Visitors to Victoria’s coastal parks and beaches are urged to only drive on legal roads and tracks to avoid damaging coastal dune environments.
The reminder comes after Parks Victoria recently prosecuted six commercial fishermen who drove on the beach at Discovery Bay between November 2017 and June 2019 to collect shellfish.
Discovery Bay Coastal Park is home to rare birds which rely on coastal dune and beach habitats to survive, including Hooded Plover and Sanderlings, and is rich in Gunditjmara cultural sites. The Park is also part of the Lower Glenelg and Discovery Bay Ramsar wetland site, internationally recognised as an important habitat for migratory shorebirds.
Court proceedings were held before Magistrate Franz Holzer in the Geelong Magistrates Court over the internet. At the final hearing on 7 and 8 March 2022, Steven Fowler was found guilty of 22 charges in total including operating motor vehicle in area of public land, leaving a vehicle standing contrary to a sign and refusing to leave on the request of officers. He was fined $3,000 plus costs of $6,450.
Peter Schingler was found guilty of eight charges including operating motor vehicle in area of public land, leaving a vehicle standing contrary to a sign, and threatening, obstructing and assaulting officers. Magistrate Holzer imposed a Community Corrections Order with 100 hours community work, a fine of $900 plus costs of $6,450.
Dean Fowler was found guilty of six charges for obstructing, threatening, and abusing officers, and refusing to state name and address. Magistrate Holzer imposed a Community Corrections Order with 100 hours community work, a fine of $900 plus costs of $6,450.
These outcomes follow the related prosecutions in August 2021 of three fishers on similar charges, who pleaded guilty.
Magistrate Holzer acknowledged in the August 2021 hearing that Parks Victoria staff have a role to protect natural environments including shorebirds, Aboriginal cultural sites and to prevent damage to infrastructure such as tracks that is important to the Victorian people. He reminded the three fishermen that their perceived right to use vehicles to make fishing easier was not more important than these values. He said the use of vehicles on beaches to aid fishing activities was illegal and penalties should not be considered to be a ‘cost of business’.
Off-road access to marine and coastal Crown land and beaches by private vehicles is prohibited in accordance with the Land Conservation (Vehicle Control) Act 1972 and Land Conservation (Vehicle Control) Regulations 2013, except where specified exemptions apply.
Visitors who witness vehicles or motorbikes driving off-road are urged to contact Parks Victoria on 13 1963.
Quotes, attributed to Jamey Staples, Parks Victoria District Manager South West
“Parks Victoria is pleased with the outcome of the case. Our staff care for country, protect Victoria’s natural environment and cultural heritage and deserve to be safe at work. Abuse and aggression towards Authorised Officers carrying out their duties should not and will not be tolerated.”
“The Discovery Bay Coastal Park is a very important site for rare birds and it is a special place for Gunditjmara Traditional Owners – driving vehicles onto the beach puts that at risk.”
“There are only about 700 Hooded Plovers in Victoria and so we must protect their known habitat like Discovery Bay - it’s vital.”