Important things to know about the physical and social environment of the Port Phillip and Western Port region include:
Around 40% of the region retains native vegetation. Of this, about 40% is located in parks or reserves managed for conservation purposes; another 30% is on other publicly-owned land and 30% is on private property.
The region is at the convergence of seven bioregions – Victorian Volcanic Plain, Gippsland Plain, Highlands Southern Fall, Central Victorian Uplands, Otway Plain, Strzelecki Ranges and Victorian Alps. Together they contain indigenous vegetation categorised into about 100 ecological vegetation classes. Some species that were present 200 years ago are now extinct but the region still contains 1,860 indigenous plant species.
Loss and degradation of native vegetation through incremental clearing and urban development are important threats to the ongoing security of native vegetation in this region. Weeds also continue to threaten the integrity of remaining vegetation.
For more information on the current condition and targets for the habitat of this region, go to the Native Vegetation section.
This region was home in the past to at least 525 species of native fish, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles. Today there are estimated to be 427 species still surviving. Of these around 30 were once known to exist in the region but are now likely to be locally extinct.
The extent and quality of native habitat has declined significantly over the past 100 years and native animals in the region have responded in various ways. Some have been lost from the region, others have adapted to change and some are thriving (such as possums in urban areas). Many, such as the Legless lizard, are limited to small and fragmented habitat patches whereas others survive only in the larger parks and reserves.
Habitat loss and degradation, along with pest animals including foxes, rabbits and cats, are the most significant threats to the populations of native animals in this region.
For more information on the current condition and targets for our native species, go to the Native Animals section.
Waterways and wetlands
The Port Phillip and Western Port region contains a variety of waterways, from iconic rivers such as the Yarra, which meanders from forested ranges through countryside and city to the ocean; to local wetlands, such as the Edithvale-Seaford Wetlands, that provide a haven for a variety of animals and plants to breed and thrive. There are over 8,400 km of major rivers and creeks in the region, 29 estuaries and more than 900 wetlands.
Waterways are popular recreational destinations for residents and tourists, with around 90 million visits to our rivers and creeks each year. The region’s waterways are highly valued for their ecological importance, and provide water for drinking, industry and agriculture as well as critical ecosystem services such as nutrient cycling.
The condition of the region’s waterways is highly variable and often reflects the region’s land use patterns. The waterways in mountainous, forested areas are often in good condition and support many environmental values. Condition deteriorates progressively downstream as a result of poor quality drainage, runoff from urban and agricultural land, growth of weeds, bed and bank erosion, loss of instream habitat and barriers to fish migration. Urbanisation and land clearing, as well as water extraction for urban and agricultural uses, have led to modified flow regimes in many rivers and creeks.
For more information on the current condition and targets for the rivers, go to the Waterways and Wetlands section.
There are around 670,000 hectares of land in the region zoned as Farm, Green Wedge, Rural Conservation, Rural Living or a relevant Special Use which together can be described as the city’s Hinterland. It forms a large ring of rural land surrounding and jutting into Melbourne’s urban area. This land provides productive agriculture, habitat for native animals, open space and ‘soft’ ground that enables species to transit, water retention in the landscape, recreation opportunities and social amenity.
Retaining the open space and rural nature of Hinterland into the future keeps options open for benefits such as food production, biodiversity conservation, carbon sequestration and social amenity. However, as is the case with many growing cities, there is on-going competition between keeping this space for farming and environmental values or using it to house the increasing population.
For more information on the current condition and targets for the rural areas surrounding Melbourne, go to the Hinterland section.
The region has over 600km of coast fronting Port Phillip Bay, Western Port and Bass Strait. Significant environmental values include the Ramsar Sites in Western Port and Port Phillip Bay’s western shoreline. Much of the Western Port coast is low tidal mudflats and mangrove thickets while the ocean-facing coasts of Phillip Island and the Mornington Peninsula are dominated by high, rocky cliffs and inter-tidal reefs. The Port Phillip Bay coast east of Melbourne mostly consists of long sandy beaches with some cliffs and rocky outcrops. West of Melbourne, there are mostly marshlands and some smaller sandy beaches.
The coasts hold significant geological and cultural sites, and are visited by millions of people annually for a range of recreational activities.
