The Gippsland Lakes are home to one of two known resident populations of Burrunan dolphins (Tursiops australis) in Victoria.
Burrunan is the Aboriginal name given to dolphins. Used in Boonwurrung, Woiwurrung and Taungurung languages, it means “name of a large sea fish of the porpoise kind”.
The Burrunan dolphin is listed as critically endangered by the Victorian Government. Through their research, the Marine Mammal Foundation (MMF) has identified the resident population of Gippsland Lakes Burrunan dolphin to be about 65 individuals.
The population is facing threats introduced by environmental change, litter and increased tourism. Gippsland Lakes community members are eager to protect this incredible species and their watery environment.
The Marine Litter Project is MMF’s award-winning education and community engagement program. It seeks to inspire appreciation of and connection to local marine environments. The program shines a light on the incredible marine mammal diversity of Victoria.
The program centres on empowering positive community action and agency for conservation. It engages participants in unique learning activities which foster knowledge and skills. The project aims to encourage informed positive changes by increasing knowledge around the impacts of litter.
Project workshops combine education with practical action. Participants explore local marine mammals, such as the discovery of the Burrunan dolphin. They become familiar with the Australian fur seal found along our coastlines, and humpback whales who visit our Victorian coastline on their migration pathway.
They also explore less-common visitors, such as orcas and Antarctic leopard seals. Participants witness beautiful underwater footage of dolphins and seals. Listening to sound recordings of dolphins and whales is part of the experience too. They also get to know individual Burrunan dolphins through MMF’s 'fin identification' and hear stories about these incredible animals.
The project communicates threats which humans introduce to the Gippsland Lakes. These include local litter, irresponsible boating and incorrect disposal of fishing line. Through understanding, participants are inspired to make a positive difference. They mitigate these threats through simple and effective conservation action and consumer choices.
“When my family are going to a café or the supermarket, I am now an 'enviro ninja' that is in charge of reminding about bags and keep cups, or saying "do you really need that?" If they ask for a straw.”
The MMF has run the project in communities across the Gippsland Lakes area. Participants have included schools, Life Saving Victoria clubs, Scouts Victoria groups, youth groups and citizen science organisations. Central to the project is holistic community-driven activity. It seeks to inspire ongoing positive action, environmental awareness, and local stewardship. It demonstrates effective action which can help mitigate the litter threat to ensure what we do today creates a better tomorrow.
You can read more about litter and projects seeking to reduce its impacts in the State of the Marine and Coastal Environment 2021 Report.