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Habitat types represented in the park include:
- sheltered intertidal mud flats
- subtidal soft sediments in tidal channels.
The mudflats within the marine national park are of national significance primarily as a feeding habitat for wader birds and other water birds. Many water birds and wader birds roost among the mangroves and nearby coastal woodlands.
Mangroves provide vital habitat for the life cycles of crabs, shrimps, sand hoppers, marine snails and bivalves, and well as important feeding areas for adult and juvenile fish. While not actually eating the mangroves directly, the leaves that fall into the water are decomposed and form detritus, a major food source for scavenging and filter feeding animals in the bay.
Over 295 bird species have been recorded in Western Port with 32 of these being international migratory waders that fly from as far away as Siberia, Japan, China, and Alaska during our summer months. The Yaringa Marine National Park forms an important part of the Western Port Ramsar wetlands that have been listed under the International Treaty for the Protection of Migratory Wader Birds (Ramsar Convention).
Eastern Curlew (Numenius madagascariensis)
The Eastern Curlew is the largest of a number of migratory wader birds that make their home for several months each year in the park. Eastern Curlews nest largely in Siberia in a hollow scoop on the ground filled with a layer of grass and leaves. Migrating during the northern hemisphere winter to wetlands in southern Australia, these magnificent birds usually arrive in August and depart in March or April. Occasional non-breeding birds remain in Australia for the entire year.
Eastern Curlews feed on a variety of invertebrates such as crabs, molluscs, or worms that they collect from the mudflats with their long probing beaks. The rich mudflats of Western Port provide these animals with energy to return back to eastern Asia and successfully breed. The survival of this species this depends on protecting habitat at both ends of their flight path.
White Mangrove (Avicennia marina)
The most developed and extensive Victorian mangrove populations occur in Western Port. White mangroves, Avicennia marina subsp. Australasica, are the only mangroves that grow in Victoria and also grow in most other states except Tasmania. They are often quite stunted in size in Victoria compared with their tropical relatives and many appear as growing as trees or shrubs, up to 2.4m tall rather than true trees.
Mangroves are actually flowering plants that have evolved strategies for surviving in a challenging environment. They are capable of surviving in highly saline soils and mud by actually taking up salt through their roots then getting rid of it through specialised salt glands on the back of their leaves. They can cope with the thick airless mud in which they grow by having a series of breathing roots or pneumatophores that allow them to gain oxygen directly from the air. There seeds are also well suited for transport by water and have often begun to germinate before they fall off the parent pant, giving them a good opportunity to start growing when lodged in a suitable environment.Sand deposits may drown mangroves through smothering of their pneumatophores (roots exposed to the air), therefore activities on land which increase sediment loads into Western Port can have a significant impact on mangrove habitats. Mangroves may be killed by reduced water salinity associated with fresh water drainage being diverted into them.