An invasive sea spurge is taking over large sections of vital nesting ground for Port Campbell's beloved penguins, but a possible solution to the problem may be as simple as it is unusual.
CSIRO researchers have released a French fungus (Venturia paralias) at the popular Great Ocean Road destination London Bridge in order to tackle a growing coastal weed infestation.
Project scientist Dr Gavin Hunter said the sea spurge (Euphorbia paralias) can produce up to 20,000 seeds a year and devastates the ecosystem by altering the structure of sand dunes and displacing vegetation necessary for the nesting sites of shorebirds.
"If you've got hundreds of thousands of sea spurge it takes away the space available for native seabirds to make their nests and rear their young," Dr Hunter said.
"At London Bridge there are resident little penguins, but there's also quite a significant sea spurge infestation. The problem with that is when the penguins go to gather their food and get to their burrows they have to wander through the sea spurge and if it's really thick it can impede their ability to get through.
"These weeds have really long roots which can get into the burrows which makes life difficult for those penguins and also a range of other shorebirds which need open sand for their nesting."
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He said scientists hoped the plant-specific fungus would trigger an epidemic on the sea spurge, significantly reducing its reproductive capacity.
"It would reduce the number of seeds produced by the plant so if we have a reduction in the production and output of the sea spurge that would mean there's less getting into the ocean and spreading along the coast."
Parks Victoria program leader Mark Rodrigue helped in the initial releases and said the new control would compliment existing labour-intensive methods.
"CSIRO have been working on trying to develop a biocontrol for this particular weed with seeds that float on sea water," he said.
"It uses natural processes to control the plant which is important because it's usually controlled by hand and by using sprays."
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