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Western Port Biosphere Reserve renewed and energised for another decade!

Our 10-year review submitted in 2022 to UNESCO was successful, recertifying the Western Port Biosphere Reserve as a member of its international biosphere network of 748 reserves in 134 countries. It retains our status for a third decade, allowing us and our partners to move confidently towards creating a sustainable future for everyone who lives, works and plays in the Reserve.

Of special significance was UNESCO’s acceptance of a revised zonation map for the 2,142 sq km Reserve, which better reflects how our communities’ interface with our core protected areas. We thank AECOM for its considerable contribution of expertise and technology to create this fresh perspective. This will enable better conversations on how our actions impact important terrestrial and marine ecosystems.

Read the press release here

UNESCO status confirmed

UNESCO status confirmed_0723- FINAL









Climate action gets a $1.2 million boost in Western Port


A total of $1.2 million in Victorian Government grants will enable the Western Port Biosphere Reserve Foundation to partner with the Bunurong Land Council and other regional stakeholders in making the Reserve’s marine environment a major centre for blue carbon.

The State has provided two separate grants of $700,000 from the Department of Energy Environment and Climate Action to the Biosphere Foundation and $500,000 from the department’s Bushbank program to the Bunurong Land Council to undertake ecosystem conservation and management projects that will optimise the natural carbon storage capacity of Western Port’s extensive mangrove, saltmarsh and seagrass areas. The funding was announced by Victoria’s Minister for Environment, Ingrid Stitt (press release).

Western Port Biosphere Foundation’s CEO, Mel Barker, said the Victorian Government’s welcome support would build on more than 60,000-year knowledge of Traditional Custodians of Country and the scientific research undertaken by Deakin University’s world-class Blue Carbon Lab in 2022, which was funded through the Biosphere Foundation by seven member councils from the South East Councils Climate Change Alliance (SECCCA).

“Areas of the marine ecosystems we have in Western Port are central to our climate action strategy for the Biosphere Reserve. They can capture carbon at a rate per square metre which is between 30 and 50 times that of terrestrial forest” she said.

“But the benefits for Western Port extend beyond climate. Preserving these ecosystems is invaluable for maintaining biodiversity, the thousands of trans-continental bird migrations that happen annually and the protection of the internationally declared Ramsar wetlands at the heart of the Reserve.”

She noted that wins for the environment would directly benefit the community by maintaining healthy fisheries, tourism and increased resilience from future sea level rises due to climate.

Ms Barker said the Biosphere Foundation would be inviting participation from local councils, community members and local service providers to amplify the outcomes from the Victorian Government’s investment, which would focus on developing a blue carbon roadmap for Western Port, including conducting pilot programs and on-ground monitoring and reporting.

“This presents a fantastic opportunity and foundation on which to build a total community effort and commitment to ensuring Western Port is one of Australia’s most attractive places to live, work and play for future generations,” she said.

The Bunurong Land Council component will principally focus on blue carbon training for its specialist Environment Team, with support from the Biosphere Foundation’s science and environmental management experts. It will also foster First Nations community engagement and awareness of caring for ecosystems fundamental to achieving Western Port’s blue carbon potential.

Ms Barker said a significant proportion of the grants had already been received so work could commence immediately. The Biosphere Foundation grant was for work to be conducted over two years, while the Bunurong Land Council grant extended over four.

“We could not have reached this stage without the financial support provided by the seven councils which contributed to the Blue Carbon Lab’s scientific research and report in 2022, or other enabling donations of money and resources from the community. We thank them all, as this was critical to making the case for the Victorian Government’s investment in Western Port,” she said.

Councils that contributed included Bass Coast, Bayside, Frankston, Cardinia, Casey, Kingston and Mornington Peninsula.

Professor Peter Macreadie, founder and director of the Blue Carbon Lab adds “Blue Carbon Lab’s science is designed to achieve real-world impact, so it is a great honour to see our research translating into on-ground action and hopefully further policy change.  We congratulate the Western Port Biosphere Foundation for marrying together Traditional Owner knowledge and Western science in its approach to sustainably managing and enhancing its blue carbon assets.”








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.