Category Archives: australia

Stopping the spread of marine pests in Victorian waters

While out on a seagrass monitoring boat trip with Parks Victoria on the Pelican1 recently, I caught up with acting Marine Science Program Manager Mark Rodrigue.

Mark talked about the new campaign Check Clean Dry that’s aimed at stopping the spread of marine pests such as North Pacific Seastars (Asterias amurensis), wakame (Undaria pinnatifida), Pacific Oyster (Crassostrea gigas) and some tidal and benthic habitat critters.

The seastars are the most concerning of all, popping up in previously undocumented areas in large numbers around Port Phillip Bay and Westernport near Melbourne, and across into South and East Gippsland at Wilsons Prom and Gippsland Lakes. Here’s a few I removed on a recent dive near my home at Frankston, a spot called Olivers Hill where I’ve previously never seen these seastars in any significant numbers. Recent sea surface temperature warming, a decline in their predators (the eleven armed seastar) or other factors may be at work here.

Mark spoke to Ross and John on local radio station 3AW this morning after some recent sightings of seastars near the mouth of the Maribyrnong River:

https://omny.fm/shows/3aw-breakfast-with-ross-and-john/confirmed-maribyrnong-river-invaded-by-starfish/embed

Three years is too long between Great Barrier Reef dives!

Along with my reduced frequency of blogging, it’s been hard to find time to get away in the past few years for warm water snorkeling and tropical beach trips. We last went to Port Douglas three years ago and finally made it back in August 2018 after a few aborted attempts to book in trips between house renovations, a wedding and other  big events.

It’s hard to believe some people get to dive on the Great Barrier Reef every week (or the commercial dive boat crew, just about every day). Coming from a fairly cool winter where the water temperature was around 9 degrees Celsius, jumping in 24 degree water in a rash vest and shorts was an amazing relief. And the abundance of life on the GBR is well known but no Attenborough documentary prepares you for the variety of fish, coral, sponges, invertebrates… a truly incredible sight every time.

I was one of the lucky few on our Wavelength cruise that spotted a white tip reef shark (in the slideshow below), though most of the snorkelers seemed pretty inexperienced and happy to bob around the surface, far from the hiding spots of the sharks and rays.

Wavelength also regularly maintains a coral garden, where pieces of coral are grafted onto small cement blocks and grown until then can be transplanted onto new ground. A fellow uni graduate working on the boat was pretty enthusiastic about the potential of these coral gardens, though expanding the project to compensate for widespread coral bleaching is nearly impossible in today’s warming ocean (and political climate).

 

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Dirty secrets revealed during International Coastal Cleanup Day

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I’d been threatening to join the Seaford Beach Patrol group for months to take part in their monthly cleanup and, seeing as I helped them join the International Coastal Cleanup Day movement, thought I should finally get along to the cleanup on the 18th of September. Weather was the standard Melbourne September grey and cold, which didn’t deter 17 locals from turning out to collect more than 35kg of rubbish in a one-hour stint along a 200-300m stretch of our bay beach.

Apart from the scary numbers of cigarette butts, plastic-based food wrappers, bottles, tin cans and foam pellets, the cleanup revealed some surprising finds shown in this table below:

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Considering lollypops (usually Chupa Chup style but varied in size) are not the fashionable thing they once were, it might be that recent storms and winter king tides have revealed layers of historic plastic waste, and also dumped a larger than expected amount of foam and plastic on this stretch of beach. And the old saying about lost socks turning up in the damnedest places holds true, though why there were two socks and four shoes found is anyone’s guess.

Shark Attack 2: Revenge of the Tabloid Headline Writer

Sydney's Daily Telegraph, constant offenders on the 'savage man-killing shark' front

Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, constant offenders on the ‘savage man-killing shark’ front

When I was Sydney last October, preparing for the IUCN World Parks Congress with the French marine protected areas agency, this headline above was splashed in similar formats across several Australian newspapers.

