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WPSP Projects

Initial Transplant Field Tests

WPSP work on seagrasses began with early experiments undertaken by Dr Tim Ealey at Coronet Bay. The first experiment involved taking small sections of seagrass rhyzomes and transplanting them into an aquarium to determine the capacity of these plants to survive transplanting.  This work revealed that such transplants did in fact survive and grow and that wider application of this approach may be suitable for field application.

Test plantings in the field showed that small sections of seagrass could be transplanted but the wave and tide action meant many of these transplants were dislodged before they could establish themselves. This work indicated that larger clumps or plugs might offer a better alternative.

Busting Myths

Toxic Discharges

For several decades a local resident of Lang Lang made ongoing claims in the media that the seagrass losses in Western Port were caused by toxic discharges from ACI sandmine operations at Lang Lang. EPA Victoria investigated these claims thoroughly but no proof could be found to support the allegations and in any case the claim was inconsistent with losses observed elsewhere in the Bay.

Left: Seagrass grown in Lang Lang sediment (L) compared to seagrass grown in Coronet Bay sediment (R). Growth was clearly more prolific in the Lang Lang sediment.
Right: Beach foam Lang Lang.

Never-the-less, the claimant continued his accusations and further suggested that the mud around the Lang Lang coast was toxic and killed seagrasses. Dr Tim Ealey undertook several very simple experiments to show these claims were unfounded. Firstly he took samples of the Lang Lang mud and placed it in aquariums into which he planted seagrasses. These plants not only survived, but flourished, indicting quite clearly that the muds did not contain any substance toxic to seagrasses. Dr Ealey also obtained samples of the sump water and process water currently being used by ACI in their sandwashing operations. He introduced these samples into the aquaria at rates far higher than would be expected upon normal dilution in the bay, again with no adverse effect.

With these two simple experiments Dr Ealey had shown that the ACI operations were not currently impacting on seagrasses and if there were some lingering residues from previous operations, they too were not impacting on the seagrasses. PDF versions of these experimental reports can be downloaded here

Coastal Foams

A further claim against ACI sandmining was that its discharges included surfactants (detergents) that caused foams to form along the Lang Lang coastline from time to time. Samples collected from such events by the WPSP were supplied to EPA Victoria for testing and examination. Their conclusion was that these foams were entirely natural, the product of diatoms blooms and wind action, similar to those seen along surf beaches. The foaming in this section of the bay being amplified by the presence of fine silts associated with catchment and coastal erosion processes. Dr. Ealey’s bioassays of these foams showed that not only would they not stick to seagrasses as alleged but at several concentrations did not affect seagrass.

Restoration Projects

Seagrass Restoration Project 2002

This was the first full scale seagrass transplanting experiment to be undertaken in Western Port. It was a partnership project between the Natural Heritage Trust, EPA Victoria and the Western Port Seagrass Partnership.

The project had four elements:

Identification of suitable sites for transplants.
Development of seagrass transplant techniques.
Establishment of procedures to cultivate seagrass in vitro.
Community education - (Elements of DRI "I sea, I Care" program).

Executive summary of all these activities - PDF
Full report on the research elements - PDF
Monash University paper on in vitro growth experiments - PDF

Key Research Conclusions


Left: Transplanted seagrass cores
Right: Tim Ealey measuring seagrass plug growth

Site selection is critical to success with water quality and substrate being prime considerations and the site selection methodology seemed sound. The most successful transplant technique was the use of 15cm plugs, obtained by use of PVC tube corers at donor sites. Due to seasonal influences, Autumn appeared to be the optimal time to undertake transplants. Further work is required to determine optimal depths, light and nutrient levels. More work is required on how to minimize sediment movement and inundation of transplants. (Subsequently deemed impractical)

In Vitro Experiments and Post Experimental Observations

Left: Seagrass growing in culture
Right: Seagrass plug showing radial growth. Photo: T. Ealey, WPSP

Viable aseptic tissues of seagrass (Heterozostera tamanica) can be established in vitro with exhibited growth. Further work is needed to develop optimal levels of additives, improved physical growth conditions and alternative sterilization techniques to reduce toxicity effects.

