Education Program

Wildlife Awareness Program

An ecological overview of the Mornington Peninsula


Foreword

While many people recognize the need for a healthy environment, few understand what this actually means and how a healthy environment can be achieved. Most of us live in cities or urban areas; we have removed the original habitat or modified and fragmented these areas with buildings, roads and paths, and gardens of exotic plants. We have lost contact with our natural surroundings – our indigenous ecological inheritance. 

Worse, by destroying our natural ecosystems we have promoted climate change and are in the process of losing huge numbers of species. This biodiversity is our inheritance: the greater our biodiversity, the greater our environmental stability. From this wealth, we obtain our food, much of our fibre, our medicine, our moderate climates, our air and water. With ecological appreciation and sustainable use, we could have these resources for perpetuity. Damage or contaminate this biodiversity, and the landscapes and soils which support them, and we deplete our own lives and productivity.

The following program is based from this ecological perspective and designed for an Australian Level 3-4 (Grades 3–6) for use at a class, group or individual level. The program uses a variety of local supports: key local wildlife speakers and volunteers, local excursions, commercial and privately produced programs, students’ work, and material from local wildlife and land care groups, libraries, historical societies and the local council.

Three different plans are given to suit different teaching styles: a Bloom’s Taxonomy format, ideas for a three-week syllabus plan, and an assignment format . The program aims to generate local ecological understandings and actions and is adaptable to most locations worldwide using one’s local landscapes, wildlife and vegetation.

While a pristine restoration of the environment is improbable, future planning, development and human lifestyles must incorporate local ecological perspectives and consequences in all spheres of our lives. Only by applying sustainable values, thinking and actions can we avoid the errors of the past and mitigate the faults for a future. Learning about our local landscapes, vegetation and wildlife, and the relationships between them, is the first step.

The future will be green or not at all. John Porritt

Acknowledgements

The Australian Wildlife Protection Council would like to thank the Shire of Flinders for their support and grant of $5000 without which this program would not have been possible. Our sincere gratitude is extended to Bob Dalling and Mikaela Earl of Boneo Primary School who forwarded and contributed to the project from the beginning.

Mention must also be made of Rob Nigro and Malcolm Legg who have promoted local ecology for decades and once again generously contributed their time, effort and knowledge to yet another initiative in their busy lives.

Background

This Wildlife Awareness Program aims to engage and inform students from Years 3-6 in the primary school about the integral needs of local wildlife from an ecological perspective.

Ecology is the study of biotic and abiotic elements in our environment, their life cycles and the relationships between them. Change one aspect of this ecology and the effects can by multiple. However, a strong ecology is balanced – every component has its own niche and shares a complex interrelationship with other components: the greater the diversity of components, the greater the stability. This enables flexibility and resilience to change.

Ecosystems are complex. They are made up of abiotic components (landscapes, sunshine, soil, water, air, etc.) and populations of biota (animals, plants, fungi, bacteria, etc.). The movement of energy between the two groups is dependent on biochemical cycles and food webs. Biochemical cycles are the transfer of elements (e.g. nitrogen, phosphorous, sulphur, oxygen, etc.) about a region or the planet. Food webs are the transfer of elements (e.g. minerals, vitamins, carbohydrates, fats, etc.) about a body or through a region.

Ecosystems are dynamic; they are constantly changing. Generally that change is a long-term occurrence but natural disasters such as storms or drought can change ecosystems almost immediately, even extinguish them. Human impacts affect ecosystems in the short- and long-term and, as a whole currently, at a more rapid pace than natural disasters.

Before human interference a rainforest, an island or grasslands did not need fixing or managing; the systems involved were self-regulating. The biological success or excess of humans has impaired these systems; our overpopulation and exploitation of the environment have damaged the ability of many ecosystems to repair naturally.

Where once animals faced the threats of predators and natural disasters, now they must absorb major threatening processes – mainly human – in short periods of time. In summary and order of seriousness, some of these threatening processes are

a.    habitat loss: the removal, fragmentation or damage of ecosystems, e.g. the construction of buildings, roads and farms; salinity; erosion
b.    introduced or feral species: animals, plants and diseases not local to a region
c.    pollution: excess elements or nutrients or the introduction of foreign materials,
e.g. the use of fertilisers on farms, chemicals, nano-particles, litter
d.    lifestyle disruptions: alterations to landscape and population lifecycles, e.g. night lights, over harvesting, use of underground water, the movement of water between catchments, burning leaf litter during insect hibernation.


Our agricultural production and power and water use have added to these threatening processes and caused serious climate changes by putting excess carbon and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere; and excess phosphorous, nitrogen, and other chemical nutrients in the soils and oceans. Our atmosphere is now less stable and worsens natural disasters such as storms, floods, droughts and wildfires. These climatic and atmospheric changes now exacerbate the cycle of habitat loss, introduced species, pollution and lifestyle disruptions.

Despite the changes and damage, many fragmented habitats and ecosystems surround our homes and only await our interest and action for repair. By learning about the relationships between the local flora and fauna, we can understand how important the biotic and abiotic cycles are to our food chains and climate. By mending or supporting these systems and reducing our power and water use, we can improve the area around us for the better – for the wildlife and ourselves.