Documentary Story: Collections and Climate Change
Collections and Climate Change, Documentary Film, Wind & Sky Productions, Written and Directed by Jary Nemo, Produced by Lucinda Horrocks and Jary Nemo, 2018.Contributors
This material has been released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International license (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0).Copyright
Copyright with Wind & Sky Productions.
In Victoria climate change is already impacting our oceans and our landscapes and our cultural, social and political life.
This short documentary film explores how Victoria’s scientific and cultural collections, both the static material kept in museums and the living flora and fauna of our parks and marine reserves, helps us understand the change that is occurring and what sort of actions we need to take in the future.
Featuring interviews with Mark Norman, Chief Conservation Scientist at Parks Victoria, Kate Phillips, Senior Curator Science Exhibitions at Museums Victoria, Professor David Cantrill, Executive Director Science at Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria and Sione Napi Francis, Lead Curator Te Pasifika Gallery Redevelopment at Museums Victoria.
This Wind & Sky Production has been commissioned by Creative Victoria for the Culture Victoria portal.
DR MARK NORMAN, CHIEF CONSERVATION SCIENTIST, PARKS VICTORIA:
So, think about you could go tomorrow for an hour in a marine national park and find 50 new species of marine life that nobody's ever seen before.
Or you could step into the Otways forests at night and be surrounded by glow worms in this magical kind of fairyland and go, "This is such an amazing collection."
While you listen to owls and you look up close at the glow worms and you find out that they're actually the maggots of fungus gnats that make these little chandeliers of sticky snot and they glow behind their chandelier running their glowing bum up and down so that the sparkle attracts other little gnats so they stick to the snot and then the larvae eats the snot chandeliers.
The stories that are embedded in one little bug is a whole world of evolution and adaptation and how they fit in a forest. They've probably been doing it in those forests continuously back to the time of polar dinosaurs when Australia was connected to Antarctica.
The depth of inherent information that's sitting within those creatures that having living examples brings all sorts of different information that we don't necessarily get from static collections.
But they work very well together.
What's here now is our living collection, but what's in a museum or a Herbarium gives us the snapshots of what was found at first contact with European colonisers or what was historically found in an area.
KATE PHILLIPS, SENIOR CURATOR, SCIENCE EXHIBITIONS, MUSEUMS VICTORIA:
Well, I guess we could say it's worth perhaps starting off with the fact that climate change is not really one thing. Climate change is a big umbrella and what it covers is things that are happening to our climate and also to the ocean.
So sometimes it's called climate and ocean change. But actually human activities have changed the composition of the atmosphere. So basically on a big broad scale we've changed the chemistry of our planet and how it works.
And so in terms of understanding that, the museum's collections can help you to see where animals live at the moment and one big response of warming oceans is that animals are moving.
Our marine systems probably show it more than most in that just the movement of warmer waters coming around into Victoria are bringing with them species that historically were part of New South Wales.
Underwater New South Wales looks very different. It's dominated by these sea urchins that feed on seaweeds and they almost force out the seaweeds out of sort of shallow water depths. They just eat everything out.
You just get left with these pink encrusting algae type of seaweed that look like pink rocks. So, they're called urchin barrens and that forms in New South Wales it's a natural part of the system.
It's not a natural part of the system in Victoria and Victoria has healthy kelp reefs and kelp forests and lots of seaweeds and all those sorts of things.
So, one of the most immediate changes is we're getting these New South Wales species now starting to work their way into Victoria and starting to form those urchin barrens that clear things out.
Things that occurred just in tropical waters in the past are actually coming further south. And we're seeing that through being able to compare where animals lived based on our museum collection data with new citings with recent information about where a particular fish or marine invertebrates are now found.
On land we're seeing animals starting to be seen further south than they were historically.
So, some of our staff working closely with citizen scientists, the field naturalist clubs recently recorded the most southeast record of a red kangaroo, which is your typical Ayers Rock central desert sort of kangaroo. They're already in northeast Victoria, but they’re coming down towards Bendigo way.
We're starting to get issues like the timing's wrong.
The snow's melting early and the mountain pygmy possums are emerging two weeks before the Bogong moths come en masse in the high country.
So, they don't have the critical food they need straight away. It's starting to disconnect and the same with flowering of plants synchronising with emergence of nesting and young and all those sorts of things.
PROFESSOR DAVID CANTRILL, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR SCIENCE, ROYAL BOTANIC GARDENS VICTORIA:
We can see shifts in flowering times, for example. That's well documented from Herbarium collections around the world. There's been a number of studies done, including using our collection, looking at shifts in flowering times, and, of course, they can be of concern, because if the plants shift their flowering time, and the insects that pollinate them don't shift their reproductive time, then those things can get out of sync, and all of a sudden, what it means is the plants don't get pollinated, they don't produce seeds, and the insects that pollinate them don't have the food resources at the time that they would normally need them so you can start studying the impact of those sorts of things through time, and that's one of the great uses of the collections.
Those things are there and really obvious to biologists, but to the general public it's not front of mind. You might see a crested pigeon in your garden and go, "That's a funny pigeon with a knot on its head.” That's a desert species that's moving south.
So, those sorts of things are all around people, but it's not being translated or promoted in a way that shows the urgency of this issue or the importance of it or how much we've got to act. I think it's a really difficult space.
SIONE NAPI FRANCIS, LEAD CURATOR TE PASIFIKA GALLERY REDEVELOPMENT, MUSEUMS VICTORIA:
Well, at the moment, the dialogue is around sea level increase, temperature rising in the Pacific, melting ice caps. But the human story is missing. Right across the northern part of the Pacific, in ... all the nations like Kiribati, in the Marshall Islands, and also particularly Solomons, they are experiencing land loss. Already five islands that I know of in the Solomons have been lost, and the people have already moved from those places to other islands in the Solomons.
You can see, there's a lot of dialogue around that, but the real story is a sovereignty issue, it's a Indigenous rights issue, and it's a human rights issue that needs to be honoured. And then there's the cultural aspect as well.
That's a question that we're thinking about very much at the moment and supporting members of those communities that live in Melbourne and having connections with their culture as it is represented in our collections.
So, we're trying to prepare for what's coming with climate change and getting more aware about the extremes of weather or extremes of drying or extremes of flood or risk of fire vulnerabilities and frequency of fire and frequency of dry lightning storms and all those sorts of things.
We've got an obligation as custodians to try and ensure that we give that nature its best chance.
Maybe we have to think in terms of refugia or havens or put all our extra effort in this area and get the foxes and cats out of there and make sure it's as healthy as possible to give it the best bet against the pressures of this all pervading climate change that's occurring across the world.