Shark scientists were kept very busy responding to misinformation, stupidity and downright dangerous reporting in the Australian spring and summer – and this headline (and the strapline above it about the ‘4.5m monster’ shark) summed up the challenge they and shark conservationists face. It was absurd for the writer and editor to let this go through:

  • the surfer’s arms were not ‘ripped off’, the writers make it clear in the introduction that he lost parts of both arms
  • a 4.5m shark (if that was even the correct size) is not a monster in size. If it had been a validated sighting of a 6m white shark, I would have been more impressed.

My most popular article from this irregularly-updated blog is another shark attack post that made exactly the same criticisms I can make two years later. I image the people googling that phrase came across the post, saw it was attaching the whole tabloid concept of ‘shark attacks’ and left to find juicy photos of actual shark encounters.

Because that’s what these incidents are: encounters. The increased populations around coastal areas in the warmer months, coupled with overfishing of shark prey species, surfers spending longer in the ocean due to thicker and more comfortable wetsuits, climate change and other unpredictable factors, is leading to more encounters with sharks. And if one in 1000 of those encounters ends in a shark bite, we shouldn’t be surprised every time and call for that shark’s head. This only supports the view of shark fishers that they are removing dangerous animals from the ocean, rather than murdering an endangered animal (in the case of some shark species).

Australian Geographic posted a great article about shark research that revealed we are to blame for shark attacks due to the factors mentioned above. And no matter how big a year we have for shark ‘assaults’, it pales in creation to deaths from car crashes, domestic injuries and even bee stings:

So far in 2011, there have been at least 61 recorded attacks and 10 deaths. However, compared to deaths from smoking, road accidents, lightning strikes or even other animal attacks, the risk is minute, say experts.

So please can we stop with the tabloid shark bashing, stick to the boring but correct title of shark encounters and help target the real villains in this debate: fishing trawlers that are destroying the shark-prey food chain and governments who keep approving shark hunting after each encounter in the misguided view that killing that one ‘manhunter’ shark will end the chance of any further shark bites.

Wilsons Promontory – amazing spot for coastal hiking

Anyone who has ever travelled a decent amount of Australia could make a list of their top 10 places to visit. When it comes to Victoria, the most common one I hear is the Great Ocean Road and the 12 Apostles.

Having lived for three years at the end of the GOR and within an hour of the Apostles, I admit they are impressive, easy to get to  and make for some nice tourist happy snaps. But for some of Australia’s best (southern) beaches, Wilsons Promontory – known as the Prom – beats anything that big windy road has to offer.

Do a Google Search for Wilsons Prom though and beyond the great Parks Victoria pages, it’s hard to find a decent site with much details on things to do and see at the Prom. This despite the region having some of Australia’s best hiking, most beautiful beaches in the right conditions and a variety of overly-friendly wildlife (see third photo of the wallaby who wouldn’t leave us alone).

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Refuge Cove, Wilsons Prom

Refuge Cove above is an amazing spot – we were lucky to do the 16km hike over there from the Mt Oberon carpark in perfect cool hiking weather and only had five other couples in the spacious campground. Conditions are primitive – people who need five-star chalets or resorts at the end of a leisurely hike should go elsewhere. The tracks can get muddy and toilets at the Sealers Cove and Refuge Cove campgrounds are basic but fresh spring water is readily available at both sites. The cove is within a marine park BUT not the marine national park, so fishing is permitted. I carried a small and fairly useless handspear in my pack and caught some goatfish. The best part of the dive (in only boardshorts) was the variety of fish species spotted and the novelty of spearing without a thick wetsuit!

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Waterloo Bay, within the Wilsons Prom Marine National Park. Wow.

There are several choices for camping along the hike. As we had only three days and the need for five guys to have ready access to cold beer, two nights in Tidal River and one at Refuge Cove made sense. But with more time, another night at Sealers, Waterloo Bay (above) or the Lighthouse would have been worthwhile. The last two places are within the Marine National Park area, where fishing is banned and the inshore fish life is obviously thriving. Blue gropers and moray eels are common here, unlike open access coastal areas further west.

Wilsons Prom is well worth a visit for anyone with an interest in Australia’s natural beauty. It’s a totally different experience to the tropical Great Barrier Reef islands or our inland forests and for those with a reasonable level of fitness, has some challenging and rewarding hikes on offer.

This wallaby is definitely used to human company

This wallaby is definitely used to human company

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