To open, or not to open? Getting the balance right in estuary management

Hayley Oates

Hayley, Estuaries and Environmental Water Project Officer

Hi, I’m Hayley, Estuaries and Environmental Water Project Officer at Corangamite CMA. My background is in Ecology and Conservation Biology, and I’m one of a team of four at the CCMA that manages estuaries and wetlands in our region to provide benefits for the local community and the environment.

There are 40 estuaries within the Corangamite region, of all shapes and sizes. Some of the more significant estuaries include:


Aire River estuary at Glenaire


Gellibrand River estuary at Princetown


Why do estuaries need to be managed?

Estuaries are part of a dynamic coastal environment that is constantly changing thanks to the forces of  nature. Strong winds and ocean swells can form sand bars which cause the estuary to close. This can result in flooding on adjacent land as the water in the estuary has nowhere to escape. Add heavy rainfall to the equation and we start to face challenges.

The Corangamite CMA seeks to achieve healthy, abundant estuary ecosystems that can also provide safe and enjoyable recreational spaces for visitors and local communities.

When the estuary mouth is open, there is less water in the estuary for recreational activities such as kayaking and fishing. When the estuary mouth is closed, adjacent agricultural land and built assets such as houses and caravan parks may be flooded.

Weather events naturally cause estuary mouths to open or close, but they can also be artificially opened*.

Artificially opening an estuary requires heavy machinery, which can pose a risk to the health and safety of beach goers. There is also a risk of disturbing threatened species such as Hooded Plovers.

Gellibrand estuary artificial opening - EstuaryWatch website

Artificial opening of the Gellibrand estuary. Photo: EstuaryWatch

7530_hooded plover chicks shelter_glenn ehmke

Hooded plovers nest on ocean beaches during the summer months. Photo: Glenn Ehmke

Regular artificial openings may also impact the ecology of the estuary system in ways that are currently not well understood. The Corangamite CMA is partnering with university researchers to better understand the ecological processes at work in our region’s estuaries. Watch this space, as more details on this exciting research will be published soon!

*In case you were wondering: it is illegal to open an estuary without a permit from the Corangamite CMA.


Hayley – Estuaries and Environmental Water Project Officer

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