Port Phillip Bay's Second Class Citizens.

Port Phillip Bay's Second Class Citizens.

Australia
Organization type: 
for profit
Budget: 
< $1,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

The sealing industry, concentrated in the waters off the south-eastern corner of the Australian continent, was a boom and bust affair that began just before the turn of the nineteenth century and had collapsed within 30 years because seal stocks had been exhausted. While elephant seal and Australian sea lion populations in the area never recovered from the impact of hunting, the fur seal has slowly hauled itself back from the brink of extinction and is a rare example of a species recovery being facilitated by the introduction of protective measures.

Seal numbers had dwindled to such a point in the early 1920s that they became the first marine mammal in Australia to be protected and despite now being wholly protected, they are still the world's fourth rarest seal species. Contrary to sensationalist media reports, seal numbers have not exploded. Their recovery has been a slow process with numbers probably less than half of what they were at the end of the eighteenth century. Recently there have been calls for seals to be culled because of a perception that they are a threat to the region's fisheries.

There is a popular misconception that they eat 'twice their weight' in fish per day. They actually consume less than 10% of their body weight in fish, squid, octopus and cuttlefish. The claim that reducing seal numbers will boost fish stocks is also dubious. In fact, it may be detrimental to fish stocks. Taking out a top predator in an ecosystem puts the entire system at risk of collapse (eg. the decline in shark numbers off the coast of Mexico and the rise of the Humboldt squid).

Australian fur seal colonies are restricted to a number of rocky outcrops and islands and while females will stay close to these breeding sites, males are more widely distributed and often come into contact with people. This contact is rarely beneficial to the seals.

In Victoria's Port Phillip Bay, it is the resident population of bottlenose dolphins that are the stars of the show in a burgeoning eco-tourism industry and they have become a symbol of the Bay's robust health, but the seals that haul-out on various navigational structures and a purpose-built platform are not held with nearly as much regard and with downright contempt and open hostility by some.

Swimming with seals has become a very popular activity. While interacting with the dolphins is highly regulated, the seals do not receive anywhere near the same level of protection or monitoring of people's behavior around them despite being far more heavily visited. Over the summer period at one bachelor haul-out site of around 50 animals, it is not uncommon for people to be in the water with them for the whole day, sometimes there are more swimmers in the water than there are seals at the haul-out site. The seals have become quite accustomed to the attention and are remarkably gracious hosts to the thousands of visitors they receive every summer.

Seals are, however, very susceptible to the trappings of human ignorance, greed, excess and carelessness. In a disturbing trend, we are witnessing more and more seal deaths and injuries as a direct consequence of human involvement. Toxic pollutants, boat propellers and plastic bags are some of the causes, but the most pressing issue is entanglement in discarded fishing gear and injuries sustained from deliberate acts of human violence.

Recreational fishing is a popular pursuit on the waters of the Bay. Millions of dollars are spent annually on increasing access and infrastructure. Three and a half million people live around the
Bay's shoreline. People and seals are going to come into contact with each other more frequently and it is important that there is a greater awareness of how our activities impinge on the seals' lives.

Seals are easily conditioned, so people feeding seals is bound to result in negative outcomes with the animals either swallowing hooks, ingesting inappropriate feed or incurring the wrath of fishermen not wanting to share their catch. It is also essential that people gain an awareness of the threats to seals that plastic bags and discarded fishing gear pose. When something is thrown away, this is where away often is.

