coast

The walks and wonders of Phillip Island

Last year I explored Phillip Island and its nature and conservation reserves, each location providing insight into the significance of this popular coastal destination. During my short stay of a few days, bushwalking and taking photos of the landscapes and the wonders within them were high on my priority list.

Bushwalk One: Rhyll Inlet State Wildlife Reserve

This reserve is situated within the Western Port RAMSAR Site, and is of international significance. RAMSAR sites are related to The Convention on Wetlands, which is an intergovernmental treaty for their protection. Within this RAMSAR site, saltbushes (Beaded Glassworts or Sarcocornia quinqueflora) are present, as well as many other floral species and a variety of birdlife.

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Bushwalk Two: Churchill Island

Located on the south-east side of Phillip Island, Churchill Island was also of interest to me. Although holding more of a historical significance relating to European settlement, there are a few leisurely walks that showcase its rugged coastline and its range of flora and fauna. Found amongst tree branches was a bright orange lichen, in strong contrast to the background of green foliage. The twisted branches of ancient Moonah Trees are an impressive sight, whilst looking out onto the grazing pasture of Scottish Highland Cattle is a somewhat unusual experience on this walk.

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Bushwalk Three: A beach walk along the coastline

The coastline of Phillip Island is rugged yet beautiful, and provides the perfect opportunity to investigate the small wonders hiding amongst rocks and sand. Discoveries include barnacles on the side of an orange, sun-glazed coastal rock, a delicate sea sponge submerged in sand, and a fragile wildflower found casting shadows next to a coastal cliff-face. 

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Bushwalk Four: Phillip Island Nature Park

The final destination on my list before leaving the island was Phillip Island Nature Park, home to the Little Penguin colony. The nature park provides a vital conservation area for the penguins. Education, research and restoration practices are all part of the conservation efforts being being made to protect this iconic species. Boardwalks provide observation areas with views across the landscape as well of the wildlife (providing a glimpse of penguin burrows).

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Although only a short getaway, my time on Phillip Island provided many great photo opportunities and glimpses of the area's incredible landscapes, flora and fauna.

Until next time.


Christine Slade has completed a Bachelor of Environmental Science, and is in her final year of a Masters of Environment and Sustainability at Monash University. She is interested in engaging the public with the environment through photography, and to also raise awareness of conservation practices. She hopes to work in environmental consulting or education.


All images courtesy of Christine Slade.

Living life in between

The veranda is an interval, a space, where life is improvised. The beach, in Australia, is the landscape equivalent of the veranda, a veranda at the edge of the continent.

This quote from Phillip Drew in Tim Winton’s book, Land’s Edge: A Coastal Memoir, accurately describes a life experienced by many who live near the coast.

Image: Penguin Random House

Image: Penguin Random House

Australians are inextricably linked to the coast. Over three quarters of our population live within 50km of the coastline and, considering the magnitude of our country, that says a lot about our lifestyle and desire to connect to the ocean.

When many Australians think of the coast, it is not unusual for multi-award winning author and environmentalist Tim Winton to come to mind. For anyone who has read his books, Winton draws upon and paints vivid pictures of Australian life in dynamic landscapes. His strong ties to the coastal landscape are particularly prominent, and in Land’s Edge, this is no exception.

Winton’s main focus is exploring life on the edge - that is, a life caught between the coast, the city, the Fremantle Doctor, and the ebbing and flowing of the tide. He explores how he has constantly been drawn towards the ocean, while also being torn away from it simultaneously. His reflections of childhood holidays at the beach, beachcombing, the sun, and the surf reveal an adult life, like so many of ours, that was immediately and so uniquely shaped by infanthood along the seashore.

During the early years, his appreciation of the ocean was innocent, as he explored rock pools and the initial wonders of the life-giving ocean. Later, it became a mature respect as he grasped with the raw power and authority the ocean commands. Through all of this, the longing for the coast became irreversible.

Winton also beautifully captures nature in its simplicity and how it influences a person. In Winton’s case, it was ‘outside in the mornings, in the water; the wind would drive him indoors in the afternoons, to books and reading. This ebb and flow became a way of life.'

