Untold story of Pelican and Crescent islands

This is a story of how speaking up, making yourself heard, being patient and persistent can get things done.

The story begins back in 2008 with long term Gippsland Lakes resident Mr Peter Bury. Peter has lived and worked for 92 years on the edge of the Gippsland Lakes.

Nungurner Landcare Group member, Heather Oke, said over these many years, Peter has acquired an extensive knowledge and great respect for the Gippsland Lakes.

“Peter obviously knows the Lakes very well,” explained Heather. “He has seen how they have changed over the years and he was becoming increasingly concerned about the vegetation loss on Pelican Island.”

Peter noticed that swamp paperbark on the Island of Nungurner was gradually becoming lost.

“Peter was worried that if nothing was done, the Island could possible erode completely,” continued Heather.

He attended a Nungurner Community Group meeting and spoke of his concerns.

“Nungurner Landcare Group members and Friends of the Gippsland Lakes members were also at the meeting and after hearing Peter’s concerned we were keen to take up the challenge.

“At the same time we noticed that Crescent Island, further west near Paynesville, was also suffering from erosion.

“Crescent Island is an important nesting site of the Little Tern and had failed to attract any breeding birds for a number of seasons.

“Jim Reside from Wildlife Unlimited had worked and helped maintain Crescent Island under his schools program. He too was calling for a similar renourishing of Crescent Island and before too long these two projects began to have lots of similarities, linked by the Little Terns,” continued Heather.

After a series of meetings a partnership project emerged between Parks Victoria, Gippsland Ports, the Gippsland Lakes Ministerial Advisory Committee and the community. Work began in 2015 to relocate dredged material got by Gippsland Ports and move it firstly to Crescent Island.

“Work started at Crescent Island to try to get it ready in time for the arrival and breeding season of the Fairy and Little Terns in September and October 2015,” said Heather.

“Work on Pelican Island was to be delayed due to the Swan nesting season and would start later in the November 2015.”

Work at both the Islands is now complete. Crescent Island has hosted many pairs of breeding Fairy and Little Terns and has provided a resting site for large numbers of little Terns that migrated from Japan to enjoy our recent summer.

Birdlife Australia estimates that around 80 Little and Fairy Terns used Pelican Island as a resting site even before the renourishment project was completed.

“We were all very excited in March 2016 when a pair of Fairy Terns produced a chick,” exclaimed Heather.

“We had planned a kayaking trip with the Friends of the Gippsland Lakes to investigate the work, but we cancelled it so that we wouldn’t disturb the chick.

“The plight of the chick is unknown, but we hope it finally fledged and will visit the Lakes in the future to breed.”

This remarkable story and project continues this month as the Friends of the Gippsland Lakes and Nungurner Landcare Group return to Pelican Island with help from Greening Australia to plant more than 5,000 natives.

“Without the concern and determination of one 92 year old gentlemen in conjunction with the expertise of Jim Reside this project may never have got off the ground,” said Heather. “Peter Bury is an excellent example of what can be achieved if you speak out and make yourself heard.”

This project was made possible with the tireless efforts of volunteers in partnerships with Parks Victoria and Gippsland Ports through funding from the Victorian Government for the Gippsland Lakes.

Thank you to Heather Oke and the Nungurner Landcare Group for sharing this story.