Development, especially on Port Phillip Bay has been extensive. Half of the 50 vegetation types on the region’s coasts are endangered. The coastal zone is now thin in many areas and the environmental values are diminished. Weeds, pest animals, habitat destruction and fragmentation are major threats to the environmental values along much of this coast.
Some coastal areas could be submerged by 2100 if sea level rises. More frequent storm surges would exacerbate coastal erosion and salinity impacts on coastal ecosystems, infrastructure and aquifers.
For more information on the current condition and targets for the coastal zones, go to the Coasts section.
Port Phillip Bay & Western Port
The region’s two bays provide substantial economic, environmental and social benefits for the region and for Victoria. The western coastline of Port Phillip Bay and the entire extent of Western Port are internationally-recognised wetlands under the Ramsar Convention. There are four marine national parks and four marine sanctuaries. The Bays’ animal life includes two species of seagrass, hundreds of fish species, several hundred species each of molluscs, crustaceans, bristle worms, jellyfish, corals, sponges and seaweeds, making them two of Australia’s most diverse marine environments.
The catchments surrounding the Bays provide important freshwater flows, but modifications and development over the past 200 years mean these flows are also a source of sediments and excess nutrients that threaten water quality and marine species.
The Port Phillip & Western Port region comprises all the land that drains into Port Phillip Bay and Western Port. It totals approximately 1.3 million hectares.
About twenty percent of the region is urbanised. Grazing and cropping occupy much of its rural land but the majority of the region’s farm incomes come from relatively small areas of intensive horticulture and viticulture. Significant public land, conservation reserves and closed water supply catchments occupy much of the region’s perimeters on the Great Divide and Upper Yarra Catchment in the region’s north-east.
On peri-urban land and in ‘Green Wedge’ corridors abutting the urban area, waste management facilities serve 4 million people and their industries alongside landuses from poultry farms to prisons, airports, quarries and hobby farms.
The environmental impacts of these land uses is seen in the fragile persistence of native animals and birds on land and in the region’s waterways.
Around 26,000 km of drains and 8,000 km of waterways carry urban and rural stormwater and runoff to the bays. Ultimately, the sustainable use of the region’s lands will be known by the state of Port Phillip Bay and Western Port.
Climate and climate change
This region’s climate has shaped its natural and human history:
- Dry, warm to hot summers
- Wet, mild to cool winters
- Rainfall is expected in March to May as the ‘autumn break’
- Frequent winter rainfalls replenish soil moisture and maintain vegetation and stream flows through the dry summers
- Summer average maximum temperatures: 22-24ºC near the coast and ranges, 25-27ºC in the urban area and inland
- Winter average maximum temperatures: 12-14ºC but higher in urban areas
- Frosts occur inland but rare in coastal and urban areas
- Annual rainfall ranges from less than 600mm in the region’s west to more than 1,400mm in the Dandenong Ranges.
This climate is changing. Average annual air temperatures increased by 0.8ºC to 1.0ºC across the region over the last century and more rapidly since 1960.
High-confidence predictions show further temperature rises of similar magnitude by 2030. By 2050, cold years could be warmer than most of the current climate’s warm years.
A general fall in mean annual rainfall has been observed since the mid-1970s. Rainfall losses have been most pronounced in Autumn-Winter. Predictions for rainfall losses are less certain but general and progressive losses in winter-spring rainfall are expected to continue.
Soil moisture and catchment runoff are confidently predicted to decline; driven largely by changes to rainfall and evapotranspiration.
For more information about potential climate change effects, go the Resources section.
Climate change is likely to affect all parts of living systems and to multiply and complicate existing pressures. It challenges assumptions that natural resource management might be able to preserve present or restore past conditions.
People and organisations
With a population of approximately 4.2 million, the Port Phillip & Western Port region is the most populous of Victoria’s ten catchment management regions with, as would be expected in a major city, diverse age structure, education, religion and ethnic background.
The intensive demands on the environment in this region are an important concern for numerous Victorian Government organisations and the 38 Councils that are wholly or partly in this region. Their work is complemented by over 300 volunteer-based community groups, non-government organisations and public-land management committees.
Given the large number of organisations and people involved, coordination is very important here. The set of targets in this Regional Catchment Strategy provide a sound basis for collaborative and coordinated planning, action and reporting.