Polperro would like to conduct a PR campaign to educate people about Port Phillip Bay's Australian fur seals. Any funds obtained would be used to produce educational material which would be distributed to schools, recreational fishing and boating bodies and the general public.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Port Phillip Bay is a 2000 square kilometre waterway with three and a half million people living around its shoreline. While millions of dollars are spent on recreational fishing and boating, improving infrastructure and promoting access we can sometimes wait for weeks while we watch an entangled or injured seal suffer before any assessment and intervention by wildlife officers is forthcoming because of a lack of available staff or resources. There is a perception that wildlife can look after themselves, but when we are witnessing an escalation of negative impacts that are directly attributable to an increase in people's usage of the area, then steps need to be taken to mitigate this trend. The government has also invested heavily in presenting the Bay and its wildlife to an international market. While the dolphins are Port Phillip's smiling ambassadors, more and more people are coming to swim with the seals. When up to 10% of the seals at the haul-out site visited by the tour boats are entangled in line or have hooks or open wounds it can be very distressing for the visitors. 20 years being gracious hosts could be forgotten with one bite from a sore and desperate animal.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Seals are an integral part of the marine ecosystem that suffer by comparison with icon animals like dolphins. Seals at haul-out points smell and the only things that people tend to read or hear about them are negative and misinformed: they compete for scarce resources; their numbers have skyrocketed; they are aggressive towards people and they eat their own bodyweight in fish everyday. Millions of dollars are directed towards recreational fishing and boating annually in Victoria, but resources are so limited for wildlife officers that an intervention in a instance where a seal's suffering could be alleviated can take weeks. There seems to be an underlying perception that wildlife can take care of themselves, but as human impacts escalate so too do the negative implications for wildlife that struggle to cope with a raft of changes. In light of the dearth of resources, encouraging a sense of stewardship is essential. If the general public are better informed, then they can do more to cause less stress on the wildlife and understand that changing their behaviour a little can mean a lot to a seal. By detailing the case of a young seal that is saved from a miserable death we hope to show the dire consequences of a moment of carelessness, but not paint a picture of complete doom and gloom. People recognising that there is a growing problem may encourage the government to think about the allocation of funding to address problems that their push to increase access and usage have inflamed. The government has invested a great deal in promoting the Bay as a tourist destination for international travelers. The dolphins might be Port Phillip's smiling ambassadors, but many people are now coming to swim with the seals. Witnessing around 10% of the seals on show with various entanglements and injuries distresses some visitors and may lead to an injured animal's tolerance being tested and 20 years of good relations disappearing with one bite.
About You
Organization:
Polperro Dolphin Swims
Visit website
Section 1: About You
First Name

Troy

Last Name

Muir

Organization

Polperro Dolphin Swims

Country

, VIC

Section 2: About Your Organization
Organization Name

Polperro Dolphin Swims

Organization Phone

613 59888437

Organization Address

PO Box 11, Blairgowrie. Victoria. 3942. Australia.

Organization Country

, VIC

Your idea
Country your work focuses on

, VIC

Would you like to participate in the MIF Opportunity 2010?

Innovation
Do you have a patent for this idea?

Impact
What impact have you had on your clients and the tourism sector?

Polperro was originally involved with Port Phillip Bay's dolphins in the capacity of a research vessel. The dolphin-swim industry grew from Polperro conducting tours for the research organisation now known as the Dolphin Research Institute. We have driven the regulation of the industry since its inception because we realized at an early stage that if left unchecked, the dolphins' future viability and that of an emerging industry could be compromised.
Being in on the ground floor of an industry necessarily entailed our involvement in an array of working groups and committees concerned with matters ranging from the formulation of an industry code of conduct for an emerging tourism sector, the establishment of activity standards through to defining the very nature of what it is to be an eco-tourism provider. We have worked alongside researchers studying dolphins, seals and aspects of the tourism industry.
Polperro has grown to become internationnally recognised as an extremely experienced, professional, innovative and successful individual operation that conducts environmentally responsible wildlife tours. Although Polperro is a commercial operation, we covet the protection of the marine environment and achieving positive conservation outcomes over the bottom-line.
Polperro has shown that success can be achieved within environmental limits and following successive and ongoing recognition as the premier eco-tourism provider, was awarded Hall of Fame for Environmental Tourism in the Victorian Tourism Awards.
Conservation through education is our driving philosphy and we aim to make our trips not only environmentally informative, but environmentally supportive. We aim to instil a conservation ethic within our participants by highlighting to them the unique qualities and vulnerabilities of the Bay's marine environment and hope that this will help to motivate them to become actively involved in the protection of these natural wonders.

Actions

The process we embarked upon with the dolphins started with a willingness to commit to being regulated. Polperro has started a campaign to develop a similar system of protection for the Australian fur seals. Through discussions with operators, managers and researchers a code of conduct for tourism activities has been formulated.
Polperro collaborated with the government on forming an appropriate set of regulations that govern activities around seal colonies, but these do not extend to the Bay's haul-out sites.
Polperro will produce educational material to support a public relations campaign. We have images of a particular young seal that had fishing line cutting into his skin around his neck. As he grew, it would have cut through blubber and muscle and he would have died a slow painful death of starvation or strangulation. The seal was rescued and released. It is an example of what can happen through a moment of carelessness. We want to show people how changing their behaviour a little can mean a lot to a seal. We will also detail why you should not feed seals; how litter poses a threat and try and dispel some of the misconceptions about them.

