Students from Braemar College, Hawkesdale College, Matthew Flinders SC and Warrnambool College gathered for a three day study camp at Apollo Bay, near the Otway National Park. After meeting at the Apollo Bay Eco Beach YHA we walked to Marriner’s Lookout, which allows a beautiful 180 degree view over Apollo Bay, framed by headlands on each side. From there we travelled to Paradise, a little spot on the Aire River, where soft tree ferns grow to over three metres tall. Much of the surrounding land is agricultural, giving us opportunities to discuss different management practices on farms. One of the properties we travelled through showed how erosion effects waterways that have not been fenced to exclude cattle. Cattle trample the riparian zone, muddy the water and add nitrogen pollution in the form of urine and faeces. A better strategy to protect the waterway is to fence the stream, provide an alternative water source and plant a diverse range of shrubs and trees along the riparian zone. This has many ecological benefits as well as adding value to the farm and protecting stock from wind and weather.
On Monday we drove to the Otway Tree Top Walk and were guided through the rainforest by passionate conservationist, Nathan Swain. Nathan introduced us to two of the iconic rainforest species, Nothofagus cunninghamii (Beech Myrtle) and Eucalyptus regnans (Mountain Ash), explaining their roles in the ecosystem. In the afternoon we met Bruce from Otway Ecotours at Forrest, a tiny mountain hamlet surrounded by wet schlerophyll forest. We had just enough time to seek out a geocache, cleverly concealed at the Forrest Playground. If you have never heard of geocaching, it is like a cross between orienteering and a treasure hunt, using your mobile phone. A free app gives the locations of hidden objects within a known radius. Inside you might find small cards from previous successful visitors, tiny trinkets or messages.
We drove down to Lake Elizabeth and while one group walked around the lake, another group donned PFD’s and stepped into Canadian canoes. The lake was formed about sixty years ago and still has dead gum trees standing in the water. We saw at least three different platypus, as close as three metres away. It was quite magical seeing these unusual mammals in the wild, at dusk. On the walk back we were lucky enough to see some glow-worms.
On Tuesday morning we drove out to the Cape Otway Ecology Conservation Centre, to meet Shane, Lizzy and Marie. The centre is used for research, primarily into the rare spot-tailed quoll (Dasyurus maculatus), as well as captive-breeding, wildlife rehabilitation and luxury accommodation. They are also training dogs to seek out quoll ‘latrines’ – places where the quoll mark their territory by leaving their faeces. There has been no confirmed sighting of the spot-tailed quoll in the wild in Victoria for many years, although quite recently a ‘scat’ was found which has been positively identified.
You may have read recently that a spot tailed quoll has been positively identified using remote cameras in the Grampians, for the first time in 141 years. Ben Holmes (quoted in The Age article) was the Victorian Parks ranger who spoke to us about the fox baiting program during our trip to Hall’s Gap in July.