Indigenous history & culture
The Port Phillip and Western Port region is home to almost half (48%) of Victoria’s 25,000 Indigenous people and a number of Indigenous organisations that hold knowledge about the history and needs of the region’s natural environments. It is the country of the Wurundjeri, Boonerwrung, Bunurong, Wathaurong and Taungerong language groups. These groups are part of the Kulin Nation and have strong cultural connections with this land.
Aboriginal culture holds an inherent ethic of land stewardship incorporating a belief system that places Traditional Owners as both custodians of and belonging to the land. The Indigenous communities of the region are its Traditional Owners – the Kulin people and the people of other Indigenous nations who were displaced from their own country to this region’s missions in the 19th Century or who arrived more recently for other reasons.
Although relatively small in population and in the area of land they own and manage, Indigenous people bring a unique perspective of land stewardship to our approach to catchment management.
Population & growth
The Port Phillip and Western Port region’s population was approximately 4.2 million in 2010. It is anticipated to reach 5.5 million by 2036. This will account for more than two-thirds of Victoria’s population.
Like many of the world’s cities, Melbourne was established where natural resources were abundant and diverse. The city’s growth and the region’s parallel development have transformed its landscapes but Melbourne’s status as one of the world’s most liveable cities still depends on the natural features and ecological processes that continue to support it.
Bays, coasts, native vegetation, hinterland, native animals and waterways all make the region an attractive place to live, work and visit. However, the scale, rate and rollout of urban growth places significant pressure on the environmental assets of the region.
Significant natural resource-based industries in the Port Phillip and Western Port region include:
- Vegetable growing
- Intensive animal and poultry-raising
- Cut-flower production
- Nursery production
- Dairying and grazing
- Cereal cropping
The Port Phillip and Western Port region’s biggest employment sectors are manufacturing, retail, healthcare and social assistance, finance, scientific and technical services, transport and education & training.
Agriculture and related industries are important, ranking 12th among the region’s economic and employment sectors. The rural industries are important economically and also as custodians of the Hinterland environments. The Port Phillip & Western Port region’s rural land is the most productive in Victoria on a per-hectare basis, and the second most productive in total agricultural output behind the Goulburn Valley ‘food-bowl’ in the Goulburn-Broken region.
The most profitable rural industries in the region are often intensive and occupy the least amount of land. Vegetable growing and intensive animal and poultry raising accounted for 22.6% and 21% respectively of the total estimated production in 2001 but occupied only 6% and 1.7% of the farmland respectively.
The next most productive sector, dairying, occupied only 10.6% of the farmland in 2001 and this area has almost certainly fallen since then. In 2001, plant nurseries and flower growing created 13% of the region’s primary production incomes from 2.4% of the farmland.
At the other end of the scale, grazing occupied nearly 70% of the region’s Hinterland farmland in 2001 but produced only 8.4% of the total farm output. Moreover, the land is highly subdivided. Around 35,000 private landowners own the 670,000 hectares of rural hinterland.
The region contains approximately 3,300 hectares of timber plantation. Approximately 1,100 hectares is softwood plantation, comprised predominantly of Radiata Pine. Another 200 hectares of Blue Gum is scattered throughout the west of Port Phillip and 2,000 hectares of mixed planting’s exist in the low rainfall (around 500 mm per annum) areas at the You Yangs.
Cross-boundary collaboration and coordination
The Port Phillip and Western Port region abuts four other catchment management regions – Corangamite, North Central, Goulburn Broken and West Gippsland.
There are several issues relating to natural assets and elements of the landscape that transcend regional boundaries, affecting the way they are dealt with in this strategy. These include:
- The Grassland Plains to the west whose condition and extent are best managed in collaboration with Corangamite CMA to optimise investment outcomes and achieve consistency of policy
- The Ramsar Wetlands on the western shoreline of Port Phillip Bay whose conservation management responsibility is shared with Corangamite CMA
- Climate change responses and adaptation strategies which are being developed collaboratively with other CMAs
- Several councils share substantial portions of their municipal areas between two or sometimes three CMA regions. In these cases, mechanisms for communication and collaboration between the Councils and all of the relevant CMAs are put in place.