Seagrass secrets uncovered

Researchers are uncovering the secrets of seagrasses in Port Phillip Bay and Victoria as part of a collaborative study into this vital part of our marine ecosystem.

The project includes researchers from Melbourne University, the University of Tasmania, the Sydney University of Technology and Deakin University and is funded by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DEWLP).

2011-11-24 10.51.03-1
Seagrass in Port Phillip Bay. Photo: Tim Smith


The project aims to understand the resilience, reproductive biology and genetics of seagrass which is a primary producer – playing an important role as an ‘ecosystem engineer’.

Seagrasses recycle nutrients in the water and stabilise the marine environment helping to promote biodiversity and protect habitat.

Similar to the way in which coral reefs provide habitat in Queensland, seagrass colonies are part of vital habitat for a range of fauna species such as the King George Whiting, Australian Salmon and Pipefish.

Sieving seagrass sediment sample to look for seeds. Photo: Tim Smith
Sieving seagrass sediment sample to look for seeds. Photo: Tim Smith

Deakin University School of Life and Environmental Sciences Senior Lecturer, Craig Sherman said researchers were initially unsure of what the study would uncover.

“We discovered more seagrass diversity than expected in our research which helps us understand the regeneration processes in the bay.

“Diversity is essential for environmental adaptation which is why it is important for us to gain a greater insight about the processes that maintain seagrass populations.

“This research helps us understand the fluctuations in populations and how the seagrass responds to different influences,” said Mr Sherman.

Dr Paul York cutting  seagrass sample for research. Photo: Tim Smith
Researcher Dr Paul York cutting some seagrass samples for research. Photo: Tim Smith

Deakin University postdoctoral researcher, Tim Smith also worked on the project, examining the recovery times of seagrass in Port Phillip Bay.

“Our research showed that the Geelong arm is an important source of seagrass in Port Phillip Bay with high levels of seed production which suggests it is a ‘source site’.

“Seagrass is a really important ecosystem, so we need to understand its recovery mechanisms to ensure seagrass in Port Phillip Bay can recover from disturbances and environmental change in the future.

“It is particularly important to identify ‘source sites’ of seagrass that can enhance threatened sites so that they can be managed accordingly,” Mr Smith said.

Cut seagrass for research. Photo: Tim Smith
Cut seagrass for research. Photo: Tim Smith

This article appeared in the Surf Coast Times Greening the Coast column.


Interested in learning more about seagrass? Watch the video below to find out more.

Related Blogs

Northern Pacific Seastar (Asterias Amurensis) adult. Photo: Mark RichardsonResearch reveals pest’s adaptive abilities

Beacon Ecologist Luke Hynes helps GORCC conservation supervisor Georgie Beale and Snapshot of the coast

volunteering summerCommunity vital to coast research

Star single dad’s success

Two Hooded Plover chicks at Moggs Creek have overcome all odds and taken flight, a feat made even more impressive given they were raised by a single dad.

Four vulnerable Hooded Plover chicks on the Surf Coast have fledged after surviving the dangerous 60 days to fledging since 2010.

Hooded Plover chick
Hooded Plover chick

The chicks’ mother perished in what is thought to have been a dog, fox or cat attack earlier in 2015, while their sibling was taken by a fox.

The Hooded Plovers have one of the lowest survival rate of any species in the world at 2.5% and are listed as vulnerable under the Environment Protection Biodiversity and Conservation Act 1999.

Volunteers, Birdlife Australia staff and the Great Ocean Road Coast Committee (GORCC) team worked tirelessly to protect the precious little family, attempting to protect them from the many threats these beach-nesting birds face.

The 2015 breeding season is still in full swing, with one three-week-old Hooded Plover chick still battling to survive at Point Roadknight.

‘Save the Hoodie’ campaign signs have been installed across the Surf Coast in breeding zones, urging beachgoers to stay well away from nests and keep dogs out of these areas.

(L-R) American ecologist Tim Seastedt, GORCC conservation supervisor Georgie Bealse, American scientist Kathy Tate and Friends of the Hooded Plover Surf Coast volunteers Ethorne Mitchell and Mandy Mitchell
(L-R) American ecologist Tim Seastedt, GORCC conservation supervisor Georgie Bealse, American scientist Kathy Tate and Friends of the Hooded Plover Surf Coast volunteers Ethorne Mitchell and Mandy Mitchell keep predators away from the Hooded Plovers.

