Across the state there are 30 marine protected areas (MPAs) that have been reserved to protect environmental, historical or cultural features. The MPAs include Marine National Parks and Sanctuaries, Marine and Coastal Parks, Marine Parks and a Marine Reserve, which make up 11.7 per cent of the Victorian marine environment. The thirteen Marine National Parks (MNPs) and eleven Marine Sanctuaries (MSs), henceforth in this report collectively referred to as the MPAs, protecting ~5.3% of Victorian waters were declared in November 2002. These MPAs were chosen to be representative of the diversity of Victoria’s marine environment. They aim to conserve and protect its ecological processes, habitats and associated flora and fauna. The MPAs are spread across Victoria’s five marine bioregions with multiple MPAs in each bioregion, with the exception of Flinders bioregion which has one MPA. All are “no-take” areas and are managed under the National Parks Act (1975).
This current report updates the first Marine Natural Values Study (Plummer et al. 2003) for the MPAs in the Central Victoria bioregion on the central coast of Victoria. It uses the numerous monitoring and research programs that have increased our knowledge since declaration. It aims to give a comprehensive overview of the important natural values of each MPA. It is one of a series of five reports covering Victoria’s MPAs.
The Central Victorian Bioregion extends along the open coast from Apollo Bay to Cape Liptrap and out to the limit of Victorian State waters in Bass Strait. It contains two MNPs, Point Addis and Bunurong, and five small MSs, Marengo Reefs, Eagle Rock, Point Danger, Barwon Bluff and Mushroom Reef. It has a temperate climate, a shore characterised by cliffs and sandy beaches and a steep sea bed. It is relatively exposed to swells and weather from the south-west. Its biota is a diverse mixture of species from all of the adjacent biogeographical provinces – western, eastern and southern temperate species – in addition to cosmopolitan southern Australian species. Ship wrecks occur within all the MPAs except Eagle Rock and Mushroom reef.
High resolution bathymetry mapping has increased our understanding of habitats in the shallow waters of all the MPAs, and for the whole of Point Addis MNP. Knowledge of the distribution and extent of habitats is required to target management activities, including emergency response, monitoring and research effectively. Mapping of habitats is important for understanding and communicating the distribution of natural values within Marine National Parks and Sanctuaries, particularly as the marine environment is not as easily visualised as the terrestrial environment (Parks Victoria 2003). For management purposes, knowledge of the distribution and extent of habitats is required to more effectively target management activities, including emergency response, monitoring and research. Mapping of marine habitats provides a baseline inventory, allows the identification of suitable monitoring sites and possible tracking of environmental change, as well as identifying areas vulnerable to particular threats or suitable for recreational activities.
All the MPAs in the Central Victoria bioregion have intertidal rocky reef and some shallow subtidal reef. The shallow subtidal rocky reefs in Bunurong MNP are extensive. Only Point Addis and Bunurong MNPs have deep subtidal reef. The reefs in the MPAs are predominately limestone or sandstone, with some basalt in Eagle Rock, Barwon Bluff and Mushroom Reef MSs. All, except Marengo Reefs MS, have intertidal soft sediment habitat or beaches interspersed amongst rocky headlands. Wrack material in this habitat contributes to the detrital cycle and is a significant source of food for many invertebrates and shore birds. All the MPAs have some subtidal soft sediment habitat, which can have very high numbers of invertebrate species living on and in it. Subtidal soft sediment and open water are the dominant habitat types in Point Addis and Bunurong MNPs, but intertidal and shallow subtidal rocky reef are the dominant habitat in the five MSs.
On the intertidal reefs the dominant habitat is the brown alga Neptune’s necklace Hormosira banksii. Algal turf, coralline algae, sea lettuce Ulva sp. and the mussel Limnoperna pulex can also form intertidal habitats. In Bunurong MNP, and Eagle Rock and Point Danger MSs sand can cover the intertidal reef. Bull kelp Durvillaea potatorum grows on the intertidal reef edge in Point Addis MNP, and Marengo Reefs, Eagle Rock, Barwon Bluff and Mushroom Reef MSs. The mobile intertidal reef fauna in the MPAs is dominated by molluscs. The striped conniwink Bembicium nanum and pulmonate limpet Siphonaria spp. are abundant along with various other limpet species. The top shell Austrocochlea constricta is particularly abundant in all the MSs. In the two MNPs and Barwon Bluff MS the periwinkles Nodolittorina acutispira and N. unifasciata are abundant. The black nerite Nerita atramentos is abundant amongst the basalt boulders in Eagle Rock and Mushroom Reef MSs. Mushroom Reef MS has one of the most diverse rocky reef assemblages in Victoria, the Bunurong coast has a very high diversity of chitons, but little is known about the intertidal biota of Marengo Reefs MS.
