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December 2011


James Cook University to launch probe into dugong trade

29 December 2011, by Daniel Bateman, The Cairns Post

JAMES Cook University researchers have received $170,468 in government funding to find out how much dugong meat is being illegally harvested in the Torres Strait and the reasons behind it.

The three-year project, to be carried out by scientists Natalie Stoeckl and Helene Marsh, will also investigate the best way to control a sustainable catch of the endangered animals.

Torres Strait Islanders and green groups, however, believe the money could be put to better use in supporting indigenous rangers to prevent the illegal take of the sea mammals.

Dugong numbers are on the decline along Queensland's east coast, the victims of boat strikes, being caught in fishing nets and declining water quality.

There are larger numbers of the animals north of Cooktown. However, a thriving black market trade in dugong meat has suggested the Torres Strait dugong population is over-harvested.

The researchers, in their project outline, claim 86 per cent of Islanders live on mainland Australia and there is evidence the export of dugong meat to the diaspora is substantial.

There is little known about the practice and ways to manage it sustainably.

Torres Shire Council Mayor Pedro Stephen said the funding for the project, provided by the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, could be better spent at a grassroots level, such as monitoring the illegal catch of dugong and sea turtle.

"I'm actually not a great supporter of collecting data just for the sake of collecting data and nothing's happening on the ground," he said.

He said he wasn't aware if the illegal take of the animals was rife in the region.

WWF Australia has welcomed the new JCU research project although a spokesman said there should be more federal support for indigenous rangers to carry out the monitoring required to stop the illegal harvest of dugongs.

More information: Click Here



Futenma plan once again thorn in side of DPJ

Failure to follow through on deal puts U.S. relations in precarious position

28 December 2011, By MASAMI ITO and ERIC JOHNSTON, The Japan Times

Map of Okinawa locating the US bases in Japan, including the Futenma air base and its planned relocation site (AFP, Afp/Gal)

The submission of the environmental assessment on Henoko in Okinawa sparked polarized reactions from the governments in Tokyo and Washington and the people of Okinawa, underscoring the gap in awareness over the contentious relocation of the Futenma air base.

Despite thunderous public outrage among Okinawa residents, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda had repeatedly expressed his intention to submit the report by the end of the year. And in the end, the Defense Ministry was unable to hand the report to the Okinawa Prefectural Government directly as planned and was forced to use the mail.

Pundits say Noda was adamant about submitting the report by Dec. 31 as a show of good faith to the United States. Amid the gridlock facing the Futenma plan, the U.S. Congress lost patience and recently decided to cut $150 million from the 2012 budget to move thousands of marines from Okinawa to Guam, which was a major part of the relocation package.

"The Futenma issue has been in a deadlock and has become a thorn between Japan and the U.S.," said Fumiaki Kubo, a professor of political science at the University of Tokyo. "Japan wanted to submit the report to give consideration to the U.S. and show that it is making efforts one step at a time to resolve the issue."

Ever since the Democratic Party of Japan took power in 2009, promising and failing to move the Futenma base out of Okinawa, the central government's relationship has been rocky not only with the locals on the island but also the U.S. However, Kubo thinks bilateral ties have taken a turn for the better, as both sides have agreed to focus on other pressing matters, including the situation on the Korean Peninsula.

"Japan and the U.S. agreed that while Futenma is important, they will not let it affect other outstanding bilateral issues," he said.

The experts, however, are unsure whether Japan's submission of the report will have any impact on Congress to restore the funding.

Sheila Smith, a senior fellow for Japan Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, stressed that regardless of the impact the assessment report may or may not have on Capitol Hill, Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima now has to reach a decision on the relocation plan.

"The time has come to make that decision. It is difficult to predict whether this will influence thinking on Capitol Hill. . . . Yet delaying the decision is not likely to be fruitful, and will only increase frustration all around," Smith said.

Since taking office in 2006 with the backing of the pro-base business community and the Liberal Democratic Party, Nakaima has kept Tokyo and Washington guessing as to whether he will actually override local opposition and, with appropriate financial incentives from Tokyo, formally approve the Henoko plan.

Currently 41 Okinawan municipality heads, including 29 conservatives who say they support Japan's alliance with the U.S., as well as the prefectural assembly are calling for Futenma to be relocated outside of Okinawa. Following the election last year of an antibase mayor in Nago, Nakaima appeared to switch his position by announcing that he too would seek to get Futenma out of the prefecture rather than relocated to Henoko.

However, many local construction and real estate firms, worried they will lose out if the construction in Henoko is canceled, have been meeting with pro-Henoko Diet members and local politicians over the past year in an attempt to put political pressure on Nakaima to go through with the plan, under certain conditions.

The result has been further comments from the governor that moving Futenma out of Okinawa would be the quickest option, even as he says building the replacement at Henoko is nearly impossible. To emphasize the point, Nakaima also told Washington policymakers in September that an "irreparable rift" in relations between Japan, Okinawa, and the U.S. would be the result of forceful construction of the Henoko base.

Nakaima's statement over the weekend that Okinawa would be forced to accept the environmental assessment came just after the administration agreed to provide Okinawa with nearly ¥294 billion in support for fiscal 2012, a 27 percent increase over the roughly ¥230 billion Okinawa received this fiscal year.

This money is just the beginning. Okinawa is negotiating with Tokyo for a 10-year revitalization plan that would run until 2022. Thus, final approval from Nakaima for the Henoko relocation has become Okinawa's strongest bargaining chip for negotiations over the new 10-year plan. As Okinawa media pointed out, the governor indicated only that he would accept the environmental assessment. He made no mention of whether he would approve the Henoko plan itself.

But if Nakaima is ready to accept the environmental assessment, base opponents and international environmental groups are not. Since at least 2003, activists have waged a campaign to stop the Henoko base due to environmental concerns. That year, a coalition of U.S. and Okinawan groups filed a lawsuit in a U.S. District Court in San Francisco against the U.S. Department of Defense, charging that the plans to construct the Henoko facility on reclaimed land would destroy the habitat of the endangered Okinawa dugong.

