Earthcare has contributed to improving the environment of St Kilda since it was established in 1989. Local environmentalists were spurred into action when the council released plans to redevelop the St. Kilda harbour, home to a colony of fairy penguins. Earthcare successfully lobbied to make St Kilda breakwater a Wildlife Management Conservation Area (WMCA); providing a safer environment for the penguin colony. Since 1989 the penguin colony has increased in size; this can be attributed to the both the elimination of harmful litter and improved breeding conditions. Earthcare are also committed to several ongoing revegetation projects; which are transforming degraded urban areas into areas brimming with indigenous plant species.

1989

On March 19, 1989, council park ranger, Neil Blake and retired businessman Jim Williams gave a presentation on the devastating human impact on the St. Kilda penguin colony. Following the presentation, Neil, Jim and members of St Kilda community formed the Environmental Care Association, later to become known as Earthcare. The focus of the Environmental Care Association was to care for the environment through practical solutions and personal commitment. The motto ‘I do what I can where I am’ was created by Jim Williams and has since remained the inspiration behind Earthcare.

Professor Mike Cullen

Professor Mike Cullen, on the Breakwater in 1996

Professor Mike Cullen of Monash university began research on the penguin colony in 1986. Mike Cullen and Neil Blake were able to combine research knowledge and practical expertise respectively, to actively protect the Fairy penguins at the breakwater. Prior to 1989 no legislation was in place to protect the breakwater rookery and unrestricted human access caused many penguin mortalities. Penguin breeding sites were damaged by Fishermen moving rocks to locate bate. Many penguins were killed or injured by becoming entangled in litter and by direct attacks from unleashed dogs. Earthcare volunteers successfully campaigned for restricted access to the breakwater colony, and by May 1989 a first attempt of a barrier was erected and the area was made into a nature reserve. By July 1989 a fence restriction was implemented to deny access to unwanted visitors.

1990

In November 1990 the Melbourne region of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources declared that the breakwater would become a Wildlife Management Co-operative area (WMCA). In December 1990, an oil spill 1.8 km west of Brighton baths highlighted the need for an oil spill action plan. A sum of $20000 was allocated by the council to spend on the WMCA, to prepare a plan for the event of a future oil spill and to increase public awareness of the deleterious effects of human impact on the penguin colony. Earthcare volunteers together with Monash university weighed the penguins and recorded the numbers of eggs and chicks fortnightly during the breeding season. Earthcare member and local resident, Shirley Sheahan together with other Earthcare volunteers collected and categorised litter around the penguin colony weekly for four years. This eliminated penguin entanglements and provided important environmental data. The penguin protection fund was established to raise the required funds to execute plans to restore the breakwater. Aquatic vegetation was planted around the breakwater to provide an increase in suitable habitat for penguin prey. Throughout the year, Earthcare volunteers made a diligent effort to restore the breakwater, rocks were relocated and sand bags were positioned to prevent the erosion of the precious breeding sites.

Various indigenous plantings were started at Albert Park nature reserve and Point Ormond. Earthcare successfully lobbied to prevent the harmful use of ‘Diuron’ herbicide in Albert Park Lake. Earthcare volunteers were able to prevent paper barks (Melaleuca styphelioides) from being chopped down on St. Kilda road.

1992

In 1992 Earthcare membership had risen from 30 to 200 with vet, Kim Lim as President. Several new wildlife projects were underway such as studies on the threatened population of possums at Catani gardens, and the study of native ants as a possible indicator of the health of local ecosystems. In the same year, grant money from open space 2000 was used to protect the breakwater. Through a variety of innovative methods, the Penguin Defence Fund raised over $6000 for a new safety fence. Earthcare was represented on the Cooperative Management Committee for the breakwater who met with the specific purpose to implement the management plan released by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. The major event of the year, was the public launch of the breakwater as a WMCA, all the energy and hard work had eventually paid off and legislation was finally in place to protect the colony. It was also the first year an artificial burrow was used by the breakwater penguins to successfully raise young.

Several urban management projects were underway. A restoration project at West Beach aimed to recreate a historic wetland, to act as a filter for one of St. Kilda’s polluted drain outlets. A $3500 grant from Greening Australia was used to re-vegetate the railway at Balaclava with indigenous plants. Earthcare volunteers together with local residents planted hundreds of trees at Elwood canal and coastal vegetation was planted at Elwood foreshore with the help of St. Columba Primary School and St. Bede’s Church. Earthcare established a community Nursery at the adventure playground, aiming to involve all generations of the local community. Financially assisted by Greening Australia, Brighton Rotary and St. Kilda council, the successful nursery grew so large it had later had to be relocated. Student, Angela Hambling set up an indigenous seed bank and catalogued the councils indigenous seed collection for seeding at the community nursery.