During the course of this experiment, clear evidence of expanded seagrass growth beyond the initial cores was noted in many cases, indicating the technique worked, and the water quality was appropriate to support growth in the Coronet Bay section. However, most cores were eventually lost, being covered by sand drift due to tidal and storm events, showing that substrate instability was another factor to be considered with seagrass re-establishment efforts.

Subsequent Larger Scale Seagrass Planting

The WPSP went on to plant 1,000 seagrass plugs in a series of transects along the Coronet Bay coast in an attempt to discover the most suitable site for a larger experiment. These cores were monitored to record survival and growth. In October 2004 another 500 cores were planted in 10 rows of 50, two metres apart and at 2 metre centres. This planting was carried out where the initial trials had shown conditions were most suitable. A 10 gm dose of high potassium Osmocote was placed under each core with the objective of stimulating growth and seeding.

Some seagrass cores died, others were washed away and some smothered with sand, but many expanded from 15 cm to three metres in diameter. Seagrass produces seed in December, but no seeds were produced at these sites during the monitoring period even though seagrass seeds were found on a natural seagrass patch north of the experimental area. High potassium Osmocote continues to be injected beneath the experimental seagrass at six monthly intervals.

Sediment Stabilisation in Western Port Ramsar Area (Project 4.09)

This was a partnership project between the WPSP, the Natural Heritage Trust and the Port Phillip and Westernport Catchment Management Authority, with a $35,000 contribution from the NHT. The project was focused on the eroding NE coastline near Lang Lang and had two elements:

Seagrass Planting

Using techniques developed earlier, cores of seagrass were planted in the fine silts along the Lang Lang coastline. Although seagrass transplants had been successfully grown in these silts in an aquarium, they failed to survive in the natural environment. The twin effects of fine silts covering the transplants and ongoing poor water quality in this sector were seen as the key factors. 

Left: Seagrass plug smothered by sticky Lang Lang sediment. Photo T. Ealey WPSP
Right: Seedlings from donor site. Photo: T. Ealey WPSP

The result was consistent with predicted outcomes using a transplant site evaluation tool. No further seagrass planting will be undertaken in this part of Western Port until mobile sediment loads are reduced.

Planting Mangroves

Special techniques for planting mangrove seedlings were tested along this open section of coastline. Here waves up to 2 metres high, hit and undermine mini cliffs at the edge of the old Koo Wee Rup Swamp, causing backwash and soil slumping to occur. Approximately 4000 Mangrove seedlings from Blind Blight were transplanted to the planting area, where they were staked and tied using a variety of methods. Approximately 5000 Mangrove seeds were also collected and planted as part of the trial.

Various staking techniques resulted in survival rates between 36% and 80%, but overall there were still considerable losses due to frost and storms.

Left: Volunteers planting seedlings. Photo: T.Ealey WPSP.
Right: Dehusking mangrove seeds prior to planting. Photo: T. Ealey WPSP.

Never-the-less, some 2000 plants were still surviving at the end of the trial period. The trial also raised concerns about the effect of transplant and handling trauma, especially root damage. Smaller quantities of seedlings grown in containers appeared much healthier and were more vigorous growers, suggesting this may be the preferred source of stock for future planting trials.

Techniques used to prepare and plant seeds also showed great variability in success, with fresh stock planted immediately and to an optimal depth showing good results. Stored seeds showed signs of deterioration and loss of vigour and care was required with germinating seeds to minimize handling and planting trauma. A closer examination or techniques deployed in Shoalhaven NSW will be undertaken to improve the rate of success for future direct seeding activities. 

Final Report Project 4.09 - PDF

Improving Water Quality in Ramsar Wetland Area (Project 3786)

This was a partnership project between the Western Port Seagrass Partnership, the Bass Valley Primary School and the Australian Government Water Fund, led by Dr Tim Ealey.

The project had three key elements:

Improving water quality by planting mangroves to reduce coastal erosion.
Providing hands on educational experiences to primary school children.
Improving community awareness about the role and importance of coastal vegetation.

Apart from a regrettable incident where a vandal pulled up the first mangroves planted by the children, this project was highly successful, and has seen a marked change in community attitudes and appreciation of the role of mangroves.