A marine mammal, the dugong is listed as a protected species under the Japanese Register of Cultural Properties. The animal is an ancient symbol of abundance and some Ryukyu legends hold the dugong is sent by the sea god to warn people of approaching tsunami.

"I would imagine the assessment will say there is no major impact on the dugong if the base is built. But we have to determine if the dugong would be driven away by noise in the waters due to the marines practicing beach landings at Camp Schwab and Japanese frogmen checking the surrounding seabed," said Kunitoshi Sakurai, a member of the Okinawa Environmental Network, which is one of several organizations leading the fight to protect the mammal.

The 2003 lawsuit charged that the Defense Department failed to take into account the effect of the proposed Henoko facility on the dugong, something required under America's National Historic Preservation Act. In 2008, the court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and ordered the Defense Department to submit additional information on what was needed to evaluate the impacts of a Futenma replacement facility on the dugong. But the scope of the ruling applied only to the U.S., not Japan.

Between 2003 and 2008, there were numerous clashes, sometimes physical, between local activists, who used canoes and kayaks to block central government attempts to do geological surveys. Their struggle attracted international attention, with groups like Greenpeace, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and WWF expressing support and offering assistance.

In 2009, Okinawa Prefecture called on the central government to carry out a survey of the dugong over a period of several years after it was learned that the Okinawa Defense Bureau cut the discovery of a dugong in Henoko Bay out of an official report. Tuesday's assessment says the government is satisfying Okinawan demands by carrying out dugong surveys since 2009. The exact number of dugongs in the Henoko Bay area is unknown, with environmental activists saying there are up to 50 while some residents who support the base claim sightings are rare.

More information: Click Here

Related article: Click Here

Image: Protesters stage a 13 kilometre long human chain around the US Marine Corps Futenma Air Station last year



Turtle tracker studies sea damage

22 December 2011, ABC Online

Researchers will soon have a better picture of changes to our coastline thanks to a project launched at Mon Repos. The 'project' is a middle-aged loggerhead turtle that goes by the name of Leonie.

Leonie is a regular to the waters of Mon Repos. The 102kg turtle started breeding 14 years ago, and in 2009 a satellite tracking system was placed on her back to monitor her progress.

It's this previous data that makes her so special says Dr Col Limpus, chief scientist with the Department of Environment and Resource Management.

"We've had a lot of damage from the floods last summer, and we've seen negative impact on green turtles and dugongs.

"So we can compare her behaviour and the habitats she used before and after the floods, and it gives us an opportunity to learn more about the impacts of extreme weather events on these animals."

For most of the time Leonie lives in Moreton Bay in an area that has a lot of protection. The area where she makes her home has a boating 'go-slow zone' overhead, and she feeds on shellfish and crabs. Every couple of years, Leonie travels about 450kms to Mon Repos where she lays several clutches of eggs.

On her most recent visit to Mon Repos to lay eggs, Leonie was identified by the rangers and taken to the research facility. It was here that she was scanned with an ultrasound and the satellite transmitter was placed on her back. It took four men to lift her from the back of the ute onto the beach, and she then made her own way back into the water.

Dr Limpus say that Leonie will probably lay twice more in the next month before making the return trip home.

"She's got lots of yolks in the ovaries to make another two clutches of eggs. In two weeks time she will be back here; somewhere on the northern end of the beach because that's where she likes to nest.

"We'll meet her and check that everything is still functioning. Two weeks after that she'll head back to Moreton Bay."

The data that Leonie's tracking system generates will produce maps once a month, which the scientists will use to monitor changes in behaviour compared to the previous data.

Over time this will give the scientists a picture of area damaged by last year's floods.

"The damage was caused by the flood plumes that brought sediment down from the catchments. It blocked sunlight, settled on the bottom, and smothered some of the animals and plants."

Dr Limpus says the sediment from the floods has killed off sea grass and algae which is the main source of food for ocean-dwelling herbivores.

Dugongs and green turtles have been most affected, with a number of dead turtles washing up on local beaches. Dr Limpus has also observed a number of sea turtles who are skinnier than normal.

"This will have an impact on the proportion of adults that actually breed for the year."

The impact on loggerhead turtles has not been the same as green turtles, but the tracking of Leonie gives scientists a unique opportunity to study extreme weather events and their effects due to high level of data already gathered.

The goldilocks zone

The 1.6km beach at Mon Repos is known as one of the best nesting beaches for turtles in the country.

But what is it about this beach that makes it so special? Dr Limpus says that they don't really know, but there are a few factors that could explain it.

"This stretch of coast has the right temperatures to give good hatching and give a good mix of males and females."

The sex of the hatchlings is determined by temperature. As you go south along the coast, the tendency is more male turtles; whereas if you go north the tendency is more female turtles.

Also, due to the shape of the coast the beach at Mon Repos offers protection for the eggs in the event of a cyclone. Dr Limpus says that beaches at Moore Park and Kelley's beach would lose 100 per cent of eggs during a cyclone.

"Maybe the turtles are recognising something about beach stability?

"About half of all of the loggerhead turtles that breed in eastern Australia come and lay their eggs on this little beach.

"When you think about it, it's the most important spot in eastern Australia for loggerhead turtles.

"They have been using this beach for hundreds if not thousands of years, and if you start to put some of these things together, and obviously it comes together at Mon Repos."

More information: Click Here

Image: Leonie the loggerhead was released from Mon Repos with a satellite tracking system on her back. Picture:  Ross Kay - ABC



Council budgets for seagrass removal

21 December 2011, ABC Local

A south-east South Australian council is reviewing its budget for removing seagrass from local beaches after an un-budgeted cost increase.

About 11,000 cubic metres of the grass was removed from beaches at Kingston this year, about 2,000 cubic metres more than expected.

When it builds up it can make accessing the beach difficult and smells bad when it rots.

Martin McCarthy from the council says it has to find another $35,000 for additional removal costs.

