About this episode

Connecting with the environment has been shown to have positive effects on physical, social, and mental health. In this episode, Ranger Meagan takes us on a walk on Phillip Island. Conservation Manager Jessica McKelson talks about “dreaming big” when it comes to protecting nature and gives insights into how everyone can connect with the environment and contribute to caring for our world.


Behind the scenes videos

Watch the footage captured during the recording of this podcast episode on our Instagram story highlights.

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Transcript

Skye

This is “Nature Unfiltered,” where you meet our team, hear their stories, and become inspired to protect nature for wildlife in your own corner of the world.

Meagan

Hello and welcome to Nature Unfiltered. I'm Meagan.

Skye

And I'm Skye and we are from Phillip Island Nature Parks, which is a not-for-profit conservation organization. So, when you come and visit us at any of our sites and attractions, the money that you spend on a ticket goes directly to funding the important conservation research and education work that we do.

Meagan

And Phillip Island is also known as Millowl, and Millowl is the traditional lands of the Bunurong of the Kulin nation. So, I would just like to take a moment to acknowledge the Bunurong and their elders past present and emerging as the traditional custodians of the land that we are on today. And any traditional custodians of the land that you might be listening on, or any traditional custodians that might be listening to us today.

Skye

Now today is a very special episode, isn't it Meagan?

Meagan

It is.

Skye

And it's because it is in honour of the Nature Festival, the Victoria Nature Festival and what the festival is about is it's about connecting with nature. Isn't it, Meagan?

Meagan

Yeah.

Skye

So, it's happening right now. It's on right at this very moment, it's gone from September the 11th and it's going until the 26th of September this year, 2021. And it's about helping people understand that their personal wellbeing and the wellbeing of others really relies on the health of our natural environment. So, we're going to be talking this episode about trying to remind you to get out into nature. Get into your local wildlife area. Go bird spotting perhaps. What else Meagan?

Meagan

Oh, there are so many things. Just taking a moment to, you know, have a look at a flower or maybe learn the name of a plant or an animal that you haven't really taken the time to learn anything about.

Skye

Yeah. Take some deep breaths in. Get a little bit of sunshine and get into nature.

Meagan

Have a listen as well.

Skye

Listen. Yeah. Shut your eyes and have a little listen. We really just want you to connect with nature. And that's what we're going to be talking about all episode today here on Nature Unfiltered, but here on Millowl, on Phillip Island, it is spring Meagan. And what does that mean for nature here?

Meagan

Well, spring means that love is in the air. In particular birds all over the island are starting to breed, making their nests, a little bit of courtship going on. So, our hooded plovers are nesting on our beaches. Penguin breeding season is in full spring. In full spring? Swing. So, penguins will be sitting on eggs, chicks will be hatching. They'll be coming back to feed those chicks. So, it's a great time to head out and see some little fluffy penguin chicks. And we also have our majestic Pacific Gull which are coming from the islands off Wilson's Prom, where they've hatched and raised their chicks. And they'll be coming out here to feed. And we also have some migratory shorebirds starting to arrive.

So, we have sandpipers, curlews, godwits, plovers, knots and stints, pretty funny names, and you might not have heard of them. So now is a great time of year to, you know, get out along the coast, and look for some of those migratory shorebirds that are coming from sometimes the other side of the world.

Skye

And say that 10 times quickly.

Meagan

I've said it once, that's enough.

Skye

Oh, how exciting. It's a lovely time to be here on Millowl, isn't it?

Meagan

Definitely, there's so much going on. If you're an avid bird watcher or if you just want to get out and see some pretty cool birds, I would definitely recommend coming, going for a walk, getting out in nature, and seeing what we have to offer.

Skye

So, Meagan, our special guest today on this episode of Nature Unfiltered for the Victoria Nature Festival is Jessica McKelson who is the Conservation Manager here at Phillip Island Nature Parks.

Meagan

And Jess is an absolute wealth of knowledge so I'm looking forward to hearing what she had to say. Let's have a listen.

Skye

All right. So, I'm here with Jessica McKelson who is the Conservation Manager at Phillip Island Nature Parks. How are you going, Jess?

