Our final day at Yaringa opened with a vista of blue on blue. Parks Victoria had a workshop planned for the Signs of a Healthy Park program and had invited various key people involved in research, monitoring and caring for Western Port Bay to meet on Pelican1.
When we first pulled into Hastings, Westernport, an old fisherman came up to Pelican and seeing me, asked if there was anyone onboard who knew about mangroves. He said he had been fishing in the area for 30 years and had never seen so many mangrove seeds along the shoreline, nor so many sprouting. I talked to many people with knowledge of the mangroves who came on board that day but the answer was not so easy to simply define. Of course, the recent rains may be the answer, but there may be many other factors involved. This mangrove seed above was photographed in the Yaringa channel by Michelle Quach, our ecologist cook. Sort of looks like a floating seed brain... It certainly knows what it is doing! Below - photos of the mangrove seed on its journey, germinating as it floats and settling in the mud.
Photos: Dr Jan Carey- Melbourne University
Yaringa Marine National Park is one of the least visited Parks in Victoria and unfortunately those that do visit, often do not do the environment any favours. The Northern end of the Park is affected by land clearing and poor water quality. The park is made up of a 1/3 saltbush and mangroves and extensive seagrass beds. You may or may not know that Westernport as a whole has lost 85% of its seagrass and most of this was lost in the 70's and 80's. The Park is intertidal and forms huge mudflats that invite many varieties of sea birds to feed. All of Westernport is listed as a RAMSAR site. The Northern parts of the bay are under huge pressures from erosion. Many of these problems were caused when mangroves were used industrially many moons ago. Still today many locals see them as a pest that get in the way of a view or fishing spot.
Linking up in the Yaringa channel with the Parks boat and transferring many of the rangers who took part in the day's discussions. Many of the rangers are from the French Island National Park.
Steffan Howe introducing the day to assembled guests in the sea-going conference room of Pelican's saloon.
We have had many comments about the process of meeting on board and most are very positive about the experience. We certainly believe that facilitating resource management agencies to meet in the marine environment that they are seeking to protect, value and care for aids in the thinking, planning and collaborative thought process required to manage complex natural systems. In fact, it is following the Healthy Parks philosophy of the Parks agency itself. It is also useful in bringing together people who are out working in those environments i.e the rangers, with people, often in their own agencies, whose role is spread across a broader range of management.
Mark Antos talked to the group about the Sign of Healthy Parks program and their progress gathering all the knowledge about what is inside the extensive parks system that Park's Victoria manages. A recent audit showed that many of the Parks need a lot more data collection to get a clearer picture of the flora and fauna contained within. The program is seeking to review what is known and also to understand what is being monitored and by whom. Today with the assembled people on Pelican, Mark learnt about 10 separate monitoring programs in the Yaringa park and nearby that he had not known about before.
Some of the participants then travelled in dinghys to view sections of the mangroves, while a smaller workshop was held for the Signs of a Healthy Park program. Peter Kemp from Parks was being warned by my daughter's shark to keep on his toes to help protect his habitat.
Sitting beside Peter (pictured) is Rhys Coleman from Melbourne Water. Melbourne Water is heading up an Environmental Science Review for Westernport. This study plans to review all the science knowledge we have about the Bay and has set up an advisory group to direct the coordinated research that still needs to be done. The review is being led by Prof. Mick Keogh. The review will analyse the environmental values of the Bay, the threats and how to protect it. The eventual study will not be one big paper like the Shapiro report in the 70's but the result of a more collaborative exercise which will hopefully prove the title to this blog post.
Seated next to Steffan Howe from Parks is the irrepressible Dr Jan Carey who has been involved with the Two Bays program over the last few years. Her work in marine pests and monitoring has played a big role in the citizen science component of the project with her PHD student Kim Millers. They have learned that using people to survey the seagrass at Yaringa is counter productive as the disturbance caused by humans walking in the shallow seagrass habitat is detrimental to its health. Remote sensors are now being used.
Janty Taylor seated opposite next to Mark Antos from Parks, is working on the third regional catchment strategy for PPWP Catchment Management Authority. All the catchment management authorities in Victoria are currently doing the same. This is due out in June this year. The group is taking an assets-based approach and has divided up their catchment into nine reporting areas. Two of these are Port Phillip and Western Port Bay. Community consultations are taken in each area to identify valuable natural assets. These include places like Tootgoorook wetlands and Devil's Bend reservoir in the Mornington Peninsula.
It is impossible to do everything with the resources available, so it is important to nominate the most crucial natural places but also rehabilitate crucial habitats that have been degraded. Yaringa Marine Park is a good example of a place that has been degraded due to the fact that Watson's Creek which feeds into the Bay is notoriously polluted. It is possible to help restore the catchment with good fencing, animal control, weeding and revegetation. Much of this important work has been taken on by community groups in partnership with the managing agencies.
Ranger Phil Fowler from French Island told me about a recent event where they found a dead seal washed up on the shore. When the seal was taken back to the labs to find out what had happened it was discovered he had a plastic bag in his tummy!
The seal below turned up to investigate Pelican and stayed for ages playing around the stern.
We managed to fit a drift snorkel into the day and had a glimpse of some of the life under the surface. Below is a picture of calerpa, an interesting plant that is actually made up of one cell. There are 60 species in the genus and 30 of these are found in Australia.
Sea Pen below - Photo: Michelle Quach
And finally, below, pictured, are some of the mud flats seen at low tide on Westernport. This photo was taken as we headed out from Hastings port back to Port Phillip Bay. All our passengers disembarked and the Pelican crew kept going. We had been due to leave the following day for Port Phillip but the weather was beginning to look grim so we made our move. Motoring into the night with a full moon to guide us along the coast. We docked into Queenscliff at 1am the next morning.