Friends of the Hooded Plovers volunteer Margaret MacDonald is thankful to the community for their cooperation over the breeding season.

“The birds have had to learn to live with a lot of people around in the holiday season and it has been fantastic to see everyone taking more care around the nests.

“People have been responding well to the information and have been very supportive of the work we are doing to protect the Hooded Plovers,” Ms MacDonald said.

The volunteers patrol the breeding sites for a month before the eggs hatch and then increase patrols 30 days after hatching to protect the chicks from predators.

“The chicks would not have survived without the volunteers support so it’s a great achievement by all.

This article was published in the Surf Coast Times Green the Coast column.

For information about how to save of precious Hooded Plovers click here.

Have you entered the Save the Hoodie comptetition yet? Times running out! For more details click here

Perfect day to get the gardening gloves on

Now is a better time than any to pop the gardening gloves on and plant a tree or shrub.

With School Tree Day today and National Tree Day this Sunday July 27, there is something fun and interactive happening near you.

The Plantago Hispida plant is one of many unique plants sighted on the coast.
The Plantago Hispida plant is one of many unique plants sighted on the coast.

Developed by Planet Ark, National Tree Day is an Australian environmental initiative aimed at promoting community planting of native trees and shrubs with a huge range of celebrities endorsing the day. Click here to see who is supporting the 2014 Tree Day.

Trees allow a canopy and habitat for wildlife, encourage biodiversity and produce oxygen, but they provide many additional benefits that you may not be aware of.

Trees of all shapes and sizes enhance the appearance of our beautiful coast.
Trees of all shapes and sizes enhance the appearance of our beautiful coast.

As stated by Planet Ark, near-by trees have a calming effect which can significantly reduce workplace stress levels.

Why are trees so important to our community?

  • Trees have a calming effect which can significantly reduce workplace stress levels and fatigue.
  • They muffle sound from nearby streets and freeways, as well as calm traffic.
  • Tree plantings provides an opportunity for community involvement and engage all cultures, ages and genders in the important role of tree planting or tree care.
  • Trees beautify communities and improve the views.
  • Trees make great landmarks that can give communitie.s a new identity and encourage community spirit.
  • Trees improve air quality by absorbing polluting gases and odours and filtering air particles.
  • Trees save water as shade from trees slows water evaporation.
  • Trees combat the greenhouse effect through carbon sequestration (the general term used for the capture and long-term storage of carbon dioxide).

You don’t need to dedicate just one day of the year to plant trees and shrubs. If you’re interested in getting the gardening gloves on any day of the year, click here for step-by-step instructions.

If you would like to find out about events near you, register your tree planting event, or learn more about the benefits of tree planting days click here .

Kinder coastal conservationists

Jan Juc pre-school students participated in a hands-on environmental education session in Jan Juc recently with the aim of fostering a life-long love for the coastal environment.

The activities, which were coordinated by the Great Ocean Road Coast Committee (GORCC), are part of a free program designed to encourage others to understand and respect their beautiful coastal surroundings.

Conservation Team member Peter Crowcroft shows some kelp the Jan Juc Pre School kids

Teacher Jane Wilson said the children thoroughly enjoyed the experience and were able to better connect to where they live.

“The day gave the children lots of opportunities to build on their understanding of their world and learn about becoming responsible to care for their environment.”

“We discussed littering and all the reasons we need to take any rubbish home and leave only our footprints or the sand castles we make.”

beach day 045

GORCC Conservation Officer Georgie Beale said the children learnt about the marine and coastal environment and explored relationships between living and non-living things

“We also encouraged the kids to become more aware of change and the impact of human activity.”

The children also learnt about coastal vegetation, including the importance of habitat for birds and animals.

Pre schooler Georgie Wall with seaweed

Ms Beale said the GORCC education program offers schools and groups a practical way to make a difference to their environment and the skills and understanding to help protect and enhance the coast.

“We encourage children to be involved in practical experiences relating to their environment and helps them to feel connected to their world, and in this case, their unique and special back yard,” said Georgie.

