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Monday, 04 June 2018 08:38

Habit restoration project receives award

A unique bird habitat restoration project on the Gippsland Lakes was recognised with a Victorian Coastal Award for excellence at the Victorian Coastal Council Awards recently. A collaboration between Gippsland Ports, Parks Victoria, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP), Birdlife East Gippsland, and Nungurner Landcare Group, the project involved the restoration of Crescent Island (near Ocean Grange) and Pelican iIsland (opposite Nungurner) to provide critical habitat for rare and threatened bird species. The award was presented to the Gippsland Ports chair, Geoff Hocking, by Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change, Lily D’Ambrosio, at a ceremony in Melbourne. “We have together achieved the ultimate success – environmentally sustainable channel dredging to provide safer navigation for recreational boaters, the restoration and extension of habitat for our swans, pelicans, waders and migratory terns and the forging of new partnerships between the government and community sectors,” Mr Hocking said. “The project has provided safer boating access and a vital improvement to habitat values through a collaboration between waterway managers, natural resource managers and community volunteers. “It has been a project with immense technical and logistical challenges, substantial community volunteer support and the best possible outcome.” Much of the area on both islands previously visited by migratory birds for breeding had been eroded, significantly affecting their breeding activity. Rare and threatened fairy terns and little terns travel thousands of miles to raise their young on the islands. Gippsland Ports undertook dredging works in the nearby channels to maintain navigable access for recreational boating as the birds need the sand for breeding, feeding and raising their young.

A total of 84,400 cubic metres of sand was dredged and relocated over a period of 81 days to create 103,250 square metres of habitat. Biodiversity officers from DELWP engaged with Birdlife East Gippsland, Greening Australia and the Nungurner Landcare Group to plan for the revegetation and bird monitoring effort. Revegetation was undertaken by volunteers from Nungurner Landcare Group and Friends of the Gippsland Lakes. As the joint land managers, Parks Victoria and the Gunaikurnai Land and Waters Aboriginal Corporation also took an important role in project oversight and providing the necessary approvals and contractual arrangements. Fledglings, which were hatched and raised on Crescent Island sites, have returned to the same site the following year as first year immature birds. In 2016 fairy terns were recorded on Pelican Island for the first time. They bred and produced 51 fledglings and returned in 2017 and added another 47 fledglings to their tally. The sites have also provided new habitat for threatened hooded plovers, which have also been breeding on the islands and so far produced 12 fledglings. Ten different species of Northern Hemisphere waders have been recorded feeding, foraging and roosting on the newly created island habitat. Five thousand seedlings were planted and are well established to provide protection for shore birds and mitigate the erosive effects of waves and wind. Chicks have been observed using the plants during windy weather, hot days and to hide from raptors. Large numbers of swans, pelicans and shorebirds have been sighted on the islands, which provide secure habitat and a base for feeding and breeding. The project has not only made a significant contribution to the ecological values of the Gippsland Lakes, but has also demonstrated the success of sand renourishment and habitat restoration, which is likely to be used as a model for habitat restoration in other important locations on the lakes.