From page one, I was so completely and utterly captivated that I couldn’t put the book down - so much so that I read the book in a day. This may have been because I feel equally connected to the ocean and its calming yet often raw and wild appeal. It may also have been because Winton so beautifully captures the wonder and awe one feels when experiencing a raging storm or the peacefulness of a calm body of water with the fresh smell of salt bouncing around in your nostrils. More likely than not, it is a combination of the two.

Ultimately, Winton's book is a must-read memoir in which an exploration of the Australian connection with the coast demonstrates the intensely shaping influence of an ‘in-between’ life.

Land's Edge: A Coastal Memoir is the first title in Winton's autobiographical trilogy. All three books in the series are available to purchase from Penguin Random House.


Stephen McGain

Stephen studied a Bachelor and Master of Science at the University of Melbourne. His Masters involved investigating the impacts that dredging and climate change might have on the important seagrass habitats that exist in Port Phillip Bay. He is currently studying a Diploma in Conservation Land Management in the hope to further contribute his knowledge and skills to the local community.


Banner image courtesy of Photo by Matthew Kane on Unsplash

 

 

Point Leo Dreaming

It’s no secret that with greater education our appreciation and understanding of those we live with and the world in which we live is enhanced. With regards to understanding the environment, we’ve hit a stumbling block – the disconnect with nature is becoming more apparent in our modern lives and the language of science often seems to be spoken in an alien tongue. The challenge before us all is to reconcile these differences by actively seeking involvement in nature and making science more accessible to the general public.

As a marine biologist, I love nothing more than working with communities because of the opportunity it presents for us all to share our collective knowledge and experiences in nature. Importantly, I’ve found that it’s not just nature that benefits from this, but the community itself. When working together, nature becomes the conduit by which new friendships are forged and existing bonds are reinforced. Nature becomes part of the community’s identity, and a permanent reminder of the successes of both the individual and the whole. There is no better example of this than at Point Leo, a small coastal community on the southern coast of Western Port Bay, Victoria.

Point Leo, or Bobbanaring as it is known to the indigenous Boonwurrung tribe of the Kulin people, has drawn people to its shores for over 8000 years. Point Leo has always been a popular coastal retreat with a right-handed point break that has been the cornerstone of Point Leo’s iconic surf culture and community since the 1950s. At only one hour from Melbourne, Point Leo’s drawcards of sand, surf, coastal woodlands and rich biodiversity have seen its popularity grow over the decades with more and more Melburnians turning to Point Leo as an ideal coastal daytrip or laid-back weekend of camping.

Paddle boarding is another popular pastime enjoyed at Point Leo.  Image: Emma Walsh  

Paddle boarding is another popular pastime enjoyed at Point Leo. Image: Emma Walsh 

Recognising the increasing rates of visitors year after year, a significant challenge was put before the Point Leo community of how to best manage this increase in demand alongside the preservation and restoration of the local environment. Consequently, they decided that the best way forward was to welcome and educate visitors about the environment in the most effective and engaging way possible. Through a chain of serendipitous connections, I remember receiving an email from Monash University asking if Wild Melbourne would like to take part in the redevelopment of the Point Leo campgrounds, providing the necessary expertise to educate the public. It was a no-brainer - I let the Wild Melbourne team know and we all jumped right in and relished the chance to share our passion for nature.

Coffee in our hands, hearts on our sleeves, Chris, Emma and myself first sat with Tony Walkington (Manager/Ranger of the Point Leo Foreshore Park and Reserve) and discussed ideas about how best to make an educational experience rewarding, enriching and most of all, fun! We had BIG ideas and there was no shortage of them, but the challenge was going to be fitting it all into the budget. Point Leo is entirely self-funded with no financial assistance from government, but with the additional financial support from Monash University we felt confident we could deliver.

I won’t lie, the project had its challenges and we had a few hiccups (more like awkward burps, actually) along the way. There were delays in delivery, late nights getting drafts approved, several weekends sacrificed and sleepless nights hoping that it would all pan out as we had envisioned. But it was during these lows, the power of collaboration and a shared experience shone through and made it all possible.