“We want everyone to love, protect and enjoy our beautiful coast as much as we do and it’s great to have the opportunity to get the children involved in hands on learning about their local coastline.”

The GORCC Environmental Education and Activities Program is free and provides participants of all ages with opportunities to learn about and care for coastal environments. Activities are led by experienced conservation experts who have teaching experience and a wealth of knowledge about coastal environments.

For more information on GORCC’s Environmental Education Programs, click here. 

This article featured in the Surf Coast Times Green the Coast Column – check it out here.

Protecting spectacular Point Addis

Stand at Point Addis and look east to Port Phillip Heads in the distance. Gaze west along the coast to the Split Point lighthouse at Aireys Inlet. Look across the southern ocean and glimpse gannets diving or swallows swooping past the cliff face.

Spectacular Point Addis and the Ironbark Basin are fairly new additions to the Great Otway National Park but they have been important to people for thousands of years.

The importance of the area is evidenced by the middens that have been found in the Basin.  Middens are the remains of meals of shellfish once gathered and eaten by Aboriginal people.  These middens show that the Wathaurong people feasted on the sea bounty available here thousands of years ago.

Unfortunately the area’s more recent popularity has put increasing pressure on this fragile but beautiful and diverse environment, already scoured by wind and wave. Some older locals remember driving their cars onto Addiscott beach to go surfing and swimming although fortunately beach access is now only by foot on a new boardwalk and steps.

The work of volunteers in the area has become integral to its wellbeing. The Friends of Point Addis (FOPA) formed around the time that Point Addis became a Marine National Park in late 2002. Under the passionate guidance of Lynne Flakemore, the group embarked on cliff top revegetation, intertidal monitoring of the shore species, film nights and disseminating information to the public.

In the past two years, FOPA have worked closely with Parks Victoria which now manages the Ironbark Basin and Point Addis. Rip Curl and Quicksilver have also given invaluable support to the group.

Working bees have included a ‘Boneseed Blitz in the Basin’, weed eradication, plantings of indigenous species on degraded areas, mulching and fencing to protect against rabbits.

Members have also been on “rock pool rambles” and participated in the Great Victorian Fish Count to assist in monitoring marine species at the Jarosite Reef at the eastern end of Addiscott Beach.

Warning to visitors: stop the spread of Phytophthora cinnamomi!

The group has turned its attention to the dangers posed by Phytophthora or Cinnamon Fungus as it was once commonly referred to.  The FOPA is calling for all visitors to the area to be aware of the damage caused by the Phytophthora which can be spread by walkers and bike-riders. You can avoid the spread of this disease by sticking to the designated track signs and keeping their dogs on a lead.

An invitation to all those passionate about the area:

To get involved, call Bronwyn Spark 5263 2224 or email to register your interest.

This article was published in the Surf Coast Times as part of the publications fortnightly “Going Green Column”.

The Surf Coast’s Hidden Wonderland

Most of us are familiar with the local birds who frequent our gardens and we can probably put a name to those visitor’s who fly in during summer and leave before winter begins.  Well the story is the same in the sea.

Living amongst the soft sponge gardens, seagrass meadows or swaying algal forests is a marine wonderland of colourful reef fish, spiky urchins, seastars, crabs and shellfish.  Many are resident all year, feeding and breeding within the habitat in which they live.

The cool ocean waters of Southern Australia are home to an estimated 12,000 species; over 85% are endemic and as such are not found anywhere else in the world.

Reef Watch volunteers have been recording the species they see at their favourite reefs for nearly 10 years, bringing to the surface data on the types and numbers of species found at reef sites along the Victorian coast and in our bays.  Reef Watch Victoria is a project of the Victorian National Parks Association, funded by the Australian Government through Caring for Our Country and Supported by Museum Victoria.

Along the Surf Coast, groups such as the Friends of Point Addis National Park are involved in the programme and have been surveying the parks abundant fish life during the Great Victorian Fish Count, held in December each year.  They have discovered Blue-Throated and Senator Wrasse, Sea Sweep, Banded and Magpie Morwongs, Southern Hulafish, Leatherjackets, Toadfish and Stingrays.  The diversity of fish species paints a picture of a healthy reef providing for the different requirements of the fish.

