This week a team of ‘dino hunters’ will embark on the first ‘dinosaur dig’ at Inverloch since the COVID-19 pandemic, as Bass Coast Shire Council ramps up plans for a $40 million world-class Dinosaurs Trail to celebrate the area’s fascinating pre-historic heritage.
The team of 20, including leading palaeontologists, researchers and volunteers will start excavating sections of the intertidal (foreshore) zone at Flat Rocks near The Caves, south of Inverloch, looking for fossilised bones and evidence of the prehistoric age.
The Caves is a well-known site that harbours precious polar dinosaur fossils dating back 126 million years. It will also become one of the sites in the planned Bass Coast Dinosaurs Trail, which is now in its design phase.
As part of the dinosaur dig, which is expected to run for seven days, the team will painstakingly dig by hand down more than 1m of sand and water from the foreshore to create an excavation site, around 2.5m by 5m in size.
Experts will then remove the fossil layer with hammers and long chisels before examining the rock for fossilised dinosaur bones and other material of interest.
Dinosaur Dreaming dig coordinator Lesley Kool said the group had excavated The Caves site for 20 consecutive seasons from 1994 to 2013, unearthing close to 20,000 fossilised bones of dinosaurs, mostly micro fossils no larger than 5cm.
“It’s a unique part of the coastline because in this area the rocks have been dated to around 126 million years so they’re some of the oldest Cretaceous rocks in Australia,” Mrs Kool said.
“This is one of just a handful of early Cretaceous polar sites in the world, so it makes it very special.”
Mrs Kool said part of the excavation would be to search for evidence of tiny tribosphenic mammals, about the size of mice, which existed in the same period. New research shows they may have originated in the southern hemisphere and not the northern hemisphere as first thought.
“In looking for these mammals previously we have found evidence of small and large dinosaurs, including small bipedal plant eaters, as well as small meat eating dinosaurs, about the size of the Velociraptor, and larger meat eaters as well,” she said.
“The site we will be working at The Caves is a particularly rich site. It’s the remains of an ancient riverbed so these are bones of animals that have been washed down the river and have concentrated at a certain point, perhaps a bend in the river.
“Over the many years that we have worked there, we have found close to 20,000 bones from that site, including theropod or meat eating dinosaur teeth and ornithopods.”
Mrs Kool said the excavation would be done in stages due to the tidal movements.
“Because it’s in the intertidal zone, we can only work the site about three hours either side of low tide and every time the tide comes in, it fills in our excavation site with sand and water,” she said. “Every day we will go back and have to dig it all out again.”
The Bass Coast Dinosaurs Trail creative team is currently planning the design of the project, thanks to a $500,000 grant from the State Government’s Enabling Tourism Fund.
It is expected the creative design concepts will be completed in coming months and will shared with the community mid-year.
The $20 million first stage of the project will include six creative experience sites, from San Remo to Inverloch, linking polar dinosaur fossils with each location. In addition. These sites include a Gondwana garden with multimedia extension in Wonthaggi, and dinosaur experience playground at Inverloch.
The $20 million second stage will include a Museum Discovery Centre and Stargazing Observatory.
Bass Coast Shire Council CEO Ali Wastie said the dig provided an opportunity for the Bass Coast Dinosaurs Trail design team to experience first-hand the incredible history that existed in the region.
“The Bass Coast Dinosaurs Trail will be an exciting, unique and valuable tourism asset that will celebrate the global significance of our region’s prehistoric heritage,” Ms Wastie said.
“This dig is the only one to be organised this season and is a chance for the creative team to observe and speak with the excavation team onsite, to be inspired and to learn about the fossils and polar dinosaurs that once roamed Bass Coast.”