1993

Angela Hambling, Earthcare president, raised suggestions at the Cooperative Management Committee for a Landcare Environment Action Plan (LEAP) program. LEAP programs provide a six month training program for the young unemployed. The idea was supported and provided the both the funding and the labour required to meet the objectives for the breakwater management plan, the West Beach and the Adventure Nursery. The LEAP program provided 15 enthusiastic crew members to rebuild and relocate rocks, reduce the amount of litter and plant aquatic vegetation around the breakwater. The LEAP crew also helped plant 5000 plants at the Adventure Nursery and many new species at the West Beach wetland including mangroves, other tidal margin plants and 2000 dune plants near the landward end of the walk way. The LEAP crew provided the labour required for Earthcare’s practical projects and received training in important environmental concepts and local environmental issues.

The St. Kilda penguins were included in a penguin radio tracking study funded by BHP; showing a 54% increase in the population since 1991. St Kilda established links with a sister city in Japan. The sister sity Obu, had great interest in the St. Kilda penguins and agreed to sponsor the publication of a story book written about the penguin colony by Earthcare member and social worker Meyer Eidelson. Over $5000 was raised to publish ‘Alfreda’s Gang and the Nasty Gunk’ in English and Japanese, to help fund the protection of the colony.

The water rats, Rakali, were monitored around the breakwater and possum counts around Catani gardens continued. A heavy metals test on the water and plant material taken from Cowderoy creek supported the theory that plant filtration improves water quality and hence supported the existing re-vegetation project at West Beach, wetlands. Re-vegetation projects continued at Elwood, Sunbury and Balaclava and new projects were established at Blessington Gardens and Alma and Ripponlea rail reserves.

1994

Neil Blake 1994

Neil Blake in 1994, demonstrating the care needed for handling Little Penguins

In 1994 with Angela Hambling as president Earthcare continued ongoing re-vegetation projects and the continual restoration of St. Kilda’s break water. Earthcare were represented on the Melbourne Regional Committee which aimed to unite all associations effected in the event on an oil spill to develop networks and an understanding of the issues effecting each organisation. The DCNR released ‘Response plan to deal with the wildlife affected by an oil spill’. The St. Kilda indigenous nursery continued to supply plants for council plantings and gained financial support from St Kilda council. The barrier at the breakwater was extended as a necessary measure to further protect the colony form human impact.

1995

With Zoe Hogg as president, Earthcare continued the many revegetation projects and it’s commitment to protect the breakwater penguins. A second LEAP program adopted by Earthcare, produced an informative brochure and cassette tape on the foreshore flora, fauna, history and traditions of Port Phillip. A grant from Coast Action was used to promote Meyer Eidelson’s book on the penguin colony. A successful application to Albert Park Managers enabled Earthcare to prevent the loss of 150 meters of Banjo frog habitat. A grant of $3500 was allocated by Coast Action to create an educational walking trail of the breakwater. Throughout the year extensive rebuilding and restoration of the breakwater continued. The book launch for ‘Alfreda The City Penguin’ by Meyer Eidelson was held at the Royal Melbourne yacht Club and met with great enthusiasm. Plantings with schools and the community continued and guided penguin parades continued with their success.

Rob Scott

Rob Scott, at what was to become SKINC Nursery

Rob Scott no longer had enough time to run the adventure nursery, a core group formed the St Kilda Indigenous Nursery Co-operative (SKINC). SKINC continued to provide plants for the various Earthcare plantings. The nursery eventually got so big it moved to Port Melbourne Council Nursery where it had an office, a real glass house and a watering system to replace the old watering can!

1996

Zoe Hogg continued to be president throughout 1996

Earthcare week ran from 9-15 sep 1996. It aimed to raise environmental consciousness in the local environment. Earthcare received a $2000 grant from the City of Port Phillip and made Earthcare week a great success. Throughout the week activities were held for local schools, plantings, library visits and guest speakers. School children also received an educational activity kit prepared by Earthcare about the local area.

Earthcare held two community plantings at St Kilda West Beach, 1500 seedlings were provided by the St Kilda Indigenous Nursery Co-op (SKINC). Burnt and painted artworks created by Bunnurong Aboriginal artists were positioned along the walking trail.

A great deal of work was carried out for the Corroboree tree revegetation project. A massive 1370 seedlings were planted and the area was completely cleared of litter. Planting was also carried out on the Elwood foreshore project.

The fauna survey group prepared a schedule of fauna walks incorporating the possum tracking survey walks in the St Kilda Botanic gardens.

The second phase of the breakwater reconstruction was carried out in May and June 1996. An ingenious boom was constructed in an attempt to stop penguins entering the work site. The boom was unsuccessful and Neil Blake valiantly went to the breakwater every day before dawn to remove the mischievous penguins that got around the boom. After the reconstruction work school children planted Noon flowers which rapidly covered the bare rocks.

The Japanese sister city of Port Phillip, Obu, in Japan, visited the breakwater in November 1996. The Obu International Association and Obu Lions Club gave a $2624 donation to the Penguin Fund.

Alfreda the City penguin was made into a musical and made really good sales.

Grants:

– City of Port Phillip $2000

– Melbourne Parks and Waterways $3100

– City of Port Phillip Earthcare week $2000

1997

Zoe continued to be president for a third year. Rakali watch was initiated by Linda Mckenzie. Rakali are native water rats, a colony of rakali lives in St Kilda harbour. Fortnightly research was carried out on various aspects of the elusive ‘water rats’ fitness and behaviour.