Left: Dr Mangrove (Tim Ealey) holds a tray of mangrove seedlings grown by the children at Bass Valley Primary School.
Right: Bass Valley Primary School teacher Tina Mayling takes her class onto the mudflats to plant the mangroves. Photo: T.Ealey WPSP

The partnership with Bass Coast Primary School proved exceptionally good and is being used as a model to expand our engagement with other regional schools. The project also sponsored the school's Easter Fair puppet show that featured puppets created by the children on the theme of the importance of seagrass, mangroves, sea creatures and water quality to the health of Western Port.

Final Report on Project 3786 - PDF 

Intensive Mangrove Planting at the Lang Lang Cliffs (Project 7085)

This was a partnership project between the Western Port Seagrass Partnership, the Port Phillip and Westernport CMA and the National Heritage Trust.

Left: Seedlings grown in containers in greenhouse. Photo: T.Ealey, WPSP
Right: seeds that germinated in trays of seagrass. Photo: T.Ealey, WPSP

Following on from the encouraging results from the mangrove planting activities of project 4.09, this project focused on planting mangroves along the eroding coastline to the south of the Lang Lang River.

A key element of this project was to perfect improved techniques for transplanting and staking seedlings obtained from donor sites and for planting out our better quality greenhouse container grown stock. It also focused more effort on direct seed planting techniques.

A considerable amount of valuable practical information was gained from this project that will be used to ensure greater effectiveness of future mangrove planting activities. Experience to date has shown that the green house grown stock and fresh seeds provide the best return for effort.

Left: Seedling grown from direct planted seed. Photo: T. Ealey, WPSP
Right: Two year old seedlings planted in May 2005, have developed cable roots and pneumatophores, providing good anchorage . Photo: T. Ealey WPSP.

Seeds grow at a much faster rate than transplants and do not require expensive and time consuming staking. About 5,400 seedlings and 5000 seeds were planted and replaced (where lost) over the 2006/2007 period. There were significant losses but at the end of the project 1,666 plants had survived and 816 seeds had germinated with fully functioning leaves. The longer the seedlings hold on, the greater their chances of reaching maturity. The current survival rate is acceptable given natural seed survival rates, the early stages of technique development and the inhospitable nature of the environment which to date has prevented natural mangrove colonisation.

Further losses are expected due to the ravages of frost and storm events, but the WPSP is confident that enough mangroves will hold on to establish a viable and self sustaining mangrove stand. Thickening up of stands over time will also help provide the density of plants required for effective shoreline erosion protection.

Final report for project 7085 - PDF

Northern Western Port Coastal Erosion (Project MC07) - Current

In August 2007 the Melbourne Magistrate's Court accepted a guilty plea from Melbourne Water to a pollution charge bought by EPA Victoria arising from a Water Treatment plant chemical discharge to Cardinia Creek and Western Port. A fine of $90,000 was imposed, and directed to the Western Port Seagrass Partnership under the alternative sentencing provisions of the Environment Protection Act 1970, for a Coastal Erosion Project.

Left: Project area along Lang Lang Coast
Right: Sizing up the challenge!

This is the largest project undertaken yet by the WPSP and will spread across three years, with annual progress reports being provided to EPA Victoria. The target area for this project is the most challenging part of the eroding northern coast, covering the six kilometers between the Lang Lang River and Yallock Creek.

It is planned to plant three rows of mangroves at one metre intervals. This will require nearly 20,000 mangrove plants by 2010. Plants from donor sites often die unless they are very young, so their use will be minimized in future. Preference will be given to mangrove seedlings from school greenhouse projects and direct plantings of seeds. Plantings will be topped up where storm events or other factors result in losses over the 3 year period.

The preferred stock and planting methods will be varied according to success rates achieved. Greenhouse seedlings are excellent but have a 9 month delay before reaching optimum size.

In order to guarantee the supply of seedlings from schools, the WPSP will expand its school engagement program and seek additional sponsorship to facilitate this aspect of the project. In addition to schools, help has been sought from community volunteers and by contracting 10,000 plants through the Mornington Youth Enterprises Nursery.

 Volunteer John Caffa growing several hundred mangroves in his Corinella backyard   Russell Ardley at Mornington Youth Services tending his 10,000 seedlings

Left: Volunteer John Caffa growing several hundred mangroves in his Corinella backyard.
Right: Russell Ardley at Mornington Youth Services tending his 10,000 seedlings.  