"It's very difficult to understand exactly how much is going to be there when you're setting a budget in March, April and it's going to occur six months later," he said.

"We'll have to make some more decisions about whether we do leave more on the beach or whether we have to budget further."

More information: Click Here



Qld playing down sick fish threat: Greens

21 December 2011, Ninemsn

The Queensland Greens are concerned state government spin doctors will make it appear Gladstone Harbour's fish are safer to eat than they actually are.

The comments come after Fisheries Minister Craig Wallace's office on Tuesday confirmed an independent scientific report on sick fish in Gladstone Harbour is expected to be handed to the government in the next two weeks.

Greens spokeswoman Libby Connors predicts the government will try to play down the results.

"We have had months of refusal by the government to intervene in the massive dredging program by Gladstone Ports Corporation even while there have been record deaths of sea turtles, dolphins and dugong," she said.

"They have done this by claiming the high turbidity levels were natural events and arguing there is no proof of any link between diseased marine life and turbidity."

However, Dr Connors says an interim report released earlier this month shows only three barramundi from the central Queensland harbour have undergone toxicological testing.

"We are worried that this is going to make it very difficult for the scientific panel to present any definitive findings," she said.

Greens member Andrew Jeremijenko says public statements from Mr Wallace, the Department of Environment and Resource Management and Gladstone Ports Corporation intended to reassure the public are playing down possible risks, including high turbidity and high aluminium levels.

"So it is not surprising that local fishermen are continuing to report disease in a wide variety of marine life including fish, sharks, crabs and prawns and that seafood businesses in Gladstone are being severely impacted," he said.

The Greens earlier this month criticised the panel compiling the independent report for being too close to the dredging industry.

Reports of sick marine life off Gladstone emerged in September, sparking a three-week fishing ban in the industrial city's harbour that was lifted on October 7.

More information: Click Here



Queensland Greens Sceptical About Gladstone Water Quality Panel

15 December 2011, Dredging Today

The Queensland Greens say a team of experts reviewing water quality and seagrass health in and around Gladstone Harbor is too close to the dredging industry.

The Dredge Technical Reference Panel oversees dredging in Gladstone Harbor, and comprises marine and water quality experts, and representatives from the Queensland government and the Gladstone Ports Corporation.

The corporation is conducting the dredging program off Gladstone to prepare for the construction of two liquefied natural gas plants and export hubs at Curtis Island and the expansion of the Gladstone port.

The panel met in Gladstone on Thursday to review the latest water quality and seagrass monitoring results.

The Gladstone Ports Corporation says the panel is an “independent panel of technical experts established … to provide high level advice to the project team“.

A spokeswoman said the panel members will analyse the latest data and convene early next year to discuss the results and recommend changes, if any, to the corporation’s dredging program.

Queensland Greens spokeswoman Dr Libby Connors said the statement that the panel was independent was media spin.

“The chair of the panel, Dr Rick Morton, has worked for Brisbane Ports Corporation, which has an extensive dredging program,” Dr Connors said in a statement.

Scientific consultants employed by the Gladstone Ports Corporation were also on the panel, she said.

“We’re just concerned it’s too pro-dredging to be capable of reproducing genuine independent technical advice,” Ms Connors told.

The Gladstone Ports Corporation has been approached for further comment.


More information: Click Here



Turtle reign

15 December 2011, Fiji Times

PLANS have been set in motion for 2012 to further reduce the level of turtle meat consumption in Fiji.

According to a statement from the World Wildlife Fund for Nature, at their second bi-annual meeting at Raviravi Village in Macuata, turtle monitors agreed on several key actions.

These include conducting beach patrols and tagging and monitoring turtles to bring down the level of consumption of turtles, and also introduction of a reporting format to enable monitors to track their progress against their action plan.

It was also recommended that turtle monitors assess permits for the harvesting of turtles from the community before the final approval from the Fisheries Department.

"The reporting will show the progress of the work they are carrying out and will help them to feel motivated that they are making headway on the action plan," said Penina Solomona of WWF-South Pacific.

The Dau Ni Vonu (DNV) network strongly recommended they also evaluate applications for permits to harvest turtles, according to the statement.

"The DNV are at the site and they are already carrying out the work of protecting turtles, so it's naturally also their responsibility to monitor its harvests.

"It all links to the fact that they want to see a decrease in consumption and that can only happen if they are aware of when an event is taking place."

The recommendation was made to officials from the Department of Fisheries and a decision is expected to be filtered back to the DNV at its first meeting next June.

More information: Click Here



Experts to review Gladstone water tests

15 December 2011, Ninemsn

A team of experts overseeing dredging in Gladstone Harbour are to meet to review the latest water quality and seagrass monitoring results.

The panel of independent marine and water quality experts will discuss the results and their implications for dredging with representatives from the Queensland government and the Gladstone Ports Corporation on Thursday.

Local fishers say dredging is behind the diseased barramundi and other sick fish that continue to surface in the harbour.

The state government says the outbreak of disease is caused by last summer's floods and is not linked to dredging.

More information: Click Here



Storms brews at Port Geographe

14 December 2011, Busselton Dunsborough Mail

LIVING on a cliff top overlooking the sea may sound heavenly – unless it’s at Wonnerup Beach, and the cliff is a man-made pile of stinking, decaying seawrack and sand.

The leaders of residence groups associated with Port Geographe say the Wonnerup beachfront is in the worst state in the 16 years since groynes were installed at the harbour entrance, and they’ve had a gutful of excuses.

Chairman of the Port Geographe Action Group, Peter Maccora said a late start to the bypassing work to remove built-up seagrass wrack from the western side of the groynes at the harbour entrance, has created a disaster area.

The Busselton shire began removing some 200,000 cubic metres of seagrass wrack and sand from the western side and depositing it on the Wonnerup beach to the east on October 10.

Despite public meetings with officials from the shire, the Department of Planning and Infrastructure and Department of Transport, the locals say they have been ignored, and the time for talking is over.