Leather jacket
Leather jacket

For the past three years, Grade five and six students from Lorne-Aireys P-12, have also been involved in the Great Victorian Fish Count and have had fun surveying the fish under the Lorne Pier.  They have been surprised to find there is quite a variety of fish living under the pier, including stripy Zebra fish, Old Wives and Six-spined Leatherjackets.

6 spine

At the Ingoldsby Reef near Anglesea, divers are able to see an abundance of marine life.  It is one of the longest shallow offshore reefs in Victorian waters and is home to over a hundred species of algae, as well as colourful ascidians, fanlike gorgonian corals and feathery hydroids.

Ocean visitors to the Surf Coast can occasionally be seen breaching the surface, including Humpback and Southern Right Whales, Bottlenose Dolphins and giant pelagic sunfish.  Below the surface, Mulloway, Australian Salmon, Wobbegongs and School sharks move through the reefs on their way to breed in the bays and inlets or to follow the migratory path of their prey as they move with the seasons of the sea.

Reef Watch volunteers also monitor the marine life at their favourite reefs during the year, providing a seasonal snapshot of the species found.  Species lists for each monitored site have been produced, providing a record of the marine biodiversity and complexity of reefs found along the coast.

For further information on Reef Watch Victoria visit or to find out more about the Surf Coasts marine life and community groups, visit

Or contact: Wendy Roberts, Coordinator, Reef Watch Victoria, C/- Museum Victoria, GPO Box 666, Melbourne, 3001. E-mail: Tel: 03 8341-7446

Gazania! Have You Seen this Weed??

Gazania or ‘Treasure Flowers’ are environmental weeds currently invading native vegetation along the Surf Coast.

Although, these brightly coloured daisies seem attractive additions to gardens and nature strips, Gazania ‘escapees’ are causing serious problems to coastal flora and fauna.

If left unmanaged, Gazania will continue to spread and smother coastal dune and cliff vegetation within the Surf Coast, resulting in insidious weed infestations similar to that caused by Blackberry, Gorse and Boneseed.

Gazania Flower

Why is Gazania a problem??

Gazania withstand salt-laden winds, are extremely drought tolerant and thrive in sandy soils – making them the perfect invader of coastal areas such as the Surf Coast and Bellarine Peninsula.

Gazania spread via abundant wind-blown seed and by forming dense mats. The plants out-compete native species, such as orchids and lilies, for resources, degrade habitat and interrupt important ecological processes.

Furthermore, Gazania are freely available from local nurseries for less than $10. The plants are marketed as ‘soil-stabilisers, water-wise, easy-to-grow and low-maintenance’ making Gazania appear economically attractive and environmentally friendly.

BUT DON’T BE FOOLED – Gazania is considered a significant environmental weed and has the potential to completely cover the ground on which it grows, displacing native vegetation and directly threatening rare flora and fauna (Impact Assessment – Gazania in Victoria, Department of Primary Industries Victoria).

What does Gazania look like??

Gazania is a low-growing plant, which is easy to identify (you can spot Gazania along the Jan Juc cliff tops !). Look out for the following features:

  • Low-growing herb to 30 cm tall.
  • Leaves are either shiny or hairy and densely matted. Bright green or grey on the top with white with smooth hairs below.
  • Flowers in spring and summer (but can flower all year round in right conditions).
  • Showy, bright daisy flowers in tones of yellow, orange and red
  • Flowers close at night.
Gazania Flowers

How Can I Help??

Herbicide control of Gazania is notoriously difficult. The best way to prevent the spread of Gazania is to…

  • Remove (dig out) existing plants form your garden and nature strip. Avoid purchasing and planting Gazania.
  • You can also help control and eradicate Gazania from the Jan Juc cliffs by pulling weeds and planting trees with the Jan Juc Coast Action Group.

Where: Jan Juc cliff top car parks (Bird rock, Little Rock).

When: First Sunday of every month, 10am – 12pm.

What to Bring: Yourself, your family and your friends – we’ll supply the rest (even morning tea!).

Or join the annual ‘Weed Whacking Day’ held by Jan Juc Coast Action Group on the Jan Juc cliff tops. Contact Luke Hynes from Jan Juc Coast Action on 0406 113 438 or for more information.

This article was published in the Surf Coast Times as part of the publications fortnightly “Going Green Column”.