Caring for Warrnambool's coastal sanctuary

IT’S an underwater gem glowing healthily beneath Warrnambool’s coastal doorstep. 

Grant Dodds (back left of Warrnambool), Marg O’Toole (Port Campbell), Ben Boyer (Narrawong), Wendy Albury (front left, Hampton), and Julianne Stuart (Elwood) explore the sanctuary.

Grant Dodds (back left of Warrnambool), Marg O’Toole (Port Campbell), Ben Boyer (Narrawong), Wendy Albury (front left, Hampton), and Julianne Stuart (Elwood) explore the sanctuary.

The Merri Marine Sanctuary has largely escaped the reach of introduced species and environmental destruction.

Preservation has made it a popular snorkelling and diving spot, carefully watched over by some passionate conservationists. 

On the weekend a handful of groups came together to make sure the sanctuary continued to be well protected. A local seminar heard the sanctuary’s macrocystis kelp forest continued to thrive in a time when the species was being wiped out. 

“It’s been dying off,” Reef Watch educator Marg O’Toole said. 

“It used to be really common around south-eastern Australia. In the last 20 years there’s been a decline but we’ve got a really healthy forest. It’s a small forest but it’s healthy.” 

Community groups such as Reef Watch, Friends of Merri Marine Sanctuary and Coastcare have vowed to work more closely to protect the underwater park. 

“We’re very lucky that we’ve got very few introduced species … but we’re keeping an eye out,” Ms O’Toole said. 

Warrnambool has also escaped the northern pacific sea star, which is still assaulting marine habitats in Port Phillip Bay.

Exotic kelp species haven’t managed to reach the sanctuary in strong numbers, despite being a problem in Apollo Bay. 

“We’re fortunate that we’ve got a pristine, beautiful marine sanctuary here,” Ms O’Toole said.

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