“The State and the Busselton shire have total disregard for the residents of Wonnerup,” Peter said.

“The bypassing work needs start in September so the late winter storms can clear the Wonnerup Beach and take the build-up out to sea.

“The council put out a notice that the bypassing work must be completed by October 15.”

Peter said everyone, including the Port Geographe Land Owner’s Association, and the Wonnerup Resident’s Association vowed have to take whatever action necessary to ensure that it doesn’t.

Chair of the Wonnerup Resi-dents Association Judy Clarke is equally as furious, and says she will take her fight to the top.

“Now the shire is bypassing material from Wonnerup and carting it off somewhere else,” she said.

“There is no way the residents at Wonnerup will have a beachfront by Christmas.”

Oliver Darby, the shire’s director of engineering and works services, said weather conditions and other minor delays, along with a greater-than-anticipated volume of material to be moved, had contributed to the problem.

“More work is needed at Wonnerup and we have been meeting with residents to discuss concerns, especially relating to the high volume of seagrass wrack present in inshore waters,” he said.

“The shire is undertaking this through the default of the developers and it’s enormously complex and costly. We remain committed to helping contain the seagrass wrack problem in the short term, and working with the relevant departments and stakeholder groups to come up with a long-term solution.”

More information: Click Here



Tourist's keen eye saves green sea turtle

14 December 2011, Phuket Gazette

An observant tourist yesterday spotted a young green sea turtle floating in the water off the Yacht Haven Marina in Mai Khao, in the north of Phuket, and by doing so may have saved its life.

The Phuket Marine Biological Center (PMBC) was immediately contacted, who in turn asked the Phuket Kusoldharm Rescue Foundation for assistance in recovering the turtle.

With the rescue operation a success, the turtle was quickly transferred to the care of Dr Patcharaporn Gaewmong, veterinarian for the PMBC’s Endangered Marine Species Unit.

Dr Patcharaporn and her team examined their patient, finding it weak and in need of treatment.

“We examined the turtle and identified it as a green sea turtle about 10 to 15 years old, weighing about 15kg. We have yet to determine its gender,” Dr Patcharaporn said.

“The turtle has no wounds. However, its skin is scratched and macerated [chronically wet and soggy]. Also, the eyes are hollowed, which may be caused by dehydration,” she said.

Dr Patcharaporn explained that treatment will begin with energy replacement fluids, as the turtle is very weak.

“We will also administer antibiotic and anti-inflammatory medications,” she said.

“After that, we will test a blood sample and perform an ultrasound examination on its internal organs in order to ascertain the cause of illness. Once we find out what’s wrong we can then start treatment,” Dr Patcharaporn said.

The PMBC veterinarians are accustomed to rescued turtles being brought to the center. They have successfully treated and released back into the sea about 80 per cent of the turtles brought to them, said Dr Patcharaporn.

Another 10 percent, whilst surviving, were too badly injured to be released, she added.

The turtle discovered yesterday is the third to be rescued off Phuket since October 1, the other two being an Olive Ridley and a Hawksbill.

More information: Click Here

Image: The turtle was the third to be rescued off Phuket since October 1. Credit: Warisa Temram



Gladstone Harbour problems - Martin Cunningham

13 December 2011, ABC Online

The problems with marine life in Gladstone Harbour continue to concern residents in the area - so much so that you may recall hearing our discussion last week about the locals who have set up the Gladstone Research Fishing Fund to look into the causes of the problems there.

Martin Cunningham is a commercial fisherman and ex fish biologist who's based in Innisfail, but he also has a boat in Cairns and another one in Gladstone. As a consequence he has a strong interest in what's happening in Gladstone, and says he knows just what the problem is there.


Shortly after hearing from Martin Cunningham, Independent MP Rob Messenger called in with news of a question on notice that he'd put to the Premier in State Parliament relating to Gladstone Harbour and its problems.


Details of that Question on Notice are as follows -

Question on Notice

No. 1580

Asked on 11 October 2011

MR MESSENGER asked the Premier and Minister for Reconstruction (MS BLIGH)—

With reference to the government’s failure to test the dredge spoil in the Gladstone Harbour and to properly test dead marine life found in the surrounding waters (Turkey Beach, Rodds Bay) including fish, turtles, stingrays, sharks and dugongs for toxic chemicals and other life threatening substances—

Will the Premier detail for the House the (a) amount of sea bed material dredged and loaded into approximately 15 barge dredges each day in Gladstone Harbour and the number of tests carried out on that material and (b) the number of tests broken down by species, and location for toxic chemicals or other dangerous substances carried out on dead marine life in Gladstone Harbour and surrounding waters in the last 12 months?


I share the community’s concern about mortality of marine fauna in Gladstone Harbour.

It is not unreasonable for individuals to suspect it is related to dredging. I am advised the evidence currently available does not support this view. However, the government will continue to conduct sampling, examine evidence, seek scientific advice and publish the results of sampling tests.

Since April 2011, Gladstone, like other locations along the Queensland coast, has experienced a high rate of turtle and dugong mortality. In August 2011, a separate issue of sick fish in and around Gladstone Harbour emerged. Since that time, fish health and water quality in the harbour and surrounding areas has been monitored and reported in detail.

In relation to fish health, I am advised the testing has identified two key conditions. The first is red spot disease, which was observed in a barramundi caught at Port Alma. I understand that red spot is endemic to fin fish species of mainland Australia. The second is a parasitic fluke affecting the eyes and skin of fish in Gladstone Harbour. I understand this parasite has been found in Queensland waters where fish are in high densities. This is consistent with reports of heavy rains washing an estimated 30,000 barramundi over the Awoonga Dam wall earlier this year. This inflated population is reflected by the fact that the barramundi catch in Gladstone Harbour has been approximately 170 tonnes in the last four months compared to approximately 14 tonnes in 2010.

In relation to water quality, I am advised a review of water quality monitoring data by DERM has found there has been little change in water quality over the past year, including during the dredging project. The only change identified was that explained by this year’s heavy rainfall and the large freshwater flows into Gladstone Harbour.

