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Posted on 29/12/2020 by Phillip Island Nature Parks

Nature Parks Board update – December 2020

The Phillip Island Nature Parks Board met in October and December to discuss a range of issues and opportunities, and continue its ongoing review of policies, compliance responsibilities and strategic planning as set out under its governance framework. The highlights of these meetings are outlined below.

Progress in Conservation
The Nature Parks 30 Year Conservation Vision and the 5 Year Conservation Plan were released in mid-2019 and the Board was presented with a progress report following the first year of implementation.

Some of the key highlights were outlined as follows:
• Threatened Species plan was developed and consultation commenced on the potential reintroduction of the Bush Stone Curlew to Phillip Island.
• Penguin feeding hotspots and diet studies were concluded that will support future work in marine special planning and marine environmental protection decisions.
• Phillip Island has been recognised under the Distinctive Areas and Landscapes Act 2018 which will provide planning protections to Phillip Island’s beautiful landscapes. Our partners at the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, and Bass Coast Shire Council have worked with the community to lead this initiative.
• The Nature Parks Retail and Food and Beverage outlets have transitioned to sustainable product and packaging.
• 18 research projects have been published in 2019-20.

The Board noted that the over the past 9 months deployment of the Nature Parks tourism team to conservation activities has also helped to progress many of the revegetation and weed control initiatives.

Deployment teams from across departments have worked together on several projects including building and site maintenance such as cleaning and painting, weed control, assisting with fire management programs, revegetation, planting a new garden entry at Barb Martin Bushbank, wildlife data analysis, collating survey results and more.
In total, our team has rehabilitated over 26.4 hectares of habitat with 36,246 plants in the ground, undertaken weed control on over 145 hectares of Crown land, and removed Sea-spurge across the entire Nature Parks coastline, along with tackling other environmental weeds.

The Board acknowledged the significant progress made in this plan’s first full year, and look forward to continuing success.

Recognising our Government’s Support
The Board voiced its appreciation for the funding support provided by the State Government, as announced in May. The $8.8 million funding package has enabled the Nature Parks to retain over 180 existing permanent staff, and achieve some strong environmental outcomes through its deployment activities. As a State Government entity, Nature Parks staff were not eligible for JobKeeper, so the support for regional jobs was most welcome.

Visitor Attractions re-opened
The Board endorsed plans to re-open the Nature Parks’ visitor attractions in line with the roadmap to recovery, and the further easing of restrictions in late November. The Penguin Parade, Koala Conservation Reserve, Churchill Island and Antarctic Journey have now returned to daily opening in time for the busy holiday season. The Board noted that maximum visitor capacity increased appropriately throughout October, November and December, as we continue to move through the roadmap to COVID normal.

Strategy for a COVIDSafe Summer
The Board noted the extensive planning which had been undertaken to prepare for a COVIDSafe summer in the Nature Parks managed beaches and reserves.

In addition to traditional planning activities around fire prevention, wildlife monitoring and protection, and ranger patrols of our beaches and reserves, the Board noted the collaborative approach of the Nature Parks, Bass Coast Shire Council, VicPol, and Woolamai Beach Surf Life Saving Club to ensure visitor safety for summer.

The Board also noted the collaboration between the Nature Parks, Bass Coast Shire Council, VicPol and the Phillip Island Dog Owners’ Association, encouraging and educating visitors and local community members alike to share our very special public spaces with each other, our canine companions, and our unique wildlife, for the enjoyment of all.

Marketing Strategy
The Board reviewed the Nature Parks marketing strategy, which recognises the need to focus on the domestic market for the foreseeable future, given the status of international travel and visitation. The Board received a presentation on the Nature Parks key domestic markets and the short term marketing activities, allowing the Nature Parks to best position itself to engage with and attract a domestic audience in a very different tourism and travel landscape.

The Board received an update on the development of the Nature Parks’ brand story, identified as one of the key elements required to successfully deliver future marketing activities. The brand story framework will capture and articulate the authentic and compelling elements of the Nature Parks’ tourism and conservation activities, to attract, inspire and educate our target markets.

Koalas – Bushfire Survivors
The Board received an update on the recent wild release of 14 koalas rescued during last summer’s devastating bushfires. After undergoing initial care at Healesville Sanctuary, the koalas spent up to 10 months in the purpose-built rehab pens and semi-wild recovery facilities at the Koala Conservation Reserve on Phillip Island, being monitored daily for their physical wellbeing as well as their behavioural attributes.

The Board noted the collaborative effort between the Nature Parks, Zoos Victoria, the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, Parks Victoria and Federation University, resulting in the koalas being released over two weekends in late November and early December, into suitable habitat in East Gippsland.

Animal Ethics Committee annual report
The Animal Ethics Committee is charged with providing oversight of all matters relating to the care and use of animals for scientific research purposes by the Nature Parks. It also provides advice to the Board on research and animal welfare matters. The Board thanks Committee Chair Dr Jenny Hibble for presenting the annual report on the Committee’s activities, and the Animal Ethics Committee for giving their time to help strengthen the Nature Parks’ research programs.