EPA Media release about Magistrates Court Decision - PDF

School Engagement Program - Current

After the highly successful partnership with Bass Valley Primary School, the WPSP has endorsed a proposal by Dr Tim Ealey to approach other schools in the region and engage them in mangrove seedling growing and planting activities.

Currently the following six schools have been involved:

  • Bass Valley Primary School
  • Koo Wee Rup Primary School
  • Lang Lang Primary School
  • Newhaven College
  • Rangebank Primary School Cranbourne North
  • Fountain Gate Primary School Narre Warren

Left: Mangrove seedlings being potted at Koo Wee Rup primary school. Teacher Sheree McCurdy demonstrates method to her students.

The success of the program thus far has already attracted Parklea (South East Business Park) as a sponsor for schools in the region.

Western Port DVD Project - Current

For a limited time, register here to receive a free copy of the Western Port DVD featuring a documentary hosted by John Clarke and featuring earlier footage from the 1970s and 80s.  Please note, this offer is available to Australian residents only.  International queries and multiple copies can be requested via email to and these education guides can be downloaded and used in conjunction with the DVD:

WPSP DVD - Higher Education Guide
WPSP DVD - Teachers Guide

A Story That Needed Telling

Western Port and its catchment has many special features, many of which are rarely seen, understood or appreciated by the millions of people who travel through the region each year. Similarly there is a low level of understanding about some of the damage that has been done to this unique ecosystem and ongoing threatening processes that need to be addressed.

The WPSP strongly believes it must build public awareness and knowledge of these special features and threatening processes as a first step in achieving an appreciation of Western Port and a consequential desire to protect and restore the bay. This is not an easy or inexpensive task, but the Western Port Seagrass Partnership is fortunate in having a director who has the skills, passion and dedication to take on such a task. John Clarke, who is not only a highly respected media personality and recent inductee into the Logies Hall of Fame, but also a passionate environmentalist with a love of Western Port.

Making of the DVD

John Clarke has undertaken the major task of producing a DVD that not only will help promote Western Port's special features and issues, but will also contain a wealth of reference material and documentaries made about Western Port. We have also been fortunate in having generous sponsorship for this project by ESSO, one of several large companies operating from Hastings.

Even with this assistance, the task of making this DVD would have been impossible had it not been for the voluntary and heavily discounted services provided by the network of technical experts that John Clarke has been able to enjoin into this project. We also wish to thank the many regional and scientific leaders who agreed to participate in the making of the DVD and shared their experiences, knowledge and views about this wonderful bay. The DVD was completed in 2008 and will be released in 2009.

Left: Cameraman Darren Jones filming Tim Ealey as he explains coastal erosion process. Photo: J. Clarke WPSP.
Right: Filming the little champions from Bass valley Primary School doing their bit to save seagrasses. Photo: J.Clarke WPSP

DVD Content

The DVD tells the story of how Western Port developed as a ‘sunk land' thousands of years ago and how this gave it its physical character. It covers the consequent richness of the natural world in the area, its diversity and national and global significance in plant and animal life, in the sea, in the air and on the ground. It tells of the human history of the area and its impact on the natural world.

It explains the crucial importance of the quality of water entering the bay from the catchment. It covers the problems currently facing the bay, sedimentation, erosion and pressure from human population, taking into account that the further consequences of global warming may be radical in an intertidal environment.

It explores the way forward. What is being done and what needs to be done to save this rich natural world and the roles to be taken by individuals, schools, organisations and governments.

The DVD will be free and also features the following documentaries as extras:
A Bay in the Balance - 1975
Western Port The Catchment - 1980
Western Port The Islands - 1980
Western Port The Eco-system - 1980
An extended version of the 7.30 Report story featuring our own Dr. Mangrove


Receive a free DVD. Register here and receive a free copy of the Western Port DVD. Includes a documentary hosted by John Clarke and earlier footage from the 1970s and 80s. This DVD is the comprehensive Western Port package. Offer available to Australian residents only. International queries and multiple copies can be requested via email to

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Western Port Seagrass Partnership would like to thank ESSO Australia Pty Ltd for its sponsorship of Western Port Cherished and Challenged DVD.

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