Red-capped plover's nest.  Artwork: Amellia Formby

Red-capped plover's nest. Artwork: Amellia Formby

Everyone had the opportunity to give back to the community and the environment in one way or another. Local carpenters made it possible to up-cycle a rotting boat into both a table and a sand-filled, interactive representation of the shoreline. Milly Formby, zoologist and artist, brought to life an intimate moment in the lives of the red-capped plover in her pencil-and-gouache illustration. Paul Ikin, illustrator extraordinaire and keen surfer, turned our imaginations into reality by designing and illustrating Point Leo’s interpretive ‘surf’ boards. A local who collected fungi even helped keep the visitor centre’s terrarium constantly evolving with the seasons. But, if you ask me, it was the mural painting that was by far the most humbling and rewarding experience.

On a brilliant summer’s weekend in January, we painted with holidaying campers from all over Melbourne, transforming a bleak toilet wall into a bright and colourful seascape. I’ll never forget hearing the voices of paint-spattered children playfully arguing about who was better at identifying the species on the wall. I remember smiling and thinking, ‘It worked! The kids are learning and they don’t even know it!’ Frankly, in that moment, our purpose was achieved – everyone laughed, sang, made new friends and bonded over a shared experience, creating a memory unlikely to be forgotten. Nature was healing and all we had to do was get out there.

Point Leo is no longer ‘just a playground.’ Education through unique and fun, interactive experiences has strengthened it as a place of reconnection with the land and sea. I believe that this reconnection, even if in the most minor ways, makes for a portable experience whereby visitors’ memories and experiences encourage stewardship of the environment beyond Point Leo’s shores. The hope is that when your memories of Point Leo echo in your daily life, you’ll briefly stop, smile, breathe that little bit deeper and take note of the natural wonders around you that you’ve missed on every other day.

I regularly think of Point Leo in some way, shape or form. It’s the crisp, salt air filling my lungs. The crunch of sand beneath my heels. The rhythmic rumble of waves as I sleep. The smiles and greetings of those walking by. I’m forever grateful that by giving to the land, I received much more than I could have ever imagined.

If you would like more details about our interpretive and interactive displays at Point Leo, please visit http://wildmelbourne.org/services/community-works.Wild Melbourne would love to help showcase your local community's natural beauty and have its story told.

For more information about Point Leo Foreshore Park and Reserve, visit www.pointleo.com


Leonardo Guida

Following a childhood love for sharks, Leo recently completed his PhD at Monash University investigating the effects of fishing on shark and ray populations. He is Director of Community Operations for Wild Melbourne.

You can find him on Twitter at @ElasmoBro.


Banner image courtesy of Leonardo Guida. 

 

Coast Host to Osprey

An Osprey launches itself into flight. 

An Osprey launches itself into flight. 

The osprey is a large and alluring raptor. I’ve always found them to be spectacular and striking birds in books and documentaries. Graceful in the way they soar on their broad wings, yet strong and bold, with their keen yellow eyes and impressive talons. In past times they were known as the fish-eagle or fish-hawk, and this previous name was accurate in the sense that they are indeed, large, strong-legged birds that feed primarily on fish. Yet, they are not eagles and are truly unique from other raptors. As such, their own name is perhaps more fitting.

For one thing, they are a single living species of bird that is globally distributed: found from Europe and Africa, through to the Americas, Asia, and of course, Australia. Taxonomically, they are treated as the only member of the family Pandionidae – derived from the genus name Pandion, in turn named for the mythical Greek King Pandion who is said to have turned into an eagle. 

Among their other oddities, the osprey is the only raptor, other than the owls, with a reversible outer toe. This allows them to grasp prey with a particularly effective grip - useful when your food tends to be wet and slippery. Certainly, fish make up the vast majority of the osprey’s diet. As such they are adapted to see underwater objects with great precision, and have closable nostrils to avoid any unwanted intake of water. 

