Under the surface: Indigenous empowerment project studies rare bay habitat
- Deakin has partnered with researchers at EnviroDNA, Melbourne Water, Wadawurrung Traditional Owners Corporation and the Bunurong Land Council Aboriginal Corporation for an eDNA project that records biodiversity in soft sediment environments within Port Phillip Bay.
- eDNA refers to genetic material that is collected from environmental samples rather than organisms themselves.
- The research aims to shed new light on the biodiversity of soft-sediment communities in the Bay.
Local science and environment groups are investigating a rarely-studied habitat in Port Phillip Bay and equipping the region’s Traditional Owners with the skills to carry out environmental DNA (eDNA) sampling.
Deakin University has partnered with researchers at EnviroDNA, Melbourne Water, Wadawurrung Traditional Owners Corporation and the Bunurong Land Council Aboriginal Corporation for an eDNA project that records biodiversity in soft sediment environments within the bay.
The project will use eDNA assessment methods to analyse the wildlife living in sand and below.
eDNA refers to genetic material that is collected from environmental samples rather than organisms themselves.
Invertebrates and microorganisms that live in the soft sediment environments shed traces of their DNA that can be collected and analysed from simple environmental samples such as water and sediment.
These give an indication as to what organisms are living in a particular area.
Deakin University School of Life and Sciences Associate Professor Craig Sherman said the research aimed to shine new light on the little-known habitats.
“I think parts of the bay that get a lot of focus and attention tend to be the ones like the kelp forests, the rocky reefs and the seagrass, which are really important habitats.
“But soft sediment environments are really underappreciated and understudied.
“The eDNA technology will establish the biodiversity of the soft sediment communities and that will be compared to other habitats around the bay, such as seagrass and near reef communities, to understand and contrast how similar or different those communities are.”
He said the findings would also provide baseline data for researchers to chart change to biodiversity in those environments; both positive changes and negative ones caused by climate change or other impacts from human activities.
The program also built on existing relationships project partners had with Traditional Owners – the waterway managers and environmental water holders on Country – in future stages of the program.
The eDNA project was one of three that Deakin received funding for in the past financial year.
The other two were $89,265 for an initiative aimed at improving ocean literacy at 100 primary schools surrounding the bay, and $90,721 for a Kelping the Bay project to future proof golden kelp seaweed populations by establishing a long-term seed bank.
Southern Ocean Environment Link also received the maximum $100,000 to progress a pollution project that aimed to remove microplastics from the bay and other citizen science projects, and $25,000 for a camera network aimed at raising awareness in schools of key species.
Other local projects included a community education program about the Bay’s environmental values from Bellarine Bayside Foreshore Committee of Management, and an Indented Head weed eradication and replanting program from Bellarine North Rotary Club.
The state government’s Port Phillip Bay Fund delivered $1.6 million across 28 projects aimed at improving the marine environment’s health, habitatand wildlife.
Environment Minister Ingrid Stitt said last month the cash would support volunteers and community groups passionate about protecting one of Victoria’s most treasured ecosystems.
“Port Phillip Bay is facing a range of environmental pressures and this funding will help groups and researchers who are tackling problems including pollution and climate change.
“Victoria is fortunate to have so many dedicated volunteers and not-for-profit groups that are working hard to preserve our marine and coastal environments.”
About Associate Professor Craig Sherman
Associate Professor Sherman is Associate Head of School (Research and Industry Engagement) at Deakin’s School of Life and Environmental Sciences and a member of the Deakin Marine Research and Innovation Centre (Deakin Marine). He co-leads Deakin Marine’s EcoGenetics Lab, which explores evolutionary processes that shape patterns of biodiversity, environmental resilience, and the ability of native and invasive species and ecosystems to adapt to environmental change.
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Deakin has partnered with researchers at EnviroDNA, Melbourne Water, Wadawurrung Traditional Owners Corporation and the Bunurong Land Council Aboriginal Corporation for an eDNA project that records biodiversity in soft sediment environments within Port Phillip Bay.