Jessica

Good thanks, Skye. Thanks for having me.

Skye

Oh, pleasure. We are so honoured to have you on our podcast for this special episode of Nature Unfiltered. Now, can you please just describe your role at Nature Parks? What does a day in the life of your role look like?

Jessica

It's a great question. So, I, as you know, am the conservation manager of the Nature Parks crown land, which is about 1800 hectares of beautiful, natural coastal and woodlands environments. And, on my team, I have 36 staff and we oversee the environment and also the research, so the science. So, we're quite evidence-led in what we're doing and our approach to how we manage our land and our species. That includes Little Penguins, Australian Fur Seals, and Short-tailed Shearwaters.

Skye

Yeah, fantastic.

Jessica

A lot of the role that I do is quite strategic and, although it sounds glamorous and I'd love to be out every day, getting my hands dirty out in the field with my environment rangers or working with some of my Science Technical Officers, a lot of my time is actually unfortunately spent in the office. And even though like I said, sounds glamorous, it's actually probably quite important. So, I spend a lot of my time on ensuring that the team has all their needs catered for so we can actually get the job done both operationally, but also strategically. And making sure that our measures of success are being met in the field, reporting on them, broadcasting these more broadly across our business organization, working with a lot of external stakeholders and sponsors, and donors to also highlight the great work that the team is doing. And I also spend quite a lot of time writing a number of policies and governance-based work.

Skye

Yeah. Wow. So, it sounds like a really complicated job, and it involves a lot of thinking across a lot of different areas, right?

Jessica

Yeah, it does. Well, I have a fantastic role in that I get to think quite visionary. So, you know, I'm led by taking risks at times and going, oh, you know, so I will debate with the team. You know, what about if we go and do this, for example, or, we might go out and work with some of the seals during the day and what's that going to look like? What else can we do while we're out there? So, a lot of time I do have the pleasure of dreaming big.

Skye

There's a lot of creativity in the conservation space, isn't there?

Jessica

There is. And there are no boundaries or borders to do with conservation. So, what excites me about the role is that I'm able to think big and also come up with some really cool strategies with the rest of the team on how we are going to meet those dreams, essentially, so we can protect our beautiful natural world for future generations to come.

Skye

Oh, I love it. I love to hear about it. And so, you're in the office a lot at the moment you're saying, but that hasn't always been the case. In the past, you've had a lot of jobs where you've got your hands very, very dirty. So, this nature festival is all about connecting with nature, how important is that to you and how do you make sure that you stay connected to nature?

Jessica

Alright. For me, it's one of those soul-driving experiences. When I need to take some time out of the office, I have the most amazing, fortunate opportunity to step right out the back door and take a walk down through the penguin habitat, collect my thoughts, connect with that particular natural experience while I start to problem solve or critically think about some certain challenges in our environment.

I also love to participate in a lot of my team's activities. So, we have a lot of team days where we go plant some plants, we might pull out weeds or for example, I will go and spend some time with the Penguin Technical Officers in the field. Cause I really love getting my hands dirty and there's nothing better than putting your hands down a penguin burrow and get absolutely filthy by the end of the day, full of penguin poop. So, for me, it's really important to connect. Not only sit in the office, but I have a very good relationship with my team and practically and operationally able to get out when I need to get out. And it's also really important for my mental health and wellbeing.

And I have spent my whole career working with wildlife or out in natural environments in forests and coastal environments. And so, for me having that earth connection or that water connection, gives me that inspiration, and I suppose that motivation to come back to that office or come back and do the boring things as most people would say, but are just as critically important as what we do in the field. So yeah, I love getting out with my team. I love even being shown something different or being able to be really connected in that sense. Not only with my team, but also, I have my little thing where I'm able to get out and escape when I need to.

Skye

Yeah. Yeah. And sort of seeing the fruits of the work that you are doing, seeing what you are working to protect must be really rewarding.

