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Lost at Sea: Conserving cultural heritage and fur seals

Using leading technologies, Phillip Island Nature Parks is exploring the climate change impacts at Seal Rocks colony, and conducting an Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Survey with co-funding from Telematics Trust and the Penguin Foundation.

The Telematics Trust and the Penguin Foundation recently approved co-funded support for Phillp Island Nature Parks' project titled “Lost at Sea: Conserving cultural heritage and fur seals” to measure the impacts of climate change on Seal Rocks. This three-year project is a partnership between Phillip Island Nature Parks, Monash University, Bunurong Land Council Aboriginal Corporation (BLCAC) and Wildlife Coast Cruises.

The teams will be measuring how ocean inundation is changing the site through erosion at Seal Rocks and how heatwaves are affecting pup survival during the summer breeding season when they are small and vulnerable. BLCAC will perform an archaeological survey of cultural heritage and test methods of monitoring climate change impacts to cultural heritage through erosion of Country. This research will help identify potential future havens for Seal Rocks colony 'refugees'. It will also create a model to identify other key Victorian wildlife conservation and Aboriginal Cultural Heritage sites that are most 'at risk' from climate change’s impacts on sea levels and erosion.

We will be using drones, temperature loggers and wave and tide loggers to gather the necessary information over the breeding seasons. Wildlife Coast Cruises will assist with educating visitors to Seal Rocks through their ecotourism business. With the El Niño and predicted heatwave this summer, we are well placed to learn more about climate change impacts on Seal Rocks, the largest Australian fur seal breeding site and important cultural site.

Figure 3: Infographic by Peter Puskic demonstrating the impact of ocean inundation on fur seals that rely on low-lying breeding sites

Current erosion in prime Australian fur seal breeding areas at Seal Rocks
Photographs taken at Seal Rocks showing loss of sediments due to erosion.

Image 21: The rocky ridges that the pups are playing on have only recently been uncovered

By Rebecca McIntosh, Senior Scientist

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