Results

Most people do not act out of malice. We want the material we produce to encourage a sense of stewardship. We will show people how special seals are. This has worked particularly well for the dolphins. We want to show people the dire consequences of particular activities and detail how easy it is to do the right thing.
We will also continue to advocate for operators to be informed by the considered code of conduct in governing how they manage tourist activities around seals. Adopting the code of conduct may be used as a marketing tool for a business claiming eco-credentials.
The Melbourne Zoo has come up with an initiative to collect unwanted fishing gear in purpose-built receptacles. We would like these to be rolled out extensively around areas used by shore based fishers as well as being put on fishing charter vessels and at boat launching facilities. Presently we are involved in research to gauge whether the bins are being used for the purpose they were intended for.
We believe that more research into the causes of seal deaths is required to get the full picture of mortalities caused by human impacts.

What will it take for your project to be successful over the next three years? Please address each year separately, if possible.

In the first year we would produce the educational material and begin to roll it out to schools, recreational fishing and boating organisations, natural area managers etc. Develop a presence on the Internet. We will also supply articles and images to media outlets and discuss with schools how they might use the seals' plight in programs.
The second year we will continue the distribution of educational material and use interest generated to lobby government for the funds to keep initiatives like the Melbourne Zoo's fishing gear bins operating and install signage on piers and at boat ramps and on haul-out sites.
We will continue to point out the disparity in the level of protection afforded to seals compared to dolphins and question why this is the case.
In the third year we would use our primary research and invite a university department (like Monash University's Tourist Research Unit) to engage PhD students to further the research. We would continue to involve schools, special interest groups and the public.

What would prevent your project from being a success?

Polperro is a small business with big ideas and ambitions. We have a dedicated and passionate crew and network that will continue to advocate for positive environmental outcomes. While we do not lack enthusiasm, experience and the skills necessary for successful programs, we do suffer from lack of resources; as with most environmental initiatives. We are time and dollar poor. Funding to cover printing costs and the distribution of material would be a great help.

How many people will your project serve annually?

More than 10,000

What is the average monthly household income in your target community, in US Dollars?

Less than $50

Does your project seek to have an impact on public policy or introduce models and tools that benefit the tourism sector in general?

Yes

Sustainability
What stage is your project in?

Operating for more than 5 years

In what country?

, VIC

Is your initiative connected to an established organization?

Yes

If yes, provide organization name.

The Strandings Network. Melbourne Zoo. Parks Victoria. The Department of Sustainability and the Environment.

How long has this organization been operating?

More than 5 years

Does your organization have a Board of Directors or an Advisory Board?

Yes

Does your organization have any non-monetary partnerships with NGOs?

No

Does your organization have any non-monetary partnerships with businesses?

No

Does your organization have any non-monetary partnerships with government?

No

Please tell us more about how these partnerships are critical to the success of your innovation.
What are the three most important actions needed to grow your initiative or organization?

The three most important actions needed to grow our initiative are:
1. the design and distribution of materials.
2. lobbying of state and federal governments.
3. getting the message through to recreational anglers and boaters and the organisations that represent their interests.

The Story
What was the defining moment that led you to this innovation?

I have come to realise that I must do more because the government is doing less.

Tell us about the social innovator behind this idea.

I have a keen interest in nature conservation and particularly in that of the marine environment.
Most of what happens in the marine environment occurs beneath the surface and beyond people's gaze. I believe that the challenge is to give people access to a realm that they are unfamiliar with, show them how special it is, bring an understanding of how our day to day lives impact on its health and encourage a sense of stewardship over it.
My career goals are intertwined with promoting the principle of conservation through education by a range of means including eco-tourism, writing and photography. I have spent a large part of my life on and under the sea and I can think of nothing more rewarding than continuing this into the future and sharing that experience with others so they might understand how extraordinary the marine world truly is.

Nothing happens overnight. I have a strong belief that marine conservation and education are worthwhile, therefore I am prepared to committ myself to working towards promoting the future viability of our marine resources for the longterm. It is also essential that effort is not stiffled if outcomes are not achieved. A solid starting point in nature conservation is having issues discussed. Often environmental outcomes are compromised by economic and social needs, but it is important that the environmental implications are considered in the decision-making process.

How did you first hear about Changemakers?

Email from Changemakers

If through another, please provide the name of the organization or company

50 words or fewer