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Queenscliffe Herald Article - July 2006

Mud Islands

Jill Warneke
of the Swan Bay Environment Association

Situated in the south of Port Phillip Bay, five and a half kilometres from the mainland is a spectacular and unique group of islands know as Mud Islands. The Islands form part of the Port Phillip Heads Marine National Park and are listed on the Register of the National Estate and on the Ramsar list of wetlands.

The Islands are of special importance to many bird species and birds have played an important part in their formation. Accumulation of bird droppings (guano) leaches into the shelly sand to form hard calcium phosphate which anchors the islands in place, although there are still considerable changes due to sand accumulation and vegetation growth. The guano was mined for fertilizer in the last century and for a time a fishing family lived on the Islands. But nowadays they are mainly home to birds and often to tens of thousand of them! (Of course many other creatures – crustaceans, worms, fish, rays, shellfish, even bronze whaler sharks - also inhabit the area in great numbers, but luckily no cats or foxes.)

Some 70-80 species of birds have been recorded on Mud Islands. Extensive colonies of gulls, ibis, storm petrels, pelicans and terns appear at various times of the year. And many waders arrive from the northern hemisphere to feed extensively in the lagoons and shallows of the Islands.

In the early 1990’s it was realised the Islands were becoming overrun with weed species, mainly boxthorn - a fast spreading large shrub which can inflict a nasty wound with its fierce spikes. The boxthorn was destroying the native vegetation the birds use for breeding. A Friends of Mud Islands group was formed and took on the mammoth task of removing the boxthorn, a process which took many years of cutting, burning and poisoning, but a process which has been a great success.

However constant vigilance is needed to prevent the weeds coming back. So the Friends brave cold, heat, winds – whatever the weather throws at them – to go to the Islands one Sunday each month to continue weed removal, clear rubbish and monitor the seagrass areas around the Islands.

Some local tours call at the Islands, but the best way to visit and to fully appreciate their uniqueness is to join the Friends on one of their weed busting working bees. They can be hard work and the smell is sometimes pretty awful but the rewards are great and include a chance to spend time in one of nature’s special places and to get that warm glow which comes from doing your bit to help preserve our unique environment.

If interested in joining a working bee to the Islands call Donna on 5232 9120 or 0427 032409.

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