnston, Alistair Phillips and Helen Steel bring a wealth of skills and experience to the board and a fresh perspective on several issues.
These appointments followed the retirements of Phillip Bachelor earlier last year and David Young and David Cross at the AGM. I thank them all for their energy and commitment to the Biosphere over many years and am glad to say that both Davids have indicated their willingness to remain involved on committees. Since the AGM, we have also farewelled Cllr Kerri McCafferty who has stepped down from her position at Mornington Peninsula Shire and thus her role representing the Biosphere member councils on the board. The Shire has advised that Deputy Mayor, Cllr Debra Mar will be its new representative. The Biosphere Foundation will work with the other biosphere councils to confirm which of the councillors on our Council Liaison Committee will represent them on the Biosphere Board as soon as possible.
The board and staff will participate in a planning day in February which will help us finalise the remaining elements of the next iteration of our Strategic Plan. The basic outline of the Plan including the high-level vision, purpose and mission statements along with objectives was presented to members at the AGM and will be tested in coming months through consultation with key stakeholders including our council members and partners.
By Glenn Brooks-MacMillan, Program Manager
Water Stewardship – Environment Restoration Fund
We have come to an end of the Water Stewardship auditing process with only a couple of sites to complete. Plans have been developed for all the stewards already assessed, with the landowners finalising their actions so we can verify and accredit them as Water Stewards. We are looking forward to celebrating our stewards at a get together at a forum planned later in April. We were delighted to visit the Pakenham Race Club in Tynong and discuss the water management on their site. The club has been operating at this site for some years now and the water plan developed will assist them continue with the water catchment and quality improvements already in place. We are also looking forward in the next few months to introduce the Bunurong Land Council Aboriginal Corporation (BLCAC) Environment team to undertake water steward training and to apply this to their recently acquired property on Phillip Island.
Blue Carbon Mapping
Our Blue Carbon mapping project across Port Phillip Bay and Western Port with the Blue Carbon Lab at Deakin University has progressed to almost completion. The Blue Carbon Lab team have done a fantastic job in preparing a draft final report with associated maps and recommendations on the steps ahead. The councils are currently reviewing the report and we aim to come together to discuss the findings with a presentation by Peter Macreadie. We are also aiming to present the story map of the report at that event.
We aim to present the findings to the wider community at a series of forums we will be delivering over the next few years thanks to funding though Melbourne Water. Watch this space for more details.
French Island Landcare Nursery & community garden & Feral Cat Eradication: Camera trapping
We were fortunate to visit French Island during this period with the representative Councillors and council staff. We were delighted to see and hear the great work the French Island community have been undertaking, in particular the native plant nursery hot house. In addition, we were treated to a locally prepared lunch while we listened to the progress of the feral cat eradication program of which our foundation has been proud in being able to help fund more cameras for their program.
Western Port Biosphere Reserve Koala Awareness Program
In our last edition we introduced Kelly Smith and her exciting Koala Awareness program and can today share that she has been successful in receiving funding through the Landcare Grants to deliver an awareness program within the Biosphere Reserve. Kelly will be putting a call out for volunteers to help collect data soon.
Bushbank – We are delighted to share a new project in which we are partnering with the Bunurong Land Council Aboriginal Corporation (BLCAC). Following on with our Blue Carbon initiative, we identified an opportunity through the Bushbank – First Nation stream program to work with the BLCAC Environment Team to help develop their skills and knowledge in Blue Carbon Ecosystems. Better still our bay will benefit from the onground work they will undertake to develop these skills. The team consists of six members at this point with a variety of skills and backgrounds. We kick started the project a few weeks ago and we were very pleased with the level of enthusiasm and passion the team members demonstrated. The project will go for four years, and we aim to cover a variety of different types of activities all based around the enhancement, protection and awareness of Blue Carbon Ecosystems within Western Port. These activities will include understanding the threats and impacts catchment properties have on adjacent coastal environments, designing remedies, planning implementation activities, fencing, collection of seeds, propagation, planting, monitoring, community events and reporting. More importantly, we are aiming to develop solutions that are driven through First Nation approaches and delivered by First Nations people in partnership with our many key stakeholders across the bay.
By Mel Barker, Biosphere Foundation CEO
Since the October Connector newsletter we’ve been very busy at the Foundation, and I’m proud that the hard work of the team is resulting in sustained growth in project delivery, deeper connections and partnerships across the Reserve and great outcomes for the environment. I enjoyed taking a break over the festive season so I could take a step back to reflect on the Foundation’s achievements and successes during 2022 and have come back refreshed and recharged to kickstart 2023.
As you’ll read about in the updates from the team, we have been successful in leveraging significant investment in both on-ground and applied research projects, as well as leading programs to raise awareness about the international significance of the Reserve. We are also continuing our advocacy work on key issues for the Reserve, including partnering with other key organisations to drive the development of a strategic framework for Western Port. Momentum and support continues to build and I encourage you to support the development of a framework which would drive scientific and effective decision making to ensure the sustainability of the Bay actforwesternportbay.au.
