ISLAND REFUGE - South Gippsland

About the property

An island of hope

The Nooramunga Trust Ltd. has committed to the acquisition of a private island within the sheltered estuary waters of Corner Inlet, South Gippsland. 

Little Dog Island is located within the Nooramunga Marine and Coastal Park, near Port Albert.

Framed by the dramatic granite peaks of Wilsons Promontory to the south and the rolling hills of South Gippsland to the north, the 150-acre island sits within the Corner Inlet Ramsar site, a Wetland of International Importance.

The landscape represents an outstanding example of coastal saltmarsh, one of Victoria’s most distinctive ecological communities found only within inter-tidal zones where there are suitable mudflats sheltered from the sea. 

Saltmarsh ecosystems have suffered extensive degradation along the Victorian coastline and the remaining habitat requires committed protection.  

This purchase will do just that. 

Read more about the special features and the management plan and team below.

Distinctive ecology

The Little Dog Island property contains an outstanding representation of estuarine plant communities dominated by distinctive succulent plant species that have evolved special adaptations to cope with the extreme environment of high salt levels, water-logged soils and periodic disturbance.

Saltmarsh communities include a range of different habitats, including Mangrove wetlands and saline meadows that are important fish habitat, as well as grasslands, sedgelands and estuarine shrublands. 

The property provides suitable habitat for many threatened fauna species, including fish, migratory waders, small mammals and reptiles. 

A safe winter haven for the Orange-bellied parrot

Little Dog Island is ideally positioned to enhance the  Orange-bellied Parrot (OBP) recovery program.

OBPs have only one known breeding site, Melaleuca in south-western Tasmania (image top right shows viewing hide in Melaleuca). Each winter, the birds leave these grounds to seek out habitat on the thin coastal strip from East Gippsland to the Coorong in South Australia.

Fewer than 20 adult birds were found in the wild five years ago, with the Tasmanian Government and other groups now actively breeding and releasing OBPs in the hope of saving the species. In 2020, the government program saw 40 OBPs return to their breeding grounds.

Just 150k west of Little Dog Island, researchers and experts from the award-winning Moonlit Sanctuary have bred over 230 OBPs, providing over 140 birds for release on Tasmania and the mainland. At the start of the 2020/21 breeding season, the returning population reached 51 individuals and at the end, there were 192 OBPs at Melaleuca prior to their annual migration.

Historically, OBPs have been seen in South Gippsland, with Little Dog Island offering ideal habitat and protection from predators such as foxes and feral cats.

Photo top left (OBP) with thanks to Ross Tsai and, top right, with thanks to Ron Knight.

WATER & migratory bird DESTINATION

Little Dog Island is strategically located amongst a complex of islands and estuaries within Corner Inlet, which is estimated to support approximately 20% of the Victorian migratory wader population.

Every year, a wide variety of wader bird species also travel from their summer breeding grounds in the far northern hemisphere to the coastal wetlands of south-eastern Australia, a one-way trip of over 10,000 kilometres. While in Australia, these birds spend their time feeding in mudflat and saltmarsh habitats and must fatten up sufficiently in order to travel home to breed.

Visitors include the critically-endangered:

  • Far Eastern Curlew
  • Curlew Sandpiper
  • Bar-tailed Godwit
  • Great Knot

Endangered:

  • Lesser Sand Plover
  • Red Knot
  • Brittle Star

And Vulnerable Hooded Plover

The island environment will allow the team to restrict access by feral animals, giving local and migratory species the ability to feed without competition and roost without fear. The team will also consider re-instating facilities on the island to encourage research and bird watching.

Photo credits. Top: Double-banded plovers by Ed Dunens. Middle: Red-necked Stint by Laurie Boyle. Bottom: Bar-tailed Godwits by Sue.

Blue carbon ecosystem

Blue carbon is the name given to coastal and marine habitats that store carbon above ground in plants or below ground in soils and sediment.

Researchers believe that these coastal wetlands can capture carbon two to four times faster than forests on land and, if undisturbed, can store large amounts, helping mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Blue carbon hasn’t always been part of the climate change story, but government bodies and climate change experts are increasingly recognising its importance. The Australian Government has put a comprehensive plan in place and developed new methods of calculating the amount of carbon that can be sequestered when tidal zones are returned to their natural state. This has also opened up opportunities for local farmers to get blue carbon credits. 

Economic Dimensions

As part of a natural capital approach, the team recognises the economic dimensions of private land conservation and seeks to ensure that acquisitions contribute to the local economy and community.

In the case of Little Dog Island, Corner Inlet attracts thousands of recreational fishers each year and is one of Victoria’s oldest professional fisheries, providing around 450 tonnes of fresh seafood to the community each year.

The mudflats, mangroves and seagrass meadows in and around the island provide food and shelter for fish and fish nurseries.

This acquisition also ties into other marine conservation initiatives underway, including the Yarram Yarram Landcare Network’s efforts to replenish 200 hectares of seagrass, which is a key player in the blue carbon story.

The exercise will recover more habitat for fish species, improve water quality and the productivity of Corner Inlet.

THE ISLand TEAM

The team behind the acquisition are recognised leaders in private and public land conservation across Victoria.

Among them is Tim D’Ombrain and Karl Just, who together have over 40 years’ experience in surveying, mapping and managing remnant vegetation and ecological restoration. Tim and Karl first identified the island’s environmental values (see opposite), alerting other parties to the sale.

Joining them is Federation University paleoecologist Professor Peter Gell, Rendere Trust and EcoGipps Strategic Director, Jim Phillipson, Natural Capital Manager, Loulou Gebbie and Carbon Landscape’s co-director, Dr Steve Enticott.

EXPERT OPINION

The acquisition team drew on Tim and Karl’s expertise to assess the significance and environmental values of the island.

“Little Dog Island contains an outstanding representation of estuarine plant communities and suitable habitat for many threatened species.

“A day-long survey revealed that the property features at least six Ecological Vegetation Classes, including Wet Saltmarsh Herbland, Estuarine Flats Grassland, Estuarine Scrub, Sea-grass Meadow, Saline Aquatic Meadow and Mangrove Shrubland as well as extensive areas of a federally-listed ecological community.

“Coastal Saltmarsh communities are under increasing pressure from multiple threatening processes, including coastal developments, rising sea levels and weed invasion. This purchase is therefore of strategic importance in protecting more saltmarsh habitats within a well-managed reserve system. If the island is not purchased for conservation, it is alternatively likely to be purchased for the use of agriculture or recreation, which would be fully supported by the current zoning for farming.”

INVESTMENT MODEL

Biolinked investments

The Nooramunga Trust Ltd. is associated with the Rendere Trust and EcoGipps, which started life as a series of covenanted properties in the Avon wilderness region of Victoria.

The venture was so successful that EcoGipps is now transitioning to a not-for-profit organisation to give others the opportunity to participate in private land conservation.

Little Dog Island represented an opportunity for like-minded organisations to work together and bring other investors and collaborators into the project to protect and enhance the island’s natural capital potential.