Tree planting revitalises seagrass and fish populations

A project to plant more than 20,000 native trees at Silcocks Hill, outside Toora, has seen an improvement in the health of seagrass beds and fish populations in the Corner Inlet Marine and Coastal Park.

Since the planting of the trees, which began in 2012, run off from the degraded agricultural land has decreased, contributing to a reduction in sediment and nutrient loads into the Ramsar-listed Corner Inlet, and revitalising seagrass and fish populations.

“Everything is connected and when we take the time to analyse and fix a problem in one area, we can also have a positive impact on problems in other areas,” Martin Fuller, CEO of West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority, said.

“Which is why, when looking after the health of our oceans and other waterways, we often need to start on the land.

“When we were seeing seagrass and other marine vegetation in Corner Inlet being covered in sediment and vital fish feeding and breeding grounds being lost, we looked towards the surrounding catchment to see what needed to be done,” Mr Fuller said.

“Silcocks Hill was an example of one of these sites. It was eroded farm land in a high rainfall area, and sediment from this property and others like it was making its way into waterways and the Inlet. These sites can impact on water quality and agricultural productivity.”

WGCMA initiated a Reducing the Loads project as part of the Corner Inlet Connections program in conjunction with the landowners and other agencies, and used a Soil Erosion Management Plan to identify and rejuvenate areas of steep, unproductive land.

“Since 2012 more than 20,000 native trees have been planted in the gullies on 15 hectares of land at Silcocks Hill, greatly reducing soil erosion and the amount of run-off carrying sediment and nutrients into Corner Inlet,” Mr Fuller continued.

“This contributes to improved water quality in Corner Inlet by reducing the sediment loads covering marine vegetation and allowing seagrass populations to bounce back, which in turn leads to larger, healthier fish populations.”

The works have also created more resilient soils and increased farm productivity, stabilised land slips and retained nutrients and sediment on farm where they are needed, and improved habitat for plants and animals.

“In the coming years, the land where we planted the trees will begin to resemble a forest growing down the valley,” Mr Fuller said.

The Corner Inlet Water Quality Improvement Plan addresses the specific threat from increased loads of nutrient and sediment to the estuaries, waterways and marine areas of the Corner Inlet Ramsar Site.

The Corner Inlet Connections project is funded by the Australian Government’s National Landcare Programme.