Jessica

Yeah. That was one example, the other day Skye that I was really encouraged is I did my first walk from Berrys beach to Pyramid Rock. It's an amazing coastal nature walk that's here on Phillip Island. And I just did this walk on a sunny afternoon and I was just blown away by how beautiful that landscape is and just felt so proud that we were able to provide this for people to experience and explore. And that natural landscape, it's really quite delicate work and we live in a fragile environment, so I found that really rewarding to see that. And that's a part where I'm like, “Yes, this work is super important.”

Skye

Yeah. This is why we do it.

Jessica

This is why we're here.

Skye

Ah, fantastic. So, uh, what would you recommend to any listeners who perhaps feel like that natural connection is missing in their life?

Jessica

I recommend that the first thing they need to do is get out and explore their backyard. Now, if they're feeling like they need that connection like I did on the weekend actually is I got into the garden and just got my hands dirty, but secondly, I recommend that they go for just a bushwalk or go to the ocean to sit there, go for a swim. Find what works for them and that's close by and then do it, you know, a small little walk or a hike, or just take a pair of binoculars and go look for birds. And just get outside no matter how miserable the weather might be. Don't make an excuse. It's really important. And you know, you don't have to exercise, you don't have to achieve, and it's not a competition it's just getting out and opening your eyes up to something different.

Skye

Having a breath. Yeah. All right. So, do you have any memorable stories from your time getting out into nature here on Phillip Island?

Jessica

I do remember the 2019-2020 bushfires just before COVID had hit. And we took on 12 koalas that were impacted by the bushfires. And that whole 10 months of full rehabilitation and focus for me was highly memorable because it helped encourage me to get out and not only give back to those animals but also give back to a time that was really challenging when we're dealing with COVID and sort of working through those different spaces. So, for me, the most memorable part of my work was being able to release those animals back to where they came from, but also contributing to that larger picture of conservation and telling the story that those fires were really significant on our natural environment.

Skye

Absolutely. Absolutely. So, you've had a really varied career and we haven't really gone into that today, what would you recommend to anyone wanting to follow in your career for footsteps? So, you might need to give us a little bit of background.

Jessica

Yup. So, my background started working in a zoo environment. And I did that for quite a number of years, like 13 years. And I decided that was just not for me anymore. I grew out of that. So, I took my adventures overseas. And I worked with primates of all things overseas and lived for six years- what I thought would be one year ended up being nearly six years before I took on this role here at Nature Parks and came home.

And so, for me, it was about believing in myself and not giving up. Surrounding myself with some really good positive mentors and people that are going to challenge you both physically and mentally to work through different spaces that you're not usually prepared for. Not something that you can learn at university either.

The other thing that I would try to encourage people to is to volunteer. I spent a lot of my time volunteering doing a number of things for Landcare. I'd go and volunteer on just community open days. I volunteered a lot of my time internationally on a number of projects. That for me was really rewarding and helped set up then great networking and foundations to land roles that I wanted to do and not what I thought that I needed to do.

So being really clear about what I wanted to do. And of course, I learned a lot of things about myself that I really enjoyed, like developing strategies. So, when I came and had this role at Nature Parks, I was really excited to deliver our 30-year conservation vision for the Nature Parks. And like I said before, dream big, but also the five-year conservation plan that's going to help us get to where we want to go. And following on from that our threatened species plan, which is about bringing species back from the brink.

Skye

Yes, which is just incredible. Yeah.

Jessica

And then you find those spaces that you really love working in. And, I think at the end of the day, making sure you have the right people around you that can encourage that at all times.

Skye

Oh, fantastic. So very last question is what are some good things that our listeners can do to help protect nature?

Jessica

It's just very easy. We over-complicate things, Skye. I think some of the things we can do, so if you are a beach walker like me and I do like to walk my dogs to the beach, I take a rubbish bag and pick up rubbish along the way. Simple things as a consumer in our life that we can do, like looking at the foods we eat, looking at the timbers we buy, and it can just go from there to wanting to go and volunteer for an organization.

But the best thing that people can do is support those that are doing the right thing. So doing your research and getting out amongst nature and if you see someone doing something that could be just littering, just ask them politely, "do you mind picking it up?" So, we have an amazing role to educate and inspire people, but it's not anyone's job to do that. It's all of our responsibility.

Skye

Yep. Everyone working together can make it happen. Well, thank you so much for talking to us today.

