Deakin project could turn Moolap wetlands into bird-watching mecca

Deakin scientists plan to rehabilitate 465 hectares of wetlands at Geelong’s former Moolap salt works site, potentially transforming the site into a tourist-attracting bird-watching mecca, thanks to new funding from the State Government.

Associate Professor Peter Macreadie, who heads up Deakin’s Blue Carbon Lab within the School of Life and Environmental Sciences, said the $590,000 grant announced by Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change Lily D’Ambrosio MP offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to convert wasteland into wetlands.

“Ideas to redevelop the land have been flowing for more than a decade, when the former salt works were decommissioned in 2007,” Associate Professor Macreadie said.

“This project, which is worth $775,000 in total, is the result of several years of planning by the team at Deakin, as part of our commitment to turn science into outcomes.”

Associate Professor Macreadie said birds that visited the salt works site and surrounding marine and freshwater wetlands included one of the world’s rarest – the orange bellied parrot – along with the critically-endangered curlew sandpiper, which flies from Siberia.

“Our approach is to protect, conserve and restore the habitats that support the birds and other wildlife,” he said.

He said researchers planned to build fences to protect vegetation and undertake plantings to repair threatened saltmarsh and wetland habitat, which provides essential habitat for the orange-bellied parrot, as well as 27 other ecologically-significant bird species and various frog species.

“Aside from the important environmental contribution this project will make, the site has potential to become a tourist mecca, with plans for an education centre, board walks and a research hub,” Associate Professor Macreadie said.

“We could have international visitors flocking to see the unique birdlife at the wetlands, instead of driving straight through to the Great Ocean Road.

“The wetlands are the ugly duckling of our coast and they’re under-appreciated, but they are critical. They support fisheries, they’re important for coastal protection and they’re one of the most efficient natural carbon sinks on the planet.

“We want to ensure a project like this can support the economic development of communities, along with its environmental benefits.”

The Victorian Coastal Wetland Restoration project will be led by Deakin University’s Blue Carbon Lab, with funding partners including the State Government through the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning.

Deakin is also contributing more than $100,000, The Nature Conservatory is contributing $35,000 and Corangamite Catchment Management Authority (CCMA) is to give $50,000.

Research partners include Parks Victoria, The Nature Conservancy, Greening Australia, CCMA, West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority, Melbourne Water, CoastCare Victoria, HSBC Australia, South Gippsland Conservation Society, University of New South Wales Sydney Water Research Laboratory, Tasman Environmental Markets, NSW Fisheries, and the Wadawurrung Wathaurung Aboriginal Corporation.

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