BENEATH the cover of darkness, scientists from the University of Melbourne snuck down to the surf beach at Venus Bay and released 2000 pipis at low tide into the night.
The pipis had been gathered from the beach earlier in the day, before being individually tagged with a special number and returned to the ocean.
The capture and release of the pipis is part of a three year study being undertaken by the university, in an attempt to track the movements of the molluscs.
Members of the local community turned up in droves on Friday, January 6 at the Venus Bay surf beach to assist the scientists in their search for the released pipis.
Participants were taken down to several marked out sections of the beach, and were instructed to find as many pipis within a two hour period as they possibly could.
The aim of the activity was to track the short-term movements of the pipis overnight, from when they had been released to when they were found again.
Dr John Morrongiello from the School of Biosciences at the University of Melbourne said that having the community involved was an important aspect of the project.
“Today’s Great Pipi Hunt is a search both for short term data but also longer term information,” Dr Morrongiello said.
“This is about engaging with the community, interacting with people, and getting them interested in science.
“On Thursday night we released 2000 pipis that we had collected and tagged. We released them at low tide, and today we’re going to see how many we can find, and where they’ve moved to, if they’ve moved at all.
“Pipis don’t have legs or fins, but we know they can move. Are they moving big distances or short distances? How many are out there? How long do they survive? These are all key questions that need answering,” Dr Morrongiello said.
Scientists from the University of Melbourne are hoping to find out whether too many pipis are being collected for lunch or dinner or to use as fishing bait, a question that has been raised in the past in Venus Bay.
“We know that harvesting affects all fished species, be they snapper or pipis,” Dr Morrongiello said.
“The challenge faced by fisheries managers worldwide is determining how much we can harvest and still maintain viable populations.”
Natural environmental variation plays an important role in the shaping of the pipi population – something that will be explored over the next three years as the project unfolds.
“We basically want to know what drives the pipi population to go up and down, and how can we use this information to better inform management?” Dr Morrongiello said.
With funding from the Victorian Government’s Recreational Fishing Grants Program, Dr Morrongiello is conducting three-year study that monitors the population health of these edible bivalve molluscs to help formulate a long-term management plan for them.
The valuable pipi information will assist scientists to uncover some of the pipis’ secrets, and help to determine whether current recreational collection practices are sustainable.
The great pipi hunt