Jessica

Thanks for listening Skye.

Skye

Alright, bye. Alright, it's that time of the podcast where we issue a challenge to each other. And last episode, I issued you a challenge, Meagan, and actually, I think I was pretty nice to you.

Meagan

I appreciate you see how hard I work, and I got to do something not too difficult.

Skye

So, I felt like Meagan's been working really hard and I wanted her just to slow down for a moment to take a moment to smell the roses or smell the wattle, perhaps, and get out into nature, connect. So, I asked her to just head out to our reserves, perhaps spot some birds, notice the flowers, listen, just connect with nature. That's what I asked you to do.

Meagan

Definitely. And I had a fantastic time. Do you want to have a bit of a listen?

Skye

Love to.

Meagan

Let's see how I went. Hi, it's Meagan here and I'm ready to complete my challenge to get out and enjoy nature. So, I'm here at Rhyll Inlet and I'm going to do a bit of a walk, look for some birdlife, see how many different types of bird I can identify, look for some different types of plants and hopefully identify some of the uses for some of those plants. Let's get going. Okay, so right at the start of the walk, and already off in the distance, I can see a wallaby. There's a whole heap of birds out there as well.

I think we have a whole heap of Sacred Ibis or White Ibis, Australian Ibis. I think there are a few different names. There's something over here in the grass. That's what I thought it was, it's a balloon with a ribbon attached and I'm going to pick this up and take it with me cause if this ends up out there in the ocean, that's a real big hazard for our marine life.

Now here we have quite a big stand of bracken fern. And you might think of these being a bit of a weed in your garden, but the bracken fern was actually quite useful for the Aboriginal people. If you break off the stem, you can actually use the sap to put on insect bites and help soothe them so if any mosquitoes get me out here, I know what to do.

It's quite beautiful out there. I can hear some masked lapwings. I can also see a few Black Swans out there in the water. I believe I've got myself another Bush food. We've got some bower spinach. So, this one, I think it's meant to taste just like regular spinach, but a little bit salty because it lives on the coast. Hmm. Bit salty Hope no animals peed on that.

Let me see a few different types of plants now. So here we have some banksia. The cones, no flowers at the moment, but I know that the indigenous people used to put the flowering cones in water to make a type of cordial. Let's see, some old ones on the ground that they might've used to carry fire. I've heard even maybe used those as a bit of a straw to help filter water. Pretty cool.

Okay. Now I'm in amongst the mangroves here and mangroves are pretty cool. Now we do have a type of mangrove here in Victoria called the white mangroves. So, these are the smallest type of, I'll have a bit of a look at them. So, they grow right where the water comes in, which means they get waterlogged, and they struggle to get oxygen out of the soil. So, they have these really cool little roots that pop up out of the soil and these are called pneumatophores or aerial roots. They come out, get the oxygen for the plants. You see a lot of holes in the ground a lot of crabs and invertebrates that live in the soil here, probably hiding now that the water is out a little bit, and this will be inundated when the tide's high. So that's a white mangrove here. A pretty cool plant that we have a lot of here in Victoria. And we are lucky enough to have a lot of them here in Rhyll Inlet. Here's another plant I know. Now this one is a Kangaroo Apple, and they have these little berries, are actually related to a tomato. and these used to be eaten by the Aboriginal people, the Bunurong here. They were used as a bit of a contraceptive, so I'm not going to be trying these ones.

And we have a little bird here, chirping away. Pretty sure this one is a female Superb Fairy Wren. You might know the males, are little blue ones that flutter around in their breeding plumage, trying to impress the girls. The girls aren't quite as impressive, but she's still pretty cute. Well, I'm back where I started. I finished off the walk now and it's not a very challenging challenge, I must say. A lot more different species out there when I tried to identify them than I really realized that there would be. There's just so much biodiversity out there, you've really just got to get out, have a bit of a look, slow down, look a little bit closer and it's all right there in front of you. And I'd encourage you to learn a little bit more about some of those indigenous uses for some of those plants. It's quite ingenious and interesting. Definitely get out, have a bit of a look around, learn about your native environment, the plants, animals all around you. You'd be surprised what you can see.

