IT WAS Friday December 10, 2021. Twenty-four Grade 4 children from Bass Valley Primary School and their teachers were strolling along the Queensferry foreshore. I think it would have pleased the late Tim Ealey OAM, affectionately known as “Dr Mangrove”, for it was his pioneering seagrass and mangrove work with the school that was the forerunner of what was about to unfold - they had come to plant mangroves.
Jye demonstrated how to attach a mangrove seed to the bamboo stake with an elastic band and secure it with a cable tie. He added that the recent introduction of the cable tie, was to assess if it minimises the effect of wave action and storm surges on the rubber band and the seed and, most importantly, stops the rubber band becoming marine waste. Once the seedlings have broken free of the elastic bands, the bamboo stakes will be retrieved.
Now the fun bit started.
The bamboo stake group, displaying varying degrees of dexterity, set to work to attach their 400 seedlings to the stakes. Guided by Ben, all were careful to ensure the seed’s root pointed down when it was attached to the stake. The importance of this became apparent when it came time to push the stakes into the intertidal mud. The seed is buried so as to ensure the root is just below the mud surface.
The other group, under the guidance of Luke and Jason, was adroitly pushing a mud and seagrass mixture into the seedling trays. It didn’t take long for this to become perhaps the best part of day, for this really was a hands-on experience and there’s nothing like Western Port mud to make it even better.
It is thought most of the 400 seeds were pushed into the mixture with the roots pointing down – only time will tell!
As the morning progressed, the groups changed over and in between all the activities, they found time to stop for a BBQ lunch – it is believed all hands were washed.
Replenished, and depending on which took one’s interest, some went with Jye to finish placing more stakes into the zone thought to be the optimum site behind some existing mangrove stands. In planting the seeds, much care was taken not to disturb the planting area by trampling around too much – it is thought this practice helps maintain the soil’s integrity, just as nature would want it.
After some minor topping up of the trays with “the muddy brew”, as one of the kids described it, and a final check of the seeds, the group helped carry the trays to the edge of a densely wooded mangrove stand.
To avoid damaging the mangrove trees’ pneumatophores (breathing roots) that grow vertically out of the mudflats, the group was happy for Luke and Jason to go from there and place the trays in the “nursery” nestled under the mangrove canopy.
Those privy to this special experiment are looking forward to seeing how many seedlings will grow. One student was impressed by the three-metre height of the mature trees and wanted to know how long it would take for his seedlings to grow that tall.
The seed tray system and anchoring them within a mangrove area has been pioneered by Jason. The Bass Coast Landcare Network has taken up this method as part of its research to increase the survival rate of mangrove seeds and seedlings.
It was now nearing home time.
Washed (for that 30 litres of water came in handy), numbers tallied (nobody got stuck in the mud), and with a vote of thanks to the facilitating team, the school excursion had come to an end.
In summing up the day, Jye said, “The kids were incredibly positive. They asked lots of questions and were very happy to be out and about on their first excursion in two years. They LOVED getting their hands in the mud!”
Their teacher Ben Hallas said, “It was an amazing experience to see young locals learn and contribute to our unique environment; it’s something that they will never forget. Together with Jye and the team, they planted just on 800 mangrove seeds and will now enjoy watching them grow and play a substantial role in the environmental future of Western Port.”
As the school bus trundled down the dusty Queensferry Jetty Road and the debriefing session began, Jye added, “I think all would agree it’s a great recipe and one that can be used for future mangrove planting excursions.”
2 Bass Coast Landcare Network facilitators (Jye Anderson and Luke Phillips)
2 OzFish representatives (Dr Sophie Pryor and Ben Cleveland)
1 Port Phillip and Western Port Catchment Management Authority representative and photographer (Andrew Morrison)
1 Queensferry mangrove curator (Jason Noonan)
2 Teachers, 1 assistant and 24 children
1 accessible intertidal zone
800 freshly collected mangrove seeds minus their outer husks
400 bamboo stakes 50cm long, 400 elastic bands, 400 cable ties
10 seedling trays (40 divisions per tray)
8 kilograms of Western Port mud
1 kilogram of seagrass washed up on a foreshore
30 litres of fresh water
1 Mangroves of Victoria Information Kit