A Scientific Advisory Panel, chaired by Dr Ian Poiner from the Australian Institute of Marine Science, is providing independent scientific advice to the Queensland Government on the issue of fish health. I am advised the Panel will deliver their final report to the Minister for Main Roads, Fisheries and Marine Infrastructure in mid December 2011.

Detailed reports on fish sampling and water quality are available on Department websites. 2

a) Amount of sea bed material dredged and tests carried out

I am advised just over 1.5 million cubic metres of material has been dredged from Gladstone Harbour since the commencement of works associated with the LNG industry.

With the exception of relatively small scale activities, dredging as part of the current project did not commence in Gladstone Harbour until after the turtle and dugong issues were identified in March 2011. The Gladstone Port Authority’s Western Basin Dredging and Disposal program did not commence until July 2011.

I am advised it is standard practice to analyse sediment prior to dredging and not, as the Honourable Member’s question suggests, during dredging operations. In this manner any contaminants that might be in the dredge spoil are identified before dredging commences so that appropriate management actions are implemented.

Prior to approvals being issued, investigations undertaken as part of the Environmental Impact Statement for the Western Basin Dredging program and the LNG developments at Gladstone, included over 1,000 sediment samples across the harbour. The sediments were analysed for a number of potential contaminants. Results demonstrated that the overall quality of sediments in the dredge areas was compliant with national guidelines.

As noted above, water quality testing has found there has been little change in water quality over the past year, including during the dredging project.

Specifically water in Gladstone Harbour has remained alkaline, which means dredging has not increased acidity, such as through the disturbance of acid sulphate soils. Also, the conditions on the dredging program ensures that the turbidity at the monitoring points remains within natural variation levels whether it is due to tidal variation or due to dredging activity.

b) Number of tests carried out on dead marine life

I am advised that, in the last 12 months, DERM has taken samples from 62 turtles and three dugongs (both live and dead), and performed an autopsy on one dolphin. There were 57 turtles sampled from the Boyne River Estuary and another five from the Gladstone Harbour. The dolphin and two of the dugongs were also from Gladstone Harbour, while the final dugong was from Rodds Bay.

The analyses include blood and samples for heavy metals and organo-chlorides. Tests completed have not indicated any exceptional levels of toxins in these animals. An assessment of the general health of turtles in the Boyne River Estuary in July 2011 by DERM biologists in collaboration with university veterinarians found the entire turtle population foraging in the estuary was in poor health with the turtles in varying degrees of weight loss consistent with reduced food availability.

Extensive testing has been also undertaken on live fish and crabs, as referenced above and reported on the DEEDI website.

As of 24 October 2011, laboratory analysis of fish from Gladstone by Biosecurity Queensland included 26 submissions of 30 whole barramundi and tissues from 15 barramundi, a spotted cod, a spangled emperor, a whiting, a scat, a trevally, 3 sharks, 2 mudcrabs, 2 prawns and a Moreton Bay bug. Tests conducted include gross pathology, 3 histopathology and bacteriology. More complex toxicology testing to examine fish tissue residues for heavy metals, agrichemicals and polyaromatic hydrocarbons is in progress, with results expected by the end of November 2011. Many more fish are captured and assessed in the field..

More information: Click Here



Dugong protection sparks rule changes

13 December 2011, Sail World

The Dugong populations off Townsville will benefit from changes to Great Barrier Reef Marine Park regulations on commercial net fishing, which will become effective from today.

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority Chairman Dr Russell Reichelt said Burdekin commercial fishers proposed the changes to the Species Conservation (Dugong Protection) Area in Bowling Green Bay, working in close consultation with the Australian and Queensland Governments.

The amendments change the rules for commercial net fishing within the southern part of Bowling Green Bay. They include a 'No Netting Area' and a 'Restricted Netting Area', which limit the size of nets as well as how they are to be used.

'These amendments are in response to concerns about unsustainable levels of dugong deaths in the area,' Dr Reichelt said.

'Burdekin commercial fishers recognised the need to be proactive about reducing the risk of incidental catch of dugong in commercial fishing nets.'

'Dugong populations are under pressure. Extreme weather events last summer has killed off seagrass, their main food source.'

'The rule changes in Bowling Green Bay are an important step in dugong protection. They also demonstrate how local action and working together can result in positive outcomes for the Great Barrier Reef and the species that rely on it.'

Commercial fishers from the Burdekin have worked with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Fisheries Queensland, Department of Environment and Resource Management and the Queensland Seafood Industry Association to bring the rule changes to a reality.

This is part of the Burdekin Regional Management Project, which encourages stewardship of local marine resources on which the community depends for livelihoods and recreation. Queensland Seafood Industry Association's Geoff Tilton said commercial fishers saw the need for action to reduce the incidental capture of dugong in the Bowling Green Bay area.

'Through the Burdekin Sustainable Fisheries Alliance these changes have been brought to a reality,' Mr Tilton said. 'This is genuine local stewardship in action.'

The amendments to commercial netting rules take place in two key locations within the area known as the Bowling Green Bay Dugong Protection Area.

The introduction of the Restricted Netting Area will require fishers to use nets that are shorter, shallower and weighted better, which reduces the risk of Dugong becoming entangled. Previously, fishers could use nets with a length of 600 metres and no restriction on the depth of the net. Now, fishers can only use three nets of 120 metres in length and with a 16 mesh drop (150mm to 245mm per mesh).

In the No Netting Area, no netting activities other than bait netting will be allowed.

A range of commercial netting activities (with low risk to dugong) are still allowed in parts of Bowling Green Bay, providing for businesses to continue operation and to supply a range of seafood products to markets.

Netting rules for other areas within Bowling Green Bay remain unchanged. The rules for other activities, including recreational fishing and other forms of commercial fishing also remain unchanged.

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Monitors profile turtle feeding grounds

13 December 2011, Fiji Times

THE Raviravi foreshore in Macuata was a hive of activity last week after a group of turtle monitors in the Northern Division conducted a beach profile.

