WE'RE lucky here, for along parts of the eastern arm of the Western Port foreshore, you can have the world to yourself – or so you think!
It was a warm summer’s morning in January 2020. The tide was out; the Queensferry foreshore was mine.
Suddenly, there they were some 50 metres or so offshore, ‘three shapes’ knee-deep in mud dragging a sled.
Momentarily I thought of Scott and his party in the Antarctica struggling to get back to the Base Camp, but I came to my senses and waited for reality to arrive.
Fifteen minutes later, the ‘shapes’, dressed in wet suits and a little exhausted, made dry land.
As the team washed off the mud and rehydrated, for this scientific work is hard going, I learnt that in the last fifty years or so, many hectares of seagrass had disappeared from Western Port. The aim was that by the end of the three-year research period, the team would have a good understanding of the problem and be able to indicate how and where it could be re-established.
In the few remaining minutes of their brief sojourn, the team told me that their research was just one component of a broader Western Port Environment Research Program being undertaken by Melbourne Water, to restore and rehabilitate key habitats in Western Port. In this case, Melbourne Water was providing financial support and participating in the supervision and field work activities.
With the sun now high in the sky and the temperature climbing, I said farewell to my new found researchers for they still had more work to do – I promised to check the Melbourne Water website.
Later, cooled by a gentle southerly breeze, I thought about my encounter and wondered why seagrass warranted such attention?
After several online searches, it was clear that in the past we had abused our seagrass meadows by:
- harvesting it for home insulation;
- traumatising it by “Pollution episodes involving petroleum products and biocides associated with shipping, farming, drain maintenance and drainage from urban areas.”; and
- killing it off with “pollutants in the form of sediment and nutrients from catchments and eroding coasts.”
In looking at what Deakin University had in mind, one of their links took me to Gardeners of Our Seas. Here I came across two ‘video clips‘. One is called “Seagrass is Awesome”.
Its ‘seagrass message’ is, and one promoted by The Nature Conservancy, Australia, that “They provide essential ecosystem services as a nursery for young fish. Their dense roots stabilise soil and sediment which protects coasts from erosion and storms. They also serve as a nutrient sink and store atmospheric carbon.”
In summarising the project, Dr Craig Sherman, of Deakin University and PhD coordinator for the project had said, “Over many years we have lost significant amounts of seagrass and we need to develop the tools and methods to help rehabilitate and restore these key marine ecosystems. If we can achieve this, it will enable us to undertake cost-effective and large scale seagrass restoration particularly of the genus know as, zostera muelleri.”
It had turned out to be quite a day but I still had one more task: to visit the Melbourne Water website. I’m glad I kept my promise.
Since my chance meeting, I imagine COVID-19 has curtailed some of the ‘muddy field trips’. However, I hope to catch up with the team again, for this research is possibly the most important environmental research project currently underway in Western Port.