The fish of the Werribee River now have their own specially built ‘ladder’ to climb, thanks to a $130,000 Melbourne Water project to improve the health of the river and its fish.

The  fish ladder (also known as a fishway), which is built alongside Bluestone Ford, consists of a series of rock steps and pools that create a pathway for the fish to swim up from below the ford wall to upstream areas.

The pools in between each level of rocks allow the fish to rest at intervals. The project was a result of research that showed the structure would greatly help the river’s fish species and their breeding cycles. Bluestone Ford was built in the 1800s, and was the only crossing of the Werribee River at the time and part of the original Melbourne-Geelong Road.  The Chirnside family also used it to transport wool to the port of Geelong.

However, the crossing acted as a barrier to fish that use the lower Werribee River to feed and breed at particular times of the year. Some species need both salt and fresh water to complete their lifecycle and others prefer to feed in the brackish water.

The project involved large excavators moving each rock into place individually until the desired gradient was achieved. A permit was granted by Heritage Victoria for the project, given the area’s rich European and Aboriginal cultural heritage.

Melbourne Water Waterways Manager (West region) Cameron Howie said Werribee River supported 30 fish species and the ladder was critical to removing barriers to migration.

“The Werribee River is much valued by the local community, not only as a backdrop to exercise and social gatherings, but for its biodiversity,” said Mr Howie.

“Projects such as this fish ladder help support and improve the habitat for the many native species that call this river home.”

Now that construction is finished, Melbourne Water and Parks Victoria will rehabilitate the river bank and replant vegetation in the areas that have been affected by the work. Parks Victoria Senior Ranger at Werribee Park, Julie Linguey said the ladder would have long-term benefits.

“It’s great to see some small fish already benefitting from the fish ladder. A variety of fish species will now thrive into the future as a result of improved range of habitat, better stream flows and water quality,” said Ms Linguey.

Visitors are invited to take a walk to see what a fish ladder actually looks like by following the signs along the walking trail that leads down past the farm buildings in Werribee Park and to the ford.

Michelle is a freelance journalist and editor who, as well as covering all the latest and breaking industry news, is a gun proofreader and editor who never misses a trick.

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