Apart from the beach profile, the monitors surveyed the types of seagrass to acquire additional skills on how to protect turtles from extinction.

Organised by the World Wildlife Fund under the South Pacific's Marine Species and Climate Change Adaption Program, the initiative brought more than 20 turtle monitors from Bua and Macuata together.

Penina Solomona, the program coordinator, said the initiative would help the monitors identify certain areas which were adaptable for turtles.

"This activity broadens their knowledge on what is affecting the feeding grounds as seagrass is the main source of food for turtles," she said.

"Their understanding should not only be focused on tagging the turtles but also the nesting grounds and the seagrass these species will rely on for survival. It's all interconnected because protecting the feeding grounds is also looking after the food sources of turtles."

Ms Solomona said the monitors would also realise the connection of human activities on the land such as logging and clearing from agriculture with the marine environment.

"The monitors will help monitors to proactively safeguard seagrass beds from chemical runoffs and debris," she said.

More information: Click Here

Image: A group of turtle monitors surveying the seagrass and profiling the feeding grounds of turtles at Raviravi Beach in Macuata last week. Credit: WWF



BC sea turtle strandings puzzle scientists

12 December 2011,

Sighting a hard-shelled sea turtle off British Columbia's coast is extremely rare, so experts are both puzzled and concerned that three such turtles have washed ashore in the last two weeks on Vancouver Island.

Two of the hard-shelled turtles have died, while the third green sea turtle found on Wednesday is being warmed slowly at Vancouver's Aquarium but chances that it will survive are slim.

The green sea turtles, which are listed as a threatened species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, were found hundreds of kilometres from their usual warm-water homes further south in the Pacific.

Lisa Spaven, a marine mammal biologist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, said Sunday that this species of turtle has been known to forage in B.C. waters during warmer late summer months. She thinks the turtles may have been stranded when the water temperature dipped dramatically.

"What happens with hard-shelled sea turtles is they can't handle water that is much colder than 14 Celsius and their bodies start to shut down into what's called a cold-stunned state."

That state puts the turtles in a coma-like condition, she said, leaving them to drift for weeks or even months.

A cold-stunned state lowers the turtles metabolism and heart rate and shuts down body parts.

"That's why it's so hard to tell if these turtles are alive or dead when they wash on to shore," she said.

"It's why we take the time and energy to warm them very slowly, one or two degrees a day, over the course of a couple of days to see if they rebound back or not."

Spaven has little hope the remaining turtle will survive, saying it was in very poor condition when it was taken to the aquarium.

All three turtles washed up at Pacific Rim National Park, an obvious spot for such strandings, both because of the topography of the coast and because it's open to the ocean, Spaven said.

And while it's late in the season, Spaven said it's possible more turtles could be stranded along the coast. She is urging anyone who might spot one to call 1-800-465-4336, even if they believe the turtle is dead.

The green sea turtles, which are named so because of the colour of their skin, can grow to over 300 kilograms and 1.5 metres in length.

The turtles that washed up on B.C.'s shore were much smaller and are considered juvenile.

The adult green turtles are herbivores and eat seagrasses and algae, although juvenile green turtles will eat crabs, jellyfish and sea sponges.

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Image: Two of the three green sea turtles that have washed up on the B.C. coast in recent weeks have died. A third is being warmed up at the Vancouver Aquarium. Parks Canada/Canadian Press



Turtles unable to endure frigid waters: Biologist

12 December 2011, by KENDRA WONG, MetroNews Canada

The latest green sea turtle, found last Wednesday on the west coast of Vancouver Island, has now died, according to Vancouver Aquarium veterinarian Martin Haulena.

The cause of death has not been released and it is not known whether an autopsy will be conducted. This is the third green sea turtle found on B.C. shores in the past two weeks. All three have died.

Original story:

B.C.’s cold waters may be the cause of several threatened sea turtles washing up on Canadian shores, said a biologist at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

“What probably happened was the sea turtles were foraging or swimming in B.C. waters and they got caught in cold water,” said marine biologist Lisa Spaven. “Their bodies shut down into a stunned state.”

B.C. waters are warm enough for sea turtles in early fall; however, if caught in temperatures below 14 C, they enter a coma-like state causing their heart beat to slow down and leaving them drifting at sea without food.

Three rare hard-shelled sea turtles have been stranded on the beaches of the Pacific Rim National park reserve in the past two weeks, with the most recent one found last Wednesday.

The young male green sea turtle was in poor condition and taken to the Vancouver Aquarium for veterinary assessment and treatment. The other two turtles have died.

According to Spaven, an autopsy of the two dead turtles could reveal why the tropical species is becoming threatened.

“We would examine the diet, and stomach contents to see if there is any danger to the larger sea turtle population,” she said.

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Image: A green sea turtle is examined on the west coast of Vancouver Island.



Save the turtle

10 December 2011, Fiji Times

DAU Ni Vonu (turtle monitors) in Bua and Macuata provinces have acquired additional skill of seagrass monitoring and beach profiling following a workshop at Raviravi Village in Macuata last week.

According a statement from the World Wildlife Fund for Nature - WWF- the Raviravi foreshore was a hive of activity as monitors carried out surveys to monitor the presence and types of seagrass, under the guidance of WWF-South Pacific officers from the Marine Species and Climate Change Adaptation Programs.

The training was a joint activity between WWF-South Pacific's Marine Species and Climate Change Adaptation Programs, with funding made possible by the Erlenmeyer Foundation and WWF-Switzerland.

"Seagrass is not only food for turtles, it's also an important nursery for fishes and is a good indicator for climate change impacts," according to the statement.

It said the training broadened the monitors' understanding of the association of turtles with their feeding grounds and what was impacting it.

Ms Penina Solomona of WWF-South Pacific said: "Now they begin to see that their understanding is not just focused on tagging and turtles but also the habitats which are the seagrass and the beaches they come up to nest in.

"But really it's all interconnected because by protecting the turtles' feeding ground they ultimately protect their food sources."