On the shallow subtidal reef of the MPAs the algae canopy can be mixed brown algae, crayweed Phyllospora comosa, kelp Ecklonia radiata or giant kelp Macrocystis pyrifera. The algal assemblage of Ingoldsby Reef in Point Addis MNP is particularly diverse. Bunurong MNP algal assemblage is unusual with a high diversity of red and brown algae species and a low abundance or absence of the large browns such as P. comosa and E. radiata. The understorey at both Marengo Reefs and Eagle Rock MSs has very few species and a low cover of red and green algae. P. comosa does not grow in Point Danger MS.
Abundant blacklip abalone Haliotis rubra characterise the invertebrate assemblage of the MPAs subtidal reefs. The warrener Turbo undulatus and a diverse variety of sea stars are abundant in Point Addis and Bunurong MNPs. The elephant snail Scutus antipodes, T. undulatus and cartrut whelk Dicathais orbita are common in Barwon Bluff MS. Marengo Reefs MS is characterised by a low abundance of the purple urchin Heliocidaris erythrogramma, and Eagle Rock MS by low numbers of all invertebrates other than H. rubra. Point Danger MS has a high diversity of invertebrates, and particularly opisthobranchs (sea slugs). The black- and white- gastric-brooding seastar Smilasterias multipara is an important natural value of Mushroom Reef MS.
The subtidal reef fish assemblage has not been described for Point Danger or Mushroom Reef MSs. In the other MPAs the blue-throated wrasse Notolabrus tetricus is common, as are the Victorian scalyfin Parma victoriae, yellow striped leather jacket Meuschenia flavolineata and sea sweep Scorpis aequipinnis, except in Marengo Reefs MS. Herring cale Odax cyanomelas is abundant in all these MPAs but not in Point Addis MNP. The purple wrasse N. fucicola is abundant in Point Addis and Bunurong MNPs, and particularly abundant in Marengo Reefs MS. Other fish species such as the senator wrasse Pictilabrus laticlavius, horseshoe leatherjacket M. hippocrepis magpie morwong Cheliodactylus nigripes and zebra fish Girella zebra occur in all the MPAs but in varying abundances.
The seagrass Amphibolis antarctica grows subtidally in all MPAs except Marengo Reefs and Eagle Rock MSs. It also grows in intertidal rock pools in Bunurong MNP, Barwon Bluff and Mushroom Reef MSs. Its stems and fronds support sessile invertebrates, including large colonies of bryozoans and hydroids. The seagrass Heterozostera nigricaulis grows in sparse beds on shallow sandy sediment beyond the surf zone in the west of Point Addis MNP. In Mushroom Reef MS Zostera sp. grows on the subtidal soft sediment.
Deep water soft sediments in Point Addis MNP have unique assemblages of sponges, bryozoans, ascidians and hydroids. Its rhodolith beds have a high diversity of algal, invertebrate and fish species. In Bunurong MNP the deep reefs are dominated by sponges, stalked ascidians and bryozoans.
All the MPAs support species of high conservation significance. The MPAs and their surrounds provide important feeding and roosting habitat for many threatened shore and sea birds, from 13 species in Marengo Reefs MS and up to 31 in Bunurong MNP. The endangered hooded plover Thinornis rubricollis has been recorded from both Point Danger and Barwon Bluff MSs but is not known to breed in either MS. The MPAs are also important for many migratory birds, with 6 species in Marengo Reefs MS to 18 in Barwon Bluff MS. Numerous marine species are found at the extent of their distribution range within individual MPAs, from over 37 species in Mushroom Reef MS to none in Barwon Bluff MS. Three crustaceans are believed to be endemic to Mushroom Reef MS.
