A long-standing and active member of the Ocean Grove community, Noel Emselle, vice-president of the Friends of Marine Discovery Centre in Queenscliff, discusses his vision for a boardwalk on the Ocean Grove side of the Barwon River.
MANY people in our community who travel around Australia and overseas must have come across a special place or a piece of infrastructure that would fit perfectly into the Ocean Grove/Bellarine natural environment experience.
Personally, I have been impressed by many of the national parks that I have visited where one is able to get up close to the flora and wildlife on defined trails and boardwalks or guided boat tours.
As a keen recreational kayaker and a supporter of the educational efforts of Parks Victoria, the Corangamite Catchment Management Authority and the DEPI Marine and Freshwater Discovery Centre, I am familiar with the Barwon River and Lake Connewarre wetlands and fully in support of the protection of the local and migratory bird life mandated under the Ramsar treaty. The mangroves and coastal saltmarsh are also critical in the life-cycle of the fish some love to hunt in the estuary and out at sea.
We have this under-appreciated natural jewel on our doorstop and I fear that uncontrolled access by fishers, birdies and power craft will have negative effects on the mangroves and the coastal saltmarsh to the west of our town. Even the users of paddle craft who venture up the river or into the wetlands drainage channels have the potential to damage the mangrove breathing roots, and to trample sensitive saltmarsh plants if they attempt to beach their craft and disembark. I believe we can do more to inform the public about Ramsar and the threats to the wetland habitat from indiscriminate access, by giving them limited access to a small, but typical, area under controlled conditions.
I can imagine a win-win solution if the government used some of our taxes (through Parks Victoria) to provide a nature appreciation trail through a section of mangrove and into the coastal saltmarsh to access bird observation spots and fishing platforms along the eastern tidal channel. It would provide passive recreation for walkers and opportunities to interpret the features of the Ramsar wetland and the reasons for its establishment. It would also give better access to parks management and volunteers to work on weed and feral animal control.
I would also like to see Parks or CoGG invest in better paddle craft launch facilities on the Ocean Grove side of the estuary for outdoor education groups and the public with interpretive signage and instructions about safety and behaviour in the wetlands.
The 2003 Strategic Management Plan for the Barwon Estuary provides an excellent basis for planning a nature trail. Initially there would need to be an Environment Assessment Report but as a layman, I would start with the area between the golf course and the eastern drainage channel. I can imagine a boardwalk commencing at the boat ramp where there is already parking and other facilities. These photos of the popular 1.75km Merimbula Top Lake Boardwalk give some idea of the potential. Closer examples of boardwalks through wetlands can be seen at Coogoorah Park in Anglesea and Edwards Point near St Leonards.
At the moment the attention of Parks Vic is on the Barwon Heads side of the river with a well-planned (but as yet not funded) major extension to the trail north of Sheepwash Rd. Residents of both towns should support the completion of the project. I hope that robust public discussion will lead to a request by our politicians to the authorities to seriously consider a complimentary project on the Ocean Grove side.
I invite readers to make comments that would protect the Ramsar-listed environment, educate tourists, and improve quality of life for the fish, birds, and our residents.