Donations help land, sea projects

PUBLIC donations have helped the Western Port Biosphere Reserve Foundation pay for a greenhouse on French Island and support research into protecting bryozoan reefs.

Like corals, bryozoans are invertebrate animals and have established reefs unique to Western Port.

Biosphere Foundation CEO Mel Barker said the money used for both projects came from the recent $50,000 in 50 Days fundraising campaign.

Barker said the donated money will pay for a greenhouse that will be used by French Island Landcare to establish a nursery and community garden.

In the marine environment, the money would go to a research project on protecting the bay’s bryozoan reefs.

“These are projects with strong environmental merit that our campaign has allowed us to support,” Barker said.

“We were very pleased to be able to update our donors so quickly on how their money is being used wisely to promote biodiversity and develop strategies to protect our most precious natural assets.”

The French Island greenhouse will be a polytunnel that will be used to grow native tube plants, bush foods, vegetable plants, ferns and local orchids.

It will support Island Landcare Group’s revegetation and shelterbelt projects.

The money will also allow scientists to expand their research on Western Port’s bryozoan reefs.

“In a wondrous underwater environment that is out of sight of all but the most experienced divers, the bryozoans that make up these reefs are non-photosynthetic filter feeders commonly referred to as lace corals,” Barker said.

“The Western Port bryozoans are special because they are shallow, large and form contiguous reefs providing important habitat for a multitude of marine species including fish, molluscs, crustaceans and worms.

“They are also home to some species of the strong currents typical of this marine waterway. Historically, they and the marine species they have nurtured and protected have been damaged by dredging and other human activities.

Reef research by La Trobe University and marine research and consultancy firm Fathom Pacific will quantify the extent of fragile reefs, the processes that threaten and make them vulnerable, and shed light on their rate of growth.

First published in the Western Port News – August 16, 2022

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