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In Europe, where freshwater is abundant, the species tends to live and feed around lakes and streams. However, in our more arid country where much of our freshwater is ephemeral, the osprey has become strictly coastal. It is has been suggested that this habit, combined with Victoria’s high level of coastal development, may explain why the osprey is does not dwell within our state’s borders.

Yes, that’s right; the osprey is regarded as not-present within Victoria - at least in a breeding sense. Why then, should I write an article about a species not found around our city?

Well, while they are classified as not-present within our state, like most birds, ospreys care little for humanity’s invisible borders. The fact is we have a coastline and they are here. Whether there is a viable breeding population, perhaps not. Nevertheless, there have been a few rare sightings of these birds around our city and I am fortunate enough to be one of the few individuals who have seen them on our coast. They have been seen close to Warrnambool, around the western side of Port Phillip Bay, and at our beautiful Point Nepean National Park – the latter of which is where I too found these amazing birds.

Twice I have visited the area where I saw the osprey, and both times, though months apart, I found them. The first time I had been on the lookout for some interesting photographic opportunities. After a long trek around the park, I spied the instantly recognizable silhouette of a bird of prey, hovering in the sky over the horizon. The chance to get some up close shots of a raptor was an exciting thought and, much to the comedic joy of my friend, I threw down what gear I had and ran, camera in hand, at full speed through the coastal bushland. This I would not recommended, as the once important military area of Point Nepean still contains, within its soil, unexploded mines of times gone by. Certainly, I would not have been so hasty had I not known the area in which I was running was free from such hazards.

Leaving my highly amused companion behind, I leaped over the scrub and ran through the grass, terrifying some poor, unsuspecting wallaby that, not unlike a mine, exploded out of the bush in fear and nearly fell off a nearby cliff face – its’ life saving agility allowing it to avoid a nasty fall at the last second. I stood at the cliff and searched, feeling a little guilty for the inconvenience I had caused the wallaby. Before me was the Bass Strait, its huge waves rolling into a marvellously scenic beach.  

And then the osprey appeared. It was the first I had ever seen in the wild, and I was quite truthfully in awe of it. It flew with great ease on the strong ocean winds that bent the surrounding vegetation with force. It glided over the sand and water, rising on the up currents with little effort and diving down at great speed with an adjustment in the angle of its wings. 

Suddenly, it became apparent that the osprey was being chased. The raucous call of a Pacific Gull cried out across the beach. The large white and silver gull flew with great determination, harassing the osprey relentlessly. The raptor avoided the gull with some effort, but ultimately it seemed unperturbed by the seabird that was protesting its presence. I managed to get a few distant photographs of the spectacle.

 

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Later, after the gull had given up chase, I would see that same osprey fly over head with a healthy looking fish grasped in it talons – they really are excellent hunters. Having had such a fantastic viewing, however brief, of the life of an osprey, I vowed to return.

So it was that some months later I found the time to return to that place, hopeful that I’d spy an osprey again. Indeed, I did, and the bird was not alone. My second visit yielded a second osprey, and it soon became obvious that the two were a pair. Was one of them the same osprey from my first visit? To me, it seemed likely. Were the two planning to breed here? I could not say, I saw no nest. Were they simply passing through? Perhaps, though ospreys tend to be sedentary, and after the months that had passed since my last visit why would they have still been there? Some sources state that they are but rare vagrants in our state, and this might be the case. This article is not written to dispute that fact, merely to spread light on an animal so seemingly rare to our region.

I pursued the pair rather feebly from the ground, up and down the stretch of sand and water with my camera. They, like many raptors, were aloof, and preferred to keep their distance from the human that panted after them. Though, I conclude, I was likely less of a hindrance than any gull ought to have been.

  

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I hope to return to Point Nepean and search out the pair again. Perhaps now they have moved on, or perhaps they or other osprey remain. Certainly, reports of osprey sighted at Point Nepean continue to be made. But regardless, I am pleased to have had experienced such amazing birds, and hold so closely the memories of their dazzling flight and striking yellow eyes that observed me with caution, that I doubt I’ll soon forget them.

I would encourage anyone to savour the moment, should they be fortunate enough to glimpse one of these rare raptors on our shores.