Skye

Wow. Meagan, you know so much about the natural environment. Did you look that up before you went out or was that just in your head? Ready to go?

Meagan

Oh, thanks, Skye. I actually knew a lot, a few of the birds I looked up and I double-checked a few things, but yeah, all of that I had known beforehand from just doing walks out there before, and I've done a couple tours out there as well, so I got to know my stuff.

Skye

The way you threw out the word pneumatophore was impressive.

Meagan

So interesting. When I was out there though, people kept walking past me, and I had to stop and pretend that I wasn't talking to myself. Is she talking to the plants?

Skye

No, she's just really connecting with nature.

Meagan

Exactly. That's what this episode is all about.

Skye

And look, when I like to get out into nature, I like to go to places like Cape Woolamai is probably my favourite, do the circuit around to the pinnacles and up to the beacon. I love it. I love looking out for whales in the right season and looking for echidnas up there, is one of my favourite things to see.

Meagan

Always echidnas out and about at Cape Woolamai.

Skye

Absolutely. I also think Swan Lake is a really underrated spot here on Phillip Island.

Meagan

Oh, definitely if you're into birds head to Swan Lake.

Skye

Absolutely. And then the Nobbies boardwalk. I just think the waves crashing against the rocks at the Nobbies is just beautiful.

Meagan

Yeah, we're lucky. There are so many different types of environments and bio-diverse areas that we have on Phillip Island.

Skye

And so many amazing natural areas.

Meagan

The coasts, the woodland, the mangroves. We've got it all.

Skye

Exactly. I'm really sorry to say everybody, that it is joke time.

Meagan

You could sound a bit happier about it, Skye.

Skye

Oh, they're just never any good Meagan. Okay. Once or twice.

Meagan

Yeah, we'll do our best.

Skye

All right. So, do you want to go first?

Meagan

Okay. Skye what did the trees wear to the pool party?

Skye

What?

Meagan

Swimming trunks.

Skye

Alright. Very similar vein, of terribleness. How can you tell if the ocean is friendly?

Meagan

Oh, it waves!

Skye

It does.

Meagan

Where does seaweed look for a job?

Skye

Oh, where?

Meagan

In the kelp wanted section

Skye

No, it's a sad trombone only because I've got a very similar joke to follow that up with, which is what does seaweed say when it's stuck at the bottom of the sea?

Meagan

Um, I don’t know, what, what does it say?

Skye

Kelp.

That seemed like a genuine laugh, Meagan!

Meagan

I thought it was going to be another wave joke.

Skye

Is that how little you think of me? Actually, I guess I did it in previous episodes, just use the exact same jokes about three times, didn't I?

Meagan

You need kelp.

All right, Skye, you ready to guess that noise?

Skye

Yes! I love "Guess that Noise."

Meagan

Alright, so for this episode, I picked noises that I hear all the time in my backyard. You don't have to travel or go very far to connect with nature.

Skye

No, you can connect with nature in your very own backyard. I like this idea.

Meagan

Exactly. So, I'm sure you probably would have heard these noises before so I'm giving you an advantage.

Skye

That puts the pressure on. Now I have to get them right.

Meagan

I think you'll be all right. Okay. You ready for the first one?

(Warbling bird noises)

Skye

And I'm pretty sure I know it, is that a magpie?

Meagan

It is. Our Australian magpie.

Skye

Lovely. Yes, I liked that one. Do you know, recently my parents had a magpie outside their window, but they didn't know what it was, and it kept calling at night. So, they were just calling it the "night bird" and then I heard it and went "Mum and Dad that's a magpie!"

Meagan

That's so funny. I've heard that in different regions they have distinct calls, so your local magpie might have a different call to someone else’s local magpie, it's pretty cool. It makes it a little bit personal.

Skye

Yeah. Your own special magpie call, I like it.

Meagan

You ready for the next noise? Now this one, I hear a lot at my house.

Skye

Okay.

(Birds chirping)

Oh, that was a cow.

Meagan

That's not the noise I was looking for. I do have cows in the paddock at the back of my house.

