We called our project Two Bays to link in people's minds the proximity of these two very different bodies of water. Westernport is a totally different ecosystem to its far more populated and glamorous cousin - Port Phillip. In fact, using the close family analogy is giving the wrong impression. The two systems are remarkably different. Westernport functions as a tidal heart, flushing almost the entire system in a 24 hour cycle. Port Phillip, on the other hand, has a much slower rhythm, taking a year to flush the entire system. Westernport is typified by mud-flats, saltbush, mangroves, sea-grasss and a vista that allows the eye to journey along a circular low horizon. It is also highly likely that most people are unaware that Westernport supports double the number of species that live in Port Phillip Bay.
One of Westernport's champions is pictured above, with me, on our first foray into the Bay this year. Dr Mangrove as he is affectionately known (Dr Tim Ealey) has been studying the mangroves and seagrass for over a decade. Since retirement he has been a passionate advocate of the environment and works through the Westernport Seagrass Partnership (a fantastic resource of knowledge and home of key supporters of Westernport's unique environment). Tim came on board to share his knowledge and observe the various science activities happening on Pelican. Andrew Vance (the science teacher writing curriculum from the Two Bays program-pictured below) was also on board to fine tune some of the curriculum and pick the brains of the various scientists on board.
The photos below share a typical scene of a day in the office on Pelican. As we sail or motor, the EPA water monitoring equipment is storing data in their main computer. A familiar scene is Nick Kelly from Pelican staring into a screen of computer language. His role, besides crewing this voyage, has been to activate the structure of the Pelican brain. This will allow us to eventually share all the data from the ship's systems and from scientific equipment attached to the ship. The idea is to be able to share real time data as we travel through different waterways with students and people interested in the ocean environment. Dr Randall Lee, pictured in the middle, is on board to drop some monitoring equipment into two of Westernports channels at the end of the day.
Another typical scene on Pelican. Andrew Vance and Steffan Howe - Marine Science Director from Parks Vic working on computers with Randall Lee and Simon Sharp (EPA) working on theirs in the wheelhouse.
One activity of the day was to capture imagery of the state-listed San Remo Marine Community. This is one of two listed marine communities in the State, the other being in Port Phillips Heads.
Armed with cameras, marine scientists and Parks Victoria rangers donned wetsuits to check on the underwater animals and plants known only at this location. The divers captured images of creatures such as the brightly-coloured orange red sea slug or Short-tail Ceratosoma, which has brilliant blue spots on its body. These animals are also known as the butterflies of the sea because of their bright colours.
During the three days in Westernport, Parks Victoria scientists and technicians have undertaken some exploration of the deeper and more hidden parts of Western Port. This work is possible with the aid of new technology employed to reveal secrets under the surface of our bays as a part of the Two Bays 2011 project currently underway.On this particular day we worked in the Churchill Marine National Park to fill in some significant gaps in the shape of the sea floor, particularly in the deeper channels that have been difficult to map because of the often murky waters of the bay.
Dale Appleton, marine scientist and Information Technology Team Leader with Parks Victoria, (pictured above, showing the underwater scans) said that this work has shown a range of habitats beneath the bay that are at least as diverse as those found on the surrounding areas on land. “Our mapping has revealed a range of complex habitats beneath the surface of the Marine National Parks. It will give us a clear reference point and provide us with a powerful means to be able to detect and measure changes to these areas that may occur in the future”.
The technique of underwater mapping used involves using a sidescan sonar device and attached GPS on one of Pelican's dinghys. By running the vessel over those sections of the park for which there is little information we have been able to ‘see’ what lies beneath the surface in high detail.
Randall Lee and Simon Sharp readying the Underwater Accoustic Release Systems (UARS)
Swinging the concrete foot off Pelican to anchor the UARS
Carefully managing the weight so that it goes no where near the boat!
And successfully dropping the equipment.
The pictures above attest to the complex physical maneuvers that can be involved in deploying scientific equipment. The EPA deployed two machines that will sit in the channels for the next few months measuring fluorescence, turbidity, temperature and salinity. They will take a reading every 10 minutes. In Two Bays 2007, the EPA deployed these machines at Yaringa Marine National Park and found dramatic water quality variations from the catchment flow. This has prompted the EPA to go back and have a better look.
The exercise took far longer than predicted and by the time we got back into port it was 10.30pm. Big days on Pelican are not unusual when we are trying to do so many things at the same time. The saying "Make hay while the sun shines" could be translated to "get as much science done while you have the vessel to do it'. We do try to control the number of these 14 hour days as this pace can be pretty tough on crew.
Our guests coped very well with the much longer day at sea than planned and were kept warm with constant cups of tea and sleeping bags. They all seemed to enjoy the camaraderie and sense of achievement that comes from many people working together to achieve the same aim.