Connecting With Biospheres a World Away

The Western Port Biosphere Foundation in Australia hosted a visitor from the Beaver Hills Biosphere in Alberta, Canada in early July 2019.

Executive Officer of the Western Port Biosphere, Greg Hunt, toured Executive Director Brian Ilnicki of the Beaver Hills Biosphere around the region. Local landmarks Brian saw included the coastal villages of Casey and Bass Coast, the market gardens of Cardinia and vineyards of Mornington Peninsula.

"There are so many similarities between our respective biospheres," Brian says. "We have wetlands and forests, our agriculture includes berry farms and our people have a history of getting involved in looking after our patch of the planet. In fact, I describe our biosphere as a place where we demonstrate how to provide for our people and at the same time look after our natural environment."

Brian refers to the Beaver Hills Biosphere as a living laboratory, which is precisely the same term Greg Hunt, Western Port Biosphere EO, uses in describing the work underway in the Western Port region. The two agreed that providing resources, including food and shelter, for humans should not be at the expense of all of the other species that share our environment.

"The Water Stewardship project and our just-commencing Protecting Ramsar Values project with boaters on Western Port are two of the investigations we are rolling out," Greg explains.

Linking countries such as Canada with Australia to share ideas and projects is one of the aims of the UNESCO Biosphere program. At the same time as this visit was occurring, UNESCO in Paris was receiving updates from existing Biospheres and adding new Biospheres to the global network. There is now a total of 701 Biospheres, including the 9 in Australia and 18 in Canada, with new Biospheres in Africa, Asia and Europe. Biospheres have to show that they have environments of particular significance and the local populations are prepared to balance care of the environment with how we provide for human needs.

Western Port was given its UNESCO Charter in 2003. Greg elaborated on the significance of Western Port, which includes endangered mammals and birds to protect, including over 30 international migratory bird species that complete an annual migration of over 25,000 km to spend summer on Western Port’s nutrient-rich mudflats. There are also marine national parks, the French Island national park, highly productive farmlands and many community groups active in conservation in the region.

"We are fortunate indeed to have our Biosphere," Greg adds. In response, Brian mirrors Greg's sentiment saying, "You’re not alone in that; we are also proud to have our own Biosphere."

The two will keep in regular contact to continue the links established through the visit.

Learn more about Western Port Biosphere.