The two MNPs have large amounts of open water which is habitat for conservation listed marine mammals such as southern right whales Eubalaena australis. Blue whales Balaenoptera musculus have been sighted in Point Addis MNP and humpback whales Megaptera novaeangliae in Bunurong MNP. Other marine mammals sighted in both Point Addis and Bunurong MNP are the bottlenose dolphin Tursiops spp., Australian fur seal Arctocephalus pusillus doriferus and leopard seal Hydrurga leptonyx. In addition the long-finned pilot whale Globicephala melas and killer whale Orcinus orca have been sighted in Point Addis MNP, and the common dolphin Delphinus delphis in Bunurong MNP. The smaller shallower MSs provide important habitat for small marine mammals. Marengo Reefs MS is a protected haul out for the Australian fur seals A. pusillus doriferus and Eagle Rock MS intertidal platforms are used as occasional haul-out areas. The endangered warm water vagrant sea turtle the pacific or olive ridley Lepidochelys olivacea has been sighted in or near Point Addis MNP and probably occurs offshore in Bunurong MNP too.
The introduction of foreign species or marine pests, by recreational or commercial vessels, threatens the integrity of marine biodiversity. It is presumed that the introduced green shore crab Carcinus maenas occurs on the intertidal reefs of all the MPAs. Abalone viral ganglioneuritus has been slowly spreading, killing a large percentage of abalone in infected areas from Discovery Bay MNP to Cape Otway. It could have serious ecological consequences for subtidal reef communities if it spreads into the bioregion.
Recreational boating has also been identified as posing a threat to seagrass beds, soft sediments and shallow subtidal reefs through propeller and anchor scour. Disturbance of wildlife, shore birds by vehicles, people or dogs; or hauled out seals by boats are also a threat in the MPAs. Poaching of abalone or fish is also a threat to subtidal reefs. Commercial vessels pose a threat due to the risk of oil spills. Damage through trampling and illegal collection also poses threats to the highly accessible intertidal reefs in the MPAs. Water quality in the MPAs may be threatened by increased nutrients and sediments from land use or waste discharge.
Climate change represents a serious threat to marine ecosystems but the specific ecological consequences are not well understood in temperate marine systems. Increased sea levels, water and air temperature, cloud cover, ultraviolet light exposure and frequency of extreme weather events are predicted. Changes in the chemical composition, circulation and productivity of the seas are also predicted. These predicted changes have the potential to impact all marine habitats, causing loss of habitats, decreases in productivity and reproduction and distribution of species. A number of species are at the limit of their distributional range in the bioregion and such species would be particularly vulnerable to climate change.
Parks Victoria has established extensive marine monitoring and research programs for the MPAs that address important management challenges, focussing both on improving baseline knowledge of the MPAs as well as applied management questions not being addressed by others. This knowledge will continue to enhance Parks Victoria’s capacity to implement evidence-based management through addressing critical knowledge gaps. The research and monitoring programs have been guided by the research themes outlined as part of Parks Victoria’s Research Partners Panel (RPP) program, a Marine Research and Monitoring Strategy 2007-2012 and Marine National Park and Marine Sanctuary Monitoring Plan 2007-2012 (Power and Boxshall 2007). Much of the research and monitoring has been undertaken as part of the RPP program involving collaboration with various research institutions. Subtidal reef monitoring occurs in Point Addis and Bunurong MNPs, and Marengo Reefs and Eagle Rock MSs. Intertidal monitoring is conducted in all the MPAs in the bioregion, except Marengo Reefs and Eagle Rock MSs. Other statewide projects are currently underway to photograph and document their marine natural values, and also to determine which MPAs are most at risk from introduced species and to detect poaching.
Since declaration considerable advancement has been made in identifying and understanding the marine natural values of the Central Victoria bioregion. There are still major gaps in our knowledge. Comprehensive knowledge of basic habitats, their distribution and extent, is limited to shallow waters except in Point Addis. Monitoring changes in flora and fauna over time is limited to intertidal and shallow subtidal reef habitats. There is limited knowledge of the intertidal and subtidal soft sediment and open waters. Whilst general and individual threats to the MPAs have been identified we have limited knowledge of how those threats will affect marine natural values.