Scavenger study visits Surf Coast

A new study is investigating scavenger rates on beaches along the East Coast of Australia, with the most recent research undertaken on the Surf Coast and highlighting the predominance of foxes.

A fox snapped at Wye River in a study investigating scavenger rates along the Surf Coast.
A fox snapped at Wye River in a study investigating scavenger rates along the Surf Coast.

Deakin University School of Life and Environmental Sciences Senior Lecturer Dr Mike Weston said he did not know of any similar study in Victoria.

“The study aimed to measure the rates of scavenging on a variety of beaches at different latitudes and degrees of urbanisation and to examine groups of scavengers on these beaches,” he said.

Beach scavengers detected along the Surf Coast have included rats, foxes, dogs, silver and pacific gulls, magpies, and ravens and birds of prey.

Infrared cameras were used to detect the scavengers and will help to understand their reliance on dead animals as an energy source.

“We used four cameras per beach and used mullet as bait for the animals,” he said.

The study has covered 14 beaches between the Bass Coast and Johanna Beach.

“Locally, we have been working on Torquay Beach, Anglesea Beach, Lorne, Wye River and Apollo Bay,” said Dr. Weston.

Foxes were the most predominant scavengers sighted in the study.

Great Ocean Road Coast Committee (GORCC) Conservation Officer Georgie Beale said foxes are often found in coastal vegetation and fox dens are a common sight in the dunes.

“Foxes pose a threat to beach-nesting birds and other marine animals, with penguin carcasses and small marsupials commonly found around their dens and scattered along the dunes.”

“Fox control is an ongoing priority for GORCC and we have fumigated 40 fox dens this season from Torquay to Fairhaven,” she said.

Dr Weston said beaches are interesting ecosystems because ecological energy flows on and off them, meaning the food web is driven by things like fish washing ashore or food coming from the land.

“Animals which live on beaches rely on or are influenced by these energy flows,” he said.

A silver gull was captured on camera at Wye River.
A silver gull was captured on camera at Wye River.

Dr Weston said the final report is expected to be published a year from now, with further research to be conducted on beaches before the results are analysed.

The study is a collaboration between Griffith University, the University of the Sunshine Coast and the School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Deakin University.

This story featured in the Surf Coast Times Green the Coast Column.

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