During the last few months of 2022, I met with a number of our partners to hear more about some of the projects underway throughout the Reserve and their perspectives about the issues and priorities that need to be addressed. This included a visit to the ‘heart’ of the Biosphere, French Island, with our partner Councils and Bass Coast Landcare. French Island has recently been identified as one of Australia’s Top 20 ‘priority places’ under the Commonwealth Government’s Threatened Species Action Plan, so it was great to hear from the French Islanders about how the projects funded by the Biosphere Foundation are supporting the biodiversity of the Island. Thanks to Landcare, I got to explore Greens Bush Nature Conservation Reserve in the company of local experts Gidja Walker, Virginia and Mark from Local Habitat and the Parks Victoria ranger, Kim. Their bush knowledge is phenomenal and gave me a deeper appreciation of the Reserve and the hidden gems that their trained eyes can easily spot!
The Biosphere Foundation funded a visit by the intrepid scientist Milly Formby who is a flying around Australia in a microlight to raise awareness of migratory birds. She even took Costa Georgiadis, the host of Gardening Australia for an aerial view of Western Port. Check out our Facebook page to watch it.
At the recent Western Port and Peninsula Protection Council’s AGM, the guest speaker Catherine Watson presented on the biodiversity and threatened species being discovered in the Western Port Woodlands along the eastern side of Western Port. If you’re looking to get out and about in this beautiful weather to explore some little-known conservation reserves in the Biosphere, I encourage you to sign up to their newsletter as they regularly run walks in the Western Port Woodlands https://www.savewesternportwoodlands.org/.
Even though we’re only at the start of 2023, it’s already shaping up to surpass 2022 for the Foundation. I look forward to sharing details about our new projects soon!
By Jo McCoy, Chair
I know many readers will be saddened to learn of the sudden and unexpected passing of former director Peter Woodgate in late December. One of the Foundation’s inaugural directors, Peter was an inspiring and methodical Chair of the Biosphere Research Committee until 2013. He was pivotal in overseeing research activities for the Foundation, in procuring grant funding and in developing the early Research Strategy.
Despite his incredible workload as chair and director of multiple organisations in the geospatial science area and elsewhere, Peter continued his active involvement in the Foundation following his retirement from our board in 2013 after more than ten years of service. He retained a keen interest in our operations, was the current independent chair of our Nominations Committee and was always available for considered advice.
Peter was instrumental in advocating for the move to a skills-based board and always ready to provide moral and intellectual support to other directors. Peter acted as a mentor to me following my own appointment six years ago and apart from his obvious skills in governance issues, I highly valued his kindness, humanity and cheeky sense of humour, along with his wise counsel and corporate knowledge. Peter’s vision and passion will be sorely missed. The Biosphere Foundation directors and staff send our deepest condolences to Peter’s family, friends and colleagues.
A reflection from one of the Biosphere’s earliest Directors, Jack Krohn
By my recollection, Peter Woodgate was among those who collaborated under the co-ordination and with the support of Mornington Peninsula Shire Council to put together the nomination for the Mornington Peninsula and Western Port Biosphere Reserve in the very early 2000s. While Peter’s primary technical expertise was in spatial information, he brought all of his skills and enthusiasm to the table. Mapping was a critical element of the nomination, as the proposed Biosphere encompassed not only five local government areas but also the unincorporated expanses of French Island and Western Port Bay itself. There were also challenges around integration with the Westernport Ramsar site mapping and with mapping from other historical (pre-digital) references such as the Shapiro report. My memory is that Peter collaborated in particular with Neil McCarthy, then with Parks Victoria, to enable the nomination to include the best possible mapping, and I have no doubt that the quality and clarity of the mapping contributed to the success of the nomination.
So, at the end of 2002, we had a Biosphere Reserve. Twelve months later, the Biosphere Reserve Foundation was inaugurated. Peter took on the role of Research Committee Chair (I think the Research Committee might even have been initiated informally before the Foundation was formalised), a key role as the fledgling organisation tried to find its feet in a context where there was little practical experience with being a Biosphere Reserve, and almost as many views about priorities as there were participants. But research was one area where things did start to move. Peter showed his skills in managing the different enthusiasms and interests in research and in aligning those interests with the stated objectives of UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Program and with the Board’s strategic direction for the Western Port Biosphere, and also with potential sources of funding or in kind resources. He was an able advocate for good, sustainability-focussed research and a great communicator who provided clear liaison between the Board and the research community throughout the Foundation’s formative years. From my perspective as a director at the time, Peter’s groundwork laid a sound basis for much of what has been achieved across the Biosphere’s first two decades.
Peter was also connected with a cricket club which was a “local derby” rival of my own club, and we often chatted about cricket and club personalities as an aside to conversations about the Biosphere. Those conversations reinforced for me the human and humorous side of Peter the professional. He brought clear thinking, positivity and empathy to the roles and service he took on, and personified the Biosphere motto “Growing connections for sustainability”. I feel blessed to have had the privilege of working with Peter, and deeply saddened at his passing.
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