Who would have guessed that Port Phillip is home to a diverse range of corals and related species?
What’s more, they and other filter feeding creatures combine to keep our bay healthy, like a giant aquarium filter. The Office of the Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability estimates that it would take $11 billion to replace this living filtration by treatment works!
The top image shows a Gorgonian soft coral from Port Phillip Heads. They can grow nearly one metre across and are related to the deep-water “black coral” that is prized for making jewellery.
Like the close-up of soft coral below, they are made up of thousands of little polyps all having eight tentacles with tiny bristle-like projections.
Each polyp, like their sea-anemone and jelly-fish cousins, has a central mouth to receive food caught by its sticky tentacles. Also like their cousins, they have poisonous stinging cells to help them capture and hold on to their planktonic prey.
The brilliant yellow Zooanthids below, adorn the walls and ceilings of caves in Port Phillip Heads, like the gilded artwork of a giant cathedral. The have more than eight tentacles, but without the bristles.
Like the reef-building corals in the tropics these are all living colonies of animals that are interconnected, so that they can actually share the proceeds of their neighbours’ feeding!
Yes – Port Phillip also has reef-building corals that grow in patches on the sea-bed. It’s probably too cold for them to form true coral reefs at the moment, but this could change as our waters warm.
The impacts from extremes of climate and population growth leave no room for complacency to protect our dolphins and bays in the decades ahead.
Our big challenge is that many Victorians seem to believe that the most important marine life to protect is in Queensland.
We only protect what we value – marine education is critical to building stewardship for our bays.
You can become part of our work to protect our wonderful bays and dolphins by donating to support our research and education programs. It’s the perfect time before 30 June to make the most of your donation and tax return.
The Dolphin Research Institute is registered with the Australian Charities and Not for Profit Commission as a charity. Donations of $2 and more are tax deductible.