PROTECTING THE SALTMARSHES OF SOUTH GIPPSLAND
AN ISLAND OF HOPE
In October 2022, Nooramunga Land and Sea Ltd acquired a private island within the sheltered estuary waters of Corner Inlet, South Gippsland.
Situated within the traditional lands of the Gunnaikurnai people, the island is also within the Nooramunga Marine and Coastal Park, a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance, Little Dog Island is framed by the dramatic granite peaks of Wilsons Promontory to the south and the rolling green hills of South Gippsland to the north.
The 150-acre island represents an outstanding example of coastal saltmarsh – a distinctive ecological community found only within inter-tidal zones where there are suitable mudflats sheltered from the sea.
Coastal Saltmarsh communities are under increasing pressure from multiple threatening processes, including coastal developments, rising sea levels and weed invasion. This purchase is therefore of strategic importance in protecting more saltmarsh habitats within a well-managed reserve system. If the island is not purchased for conservation, it is likely to be purchased for agriculture or recreation, which would be supported by the current zoning for farming.
Read more about the features of the island and the stewardship team below.
The Little Dog Island property contains an outstanding representation of estuarine plant communities dominated by distinctive succulent plant species that have evolved special adaptations to cope with the extreme environment of high salt levels, water-logged soils and periodic disturbance.
Saltmarsh communities include a range of different habitats, including Mangrove wetlands and saline meadows that are important fish habitat, as well as grasslands, sedgelands and estuarine shrublands. The property provides suitable habitat for many threatened fauna species, including fish, migratory waders, small mammals and reptiles.
A safe winter haven for the Orange-bellied parrot
Little Dog Island is ideally positioned to enhance the Orange-bellied Parrot (OBP) recovery program. OBPs have only one known breeding site – Melaleuca in south-western Tasmania. Each winter, the birds leave these grounds to seek out habitat on the thin coastal strip from East Gippsland to the Coorong in South Australia.
Fewer than 20 adult birds were found in the wild five years ago, with the Tasmanian Government and other groups now breeding and releasing OBPs in the hope of saving the species. In the last season, 60 parrots returned to Melaleuca.
150k west of Little Dog Island, the Moonlit Sanctuary also runs a highly successful breeding program, breeding over 180 birds and releasing many of those into the wild to return to Tasmania.
Historically, OBPs have been seen in South Gippsland, with Little Dog Island offering ideal habitat and protection from predators such as foxes and feral cats.
Orange-bellied Parrot Image: Ross Tsai. Creative commons.
WATER & MIGRATORY BIRD DESTINATION
Little Dog Island is strategically located amongst a complex of islands and estuaries within Corner Inlet, which is estimated to support approximately 20% of the Victorian migratory wader population.
Each year, a wide variety of wader bird species also travel from their summer breeding grounds in the far northern hemisphere to the coastal wetlands of south-eastern Australia, a one-way trip of over 10,000 kilometres. While in Australia, these birds spend their time feeding in mudflat and saltmarsh habitats and must fatten up sufficiently in order to travel home to breed.
Visitors include the critically endangered Far Eastern Curlew, Curlew Sandpiper, Bar-tailed Godwit and Great Knot.
Endangered species include the Lesser Sand Plover, Red Knot and Brittle Star and vulnerable species include the Hooded Plover.
The island environment will allow the team to restrict access by feral animals, giving local and migratory species the ability to feed without competition and roost without fear. The team will also consider re-instating facilities on the island to encourage research and bird watching.
Photos credits – background: Double-banded plovers by Ed Dunens. Red-necked Stint by Laurie Boyle. Bar-tailed Godwits by Patrick Kavanagh.
Blue carbon ecosystem
Blue carbon is the name given to coastal and marine habitats that store carbon above ground in plants or below ground in soils and sediment.
Researchers believe that coastal wetlands can capture carbon two to four times faster than forests on land and, if undisturbed, can store large amounts, helping mitigate the impacts of climate change.
Blue carbon hasn’t always been part of the climate change story, but government agencies and climate change experts are increasingly recognising its importance. The Australian Government has put a comprehensive plan in place and developed new methods of calculating the amount of carbon that can be sequestered when tidal zones are returned to their natural state. This has also opened up opportunities for local farmers to get blue carbon credits.
As part of a natural capital approach, BioDiversity Legacy recognises the economic dimensions of private land conservation and seeks to ensure that acquisitions contribute to the local economy and community.
In the case of Little Dog Island, Corner Inlet attracts thousands of recreational fishers each year and is one of Victoria’s oldest professional fisheries, providing around 450 tonnes of seafood to the community each year. The mudflats, mangroves and seagrass meadows in and around the island provide food and shelter for fish and fish nurseries.
The Little Dog Island acquisition also ties into other marine conservation initiatives underway locally, including the Yarram Yarram Landcare Network’s efforts to replenish 200 hectares of seagrass, which is a key player in the blue carbon story.
The exercise will recover more habitat for fish species, improve water quality and the productivity of Corner Inlet.
THE ISLAND TEAM
The team behind the acquisition of Little Dog Island are recognised leaders in private and public land conservation across Victoria.
Among them is Tim D’Ombrain and Karl Just who have 40 years’ experience in surveying, mapping and managing remnant vegetation and ecological restoration. Tim and Karl first identified the island’s environmental values, alerting BioDiversity Legacy to the sale.
Joining them is Federation University paleoecologist Professor Peter Gell, Rendere Trust and BioDiversity Legacy Strategic Director, Jim Phillipson, Natural Capital Manager, Loulou Gebbie and Carbon Landscape co-director, Dr Steve Enticott.
The acquisition team drew on Tim and Karl’s expertise to assess the significance and environmental values of the island.
An initial ecological survey of the property revealed that it features at least six Ecological Vegetation Classes including Wet Saltmarsh Herbland, Estuarine Flats Grassland, Estuarine Scrub, Sea-grass Meadow, Saline Aquatic Meadow and Mangrove Shrubland as well as extensive areas of a federally-listed ecological community.
While surveys are ongoing, so far a total of 79 vascular flora species have been recorded across the Little Dog Island, including 59 that are indigenous and 20 that are introduced. Three of the flora species recorded are listed as threatened: Grey Mangrove, Creeping Rush and Yellow Sea-lavender.
As one of BioDiversity’s (BDL) foundation properties, Little Dog Island’s stewardship team have played a key role in shaping the BDL’s Community Stewardship model.
Led by ecologists Tim O’mbrain and Karl Just, the team have contributed many new ideas and perspectives on protecting threatened species, creating a five-year vision for the property that includes a program of works to restore habitat.
The team will also consider how to use existing infrastructure, including cabins built by a former owner as a part of an eco-tourism venture to allow visitation by groups including bird-watchers.