Skye

It was a bird.

Meagan

Yes.

Skye

Near a cow. I don't know, is that really embarrassing.

Meagan

That's okay. It's pink.

Skye

Galah?

Meagan

Yeah. Yeah.

Skye

I am stunned. I'm shocked. Galahs don’t. Wow. Okay. I was imagining a really small kind of passerine bird.

Meagan

Yeah, when I listened to it without looking at it wasn't as squawky as they can sometimes get.

Skye

I would think a parrot like a galah would just make a big old squawky noise.

Meagan

Ah, the cockatoos get a bit louder, but yeah, that was galahs.

Skye

Oh, that's so sweet. Okay. Lovely. All right. I don't mind getting that wrong. I've learned something today.

Meagan

Okay. I have one more noise. Oh, let's do it.

(Frog noises)

Skye

Okay. Oh, yes. I know what that is. That is a frog. Is that the banjo frog?

Meagan

It is a Southern Banjo Frog or a Pobblebonk.

Skye

Yeah, it's really distinctive. I remember just walking around, going. "There's a frog round here and it sounds like a banjo. And then I think I asked somebody and they're like, "yeah, it's a banjo frog”.

Meagan

Yeah, it lives up to its name. So, I think some common noises you might hear in your backyard around Victoria.

Skye

Great work, Meagan. Thanks for that. I really enjoyed that.

Meagan

Thank you. You did pretty well.

Skye

Thank you. Yeah, I don't know that I did, but thank you for being polite.

Meagan

You did well, listen out for those next time you're out in your backyard.

Skye

I will especially listen to that for those galahs. Well, that brings us to the end of this very special episode of Nature Unfiltered for the Victoria Nature Festival. Now our next episode is going to be about the amazing Short-tailed Shearwater, Meagan.

Meagan

Woo. A very impressive bird and you know what that means Skye? That we have to set you a challenge.

Skye

Oh, this, okay. All right.

Meagan

Now I was talking to Jordan about this, and she was telling me something very interesting about you and she had a great idea for a challenge. So, she sent that challenge in, um, let's have a listen.

Jordan

Skye, it's time for me to get you back for making me do an incredibly embarrassing challenge in our very first episode of Nature Unfiltered. So now I'm going to enact my revenge. I remember ages ago, you told me you used to be terrified of birds. So, my challenge to you for this shearwater episode is to head out into the Short-tailed Shearwater colony at night, when they're going to be coming in, they're going to be dive-bombing you. I want you to A. Not flinch. I want you to B. Try and count as many Short-tailed Shearwaters as possible and C. Bonus points if you get pooed on. Best of luck Skye, can't wait to see how you go.

Skye

Jordan!

Meagan

Good luck, Skye.

Skye

Ah look, I used to be really, really afraid of birds. I'm not afraid of them anymore, but there's a lot of these Short-tailed Shearwaters.

Meagan

There's a lot. And you know, if you get pooed on their poo is pink from the krill that they eat.

Skye

Delightful. Okay. Challenge accepted Jordan. Fine.

Meagan

All right. So now it's time for us to set you a challenge at home. So, we've been talking all episode about getting out and connecting to nature. So, we of course encourage you to get out there, get to your local park or bush, go for a bit of a walk, or even just get out in your backyard and see what birds and wildlife you have around your own backyard. But while you're doing that, while you are spending your time out in nature, we encourage you to pick up any rubbish that you might come across. So, whether you are on the beach, in the bush, or even just walking down the street, if you can pick up that rubbish, it stops it from ending up in our environment and harming our wildlife and our biodiversity. So, picking up a bit of rubbish every time you go for a walk out in nature does make a big difference. And it's something small that we can all do at home.

Skye

Yeah, definitely is. So, thank you so much for tuning in today and we will see you next time. See you next time. Bye!

(Music plays)

Meagan

Got another joke for you. How do you cut a wave in half?

Skye

How?

Meagan

Use a seesaw.

Skye

What did the little tree say to the big tree?

Meagan

I don't know. What did the little tree say?

Skye

Leaf me alone. And that's why we're not including them.

Meagan

Yeah, that was below our usual low standards.