The statement said the monitors also realised the connectivity of human activities on the land such as logging and clearing from agriculture with the marine environment.

"Understanding this will help turtle monitors to proactively safeguard seagrass beds from chemical runoffs and debris," the statement added.

More information: Click Here

Image: Turtle monitors carry out beach profiling work at Raviravi in Macuata. Credit: Theresa Ralogaivau



New hope for turtles and dugongs

09 December 2011, by Laura Packham, The Cairns Post

TRADITIONAL owners say they will use more than $50,000 in secured state funding to better protect turtle and dugong populations in the Far North.

uru-Gulu Gungandji tribe are in regular meetings with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to look at new management measures for their sea country, including the option of imposing strict permits on traditional hunting.

Tourism operators and tourists reported at least 14 turtles had been killed at Green Island in the past month and feared the overkill would wipe out populations for the area.

Last month, tourists were also confronted by several speared and gutted turtle carcasses on the beach of Green Island.

Guru-Gulu Gungandji elder Robert Sands said he did not support the practice and called for hunters doing the wrong thing to be prosecuted.

"We very strongly oppose that sort of activity," Mr Sands said.

"I wish those young fellas would stop using traditional hunting as an excuse to do the wrong thing – it’s appalling."

He said traditional hunting should not occur around the island as the area was only ever used as a ceremonial site.

Yarraburra Gunggandji elder Ricco Noble said his people also did not support the inappropriate killing of marine mammals and had previously filed complaints with the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service about rogue hunters netting dugongs and turtles in Yarrabah bay.

Prosecute illegal Green Island turtle hunters, says elder

He claimed the men pictured in yesterday’s The Cairns Post were traditional owners of the sea country and were not hunting turtles but instead were at the island for recreational purposes.

He said the men in the boat had witnessed rogue hunters cutting the fins of turtles on the beach of Green Island.

"We don’t support the way they are killed and don’t usually hunt in that (Green Island) area, but instead usually in the reefs around there, such as Arlington reef," Mr Noble said.

"It’s a handful of people doing the wrong thing."

The Gunggandji PBC Aboriginal Corporation secured a $50,000 Sea Country Partnerships grant in the latest round of GBRMPA funding to address critical issues around sustainable use, management and monitoring of turtles and dugongs and traditional fisheries (fish and crabs).

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Happy ending for four turtles

08 December 2011, ABC Local

Four Moreton Bay turtles found stranded and starving have been re-released into the wild thanks to a team of marine experts who brought them back to health.

It has been a hard year for marine animals in Moreton Bay.

The January floods washed river sediment into the bay, blanketing the sea grass beds, a crucial food source for many animals.

Four turtles fell victim, and were found stranded on a beach on North Stradbroke Island in August.

Dr Kathy Townsend from the Moreton Bay Research Station at Dunwich was part of the team responsible for saving the animals.

"We did some triage - we spent about 72 hours doing first aid care on the animals," Kathy says.

The turtles were then sent to UnderWater World on the Sunshine Coast, where they were taken care of and rehabilitated.

"And we got a phone call not so long ago saying they are fat and healthy and ready to go, and so we had the joy of being able to return the animals back into Moreton Bay," says Kathy.

This was a very happy ending to a very grim situation.

"When we first got them they were all emaciated, on the point of starvation and very lethargic and barely even lifting up their heads," she says.

Three of them were starving due to a parasite infection and lack of food.

Kathy says the fourth turtle had been eating debris "and so it was what's called a 'floater' where the animal was sitting on the surface of the water and couldn't dive down to feed itself so it too was also starving."

And it wasn't just these four turtles that the floods affected. The sediment covering the sea grass beds meant that many marine animals didn't get food to fatten up before the winter season.

"And then after that winter season we just had at least twice as many strandings than we had ever had in past years."

But the floods were not all bad news for the bay.

"The good thing is it's actually bringing a lot of nutrients into the bay, it's like fertilising your garden.

"We're starting to see that the bay is recovering quite nicely right now - a lot of that sediment has moved away and a lot of that sea grass is getting wonderful fresh big regrowth."

This is why it was safe to release the four turtles back into the Moreton Bay environment.

"But of course we have concerns because if we have another season like we did last season it's going to repeat itself and probably become compounded, it's going to become more disastrous than it was the last time."

As for the turtles that were released, they have been tagged but Kathy says there has been no sighting of them since.

"But I'm hoping we don't see them again, if we don't see them again that's a good sign."



Turtle Release A Team Effort from The University of Queensland on Vimeo.

More information: Click Here

Image: A volunteer releases one of the turtles back into Moreton Bay. (University of Qld)



Authorities to probe turtle spearing

06 December 2011, By Kirsty Nancarrow, ABC Online

The Queensland Government has ordered an investigation into reports Indigenous hunters are spearing turtles at Green Island, off Cairns in the far north, while tourists are swimming nearby.

The Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators (AMPTO) says it has been sent photographs of the hunters in waters off the island last Friday morning.

Traditional owners are allowed to hunt the protected animals under the Native Title Act but many local Aboriginal groups have imposed a moratorium on taking turtles because of their dwindling numbers.

AMPTO spokesman Col McKenzie says he is outraged by the photos taken at Green Island.

"They were taken at nine o'clock in the morning as boats were arriving with hundreds of tourists on board," he said.

"This is not the message that we want to sell to the world about tourism and protection of the Great Barrier Reef.

Queensland Environment Minister Vicky Darling says she is concerned by the reports and will ask her department to investigate.

"I really believe most traditional owners are very sensitive to this and wouldn't be doing this sort of hunting in front of people," she said.

"It's just a matter of finding out who these people are and talking to them about the appropriateness of it.

"If it's a poaching case, then that's certainly something that the State Government can investigate.

"In this case, having seen these images, I'll be asking my department to investigate this particular instance and see what's going on."