Earthcare week suffered due to the effects of El Nino and no rainfall, it meant that planting had to be carried out in Autumn as opposed to spring so the format of the week was somewhat changed from the previous year.

It was 3rd stage of the reconstruction of the breakwater in May 1997. Early morning patrols were necessary once again to remove the penguins form the breakwater during working hours. Noon flowers grown by Earthcare members were planted once again to cover some of the bare rocks. Penguin research continued to record any changes in the population due to the breakwater repair and the pilchard crash in 1995.

A ‘Wild places’ exhibition took place in the Linden Gallery, comprising a photographic competition on the wildlife of Port Phillip and Earthcare’s ‘what environment’ display including a litter survey. The exhibition ran from 24th September to the 13th of October, it’s aim was to raise general awareness of the beauty of wildlife and the problems it faces.

Earthcare designed plans for a new Alma Park indigenous wetland. The council were to construct the wetland and improve the existing drainage.

Grants:

– City of Port Phillip $2000

– Coast Action $3150

– Alfreda Book raised $3386

1998

President – Alison Rowe

During 1998 Earthcare were involved in a wide variety of new and existing projects. Rakali research continued with fortnightly twilight watches in St Kilda harbour. Linda McKenzie wrote a booklet on the Rakali which was illustrated by Zoe Hogg. Earthcare were involved in two major exhibitions,” Wild Places” which was an extension of the photographic competition of the previous year to include paintings, and “Hidden Nature”, a display covering aspects of 12 key sites of natural interest around the City of Port Phillip.

Earthcare week included plantings at Catani gardens again involving children from local schools.

The St Kilda breakwater penguins were monitored throughout the year to assess the impact of the reconstruction as stage 4 of the reconstruction commenced.

Work continued on drainage improvement at Alma Park Wetland. Water grasses and other small plants were planted in the area. Planting and litter clearance continued at West Beach.

Plantings were carried out on the Mallee section of the Canterbury Road Urban Forest. It is an area of urban forest consisting of six areas of vegetation representing climate and soil zones in Victoria; The Grampians, Cann River and Mallacoota, Malee, Otways, Box Iron Bark and in the Indigenous swamp vegetation as it was in Koori times. Zoe Hogg published a booklet on the area.

Members of SKINC and Earthcare got together to campaign to save the remnant salt marsh at Webb Dock, the last remnant of the flora which dominated the landscape at the mouth of the Yarra prior to industrialisation.

Earthcare became involved in the development of the Port Phillip EcoCentre.

Grants:

– Coast Action $4800

– City of Port Phillip $2000

– Timelines $6000

– West Beach $770

– Wild Places $6838

1999

President- Alison Rowe

The Port Phillip EcoCentre was launched in December 1999, a publicly owned house providing resources for environmental initiatives. The EcoHouse project was initiated aiming to convert the EcoCentre into a model sustainable house complete with it’s own ecologically sound permaculture garden. The aim was to remodel the house on energy conserving principles using recycled materials.

An underwater team carried out St Kilda harbour underwater research. They completed the coast and clean seas timelines project by making dives around the breakwater recording flora and fauna species. Sea grass research of the underwater sea grass meadows was carried out, they found an area providing habitat for a variety of invertebrates including sea horses and nudibranchs.

Earthcare built nest boxes for a variety of local indigenous fauna, the City of Port Phillip were to assist in their placement.

West Beach was continually monitored and cleaned and 2 wooden seats were added to the transformed area. Earthcare members carried out water quality tests on the polluted water from Cowderoy Creek which runs along side West Beach.

Plantings of trees and shrubs continued along Canterbury Road Urban Forest, between the light rail fence and the road.

With the St Kilda breakwater completely restored, schools helped to re-vegetate the upper surfaces. Penguin research was continued but the penguins were largely left undisturbed as the research no longer required any handling of the birds.

A journalism sub-committee was created to write and edit all press releases and publicity material released by Earthcare. They begun preparing a series of articles for a proposed environmental column in a local newspaper.

Grants:

– Coast action $5100

– City of port Phillip $1500

Donations:

– City of Obu $663

2010

President – Ross Stephens

2011

President – Kim Cowie

This year saw the 25th anniversary of Penguin Research.

2012

President – Terry Lobert

2013

President – Terry Lobert

Earthcare St Kilda (Zoe Hogg, Nicole Kowalczyk and Neil Blake) were involved in the planning of the project to extend the St Kilda Harbour Breakwater and shaped how the project would be conducted in order to minimise the impact on the Little Penguin colony. Earthcare St Kilda provided a trained team of Penguin Monitors to attend the worksite each construction day before work started to relocate any Little Penguins found under and around construction equipment, stock piled rock and nests within the works area. The Penguin Team leader let the construction crew know when it was safe to work on each area; and record all interactions with penguins.

Earthcare St Kilda (Kate Bulling and Gio Fitzpatrick) also relaunched the Friends of Elster Creek with a series of revegetation tasks, litter collections and bird surveys all down at Elster Creek, with great support from the local community.