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November 2011


Industrialization weakens important carbon sink

29 November 2011, EurekAlert

Australian scientists have reconstructed the past six thousand years in estuary sedimentation records to look for changes in plant and algae abundance. Their findings, published in Global Change Biology, show an increase in microalgae relative to seagrass in the past 60 years. This shift could diminish the ability of estuaries, which are natural global carbon sinks, to mitigate climate change.

According to Dr. Peter Macreadie, University of Technology, Sydney Chancellor's Postdoctoral Research Fellow, "We have effectively gone back in time and monitored carbon capture and storage by coastal ecosystems, finding a 100-fold weakening in the ability of coastal ecosystems to sequester carbon since the time of European settlement. This severely hampered the ability of nature to reset the planet's thermostat."

Scientists collected cores, samples of earth, from sites within and around Botany Bay, Sydney. A chronology for the cores was determined using radiocarbon dating. Changes in plant and algae composition over time were then determined according to the change in the isotopic ratio of the organic matter in the sediment.

The team's analysis suggests that the relative reduction in seagrass and increase in microalgae coincided with a time of rapid industrial expansion and increased nitrogen deposition. These findings are critical because plants such as seagrass have a relatively large carbon sink capacity, which plays a critical role in mitigating climate change.

"Unfortunately, this outcome is common to urbanized estuaries throughout the world, therefore the study adds further support for the inclusion of Blue Carbon habitats (seagrasses, saltmarshes, and mangroves) in greenhouse gas abatement schemes," said Dr. Macreadie.

This research demonstrates that human activities have weakened the sink capacity of Botany Bay, and this is likely to occur in other coastal ecosystems.


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Wet season ban on reef chemical

29 November 2011, by Miranda Forster, Sydney Morning Herald

New restrictions on the use of a weed killer harmful to the Great Barrier Reef won't protect the World Heritage listed asset, a conservation group says.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has attacked new rules set by Australia's chemical regulator, which has banned the use of diuron on certain crops during the upcoming wet season.

The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) says the ban is aimed at protecting aquatic ecosystems from runoff of the chemical, commonly used by cane, tea, banana and pineapple farmers.

But WWF's pesticides policy manager Martin Breen said the regulator had caved in to the demands of chemical manufacturers, and the wet season ban was meaningless.

Diuron has been linked to coral bleaching and loss of seagrasses and has been found 60km inside the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

In September, scientists from Queensland's Environment Department found traces of dangerous pesticides at up to 50 times the levels deemed safe in waterways flowing onto the reef.

Three chemicals, including diuron, were at toxic levels exceeding national standards for contamination of freshwater ecosystems at eight sites along the Great Barrier Reef coast.

Mr Breen said the only way to protect the reef was to completely ban the use of diuron, which remained effective months after it was sprayed on crops.

"You could actually apply this stuff in April or May and it could still be in the soil in high concentration in December," he told AAP.

"Then if you get a rain event at any time of the year it just gets washed straight off into the reef. The only safe level of use for this chemical is no use at all."

Mr Breen said diuron manufacturer DuPont proposed the wet season ban, but a federal Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (SEWPaC) report found the argument behind the ban was "hard to sustain".

It said Queensland's wet season was so variable that it would be impossible to choose a low risk time to spray.

DuPont and a canegrower's organisation also proposed to cut their use of diuron by half to 1.8kg per hectare, which is the level that has now been approved by APVMA for application outside the wet season.

However, this level is still 11 times higher than that deemed safe in the SEWPaC report.

"It seems like APVMA may have taken only the advice of the chemical companies and ignored the advice of the environment department," Mr Breen said.

"They need to explain what the logic is in that and ask how that protects the environment."

An APVMA spokeswoman said it recommended a diuron rate of 1.8kg per hectare based on existing Queensland regulations for sugar cane and had not buckled to commercial pressure.

"It is entirely feasible that other organisations have taken account of this regulatory rate in formulating their submissions to the APVMA," the spokeswoman said in a statement.

She said the rate was still under review while APVMA considered new data, and the wet season suspension of diuron was an interim step based on the prediction of a wet summer in 2011-2012.

Sugarcane group Canegrowers said the approval of a 1.8 kilogram per hectare rate of use for diuron was a win for the industry but said it would fight APMVA over its order to stop the use of the chemical during the wet season.

Canegrowers environment manager Matt Kealley said the suspension would cause weeds to get out of hand and possibly result in significant crop losses.

"Make no mistake, we are not about to stand by and watch such a perverse outcome for growers, which will cost many millions of dollars of lost productivity across Australia," he said in a statement.


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Marine animals showing signs of recovery

29 November 2011, By Stephanie Fitzpatrick, ABC Online

A Queensland Government scientist says there has been a decline in the number of marine animal deaths along the state's coast.

Dr Julia Playford, from Department of Environment and Resource Management, says there have been about 270 turtle strandings, 12 dugongs deaths and six dolphin deaths in central Queensland in the past year.

Dr Playford says some died from boat strikes, fishing lines and human activities and other from natural causes.

"The animals are beginning to obtain more food and therefore likely to be in better health because they have more food resources," she said.

"We're fairly clear on what's causing the deaths and it's largely around seagrass decline and lack of food resources, meaning that they are malnourished."

Dr Playford says a regrowth of seagrass beds has helped to reduce the number of dugong and dolphin deaths.

"It's obviously very distressing to see so many animals are unwell and dying," she said.

"Individuals in the population appear to be recovering as we do further health checks over time, once the seagrasses started to recover.

"In fact, in the last six weeks we've seen a real decline in the rate of strandings."

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Indigenous authority mooted to manage traditional hunting

18 November 2011, By Kristy Sexton-McGrath, ABC Online

Indigenous leaders in north Queensland say banning the use of guns, GPS devices and spotlights could help ease dwindling dugong and turtle numbers.

About 80 regional leaders are meeting this week to help develop a turtle and dugong conservation strategy.

Yesterday, they released key recommendations for a report to be handed to the state and federal governments.

Among them, the establishment of an Indigenous authority to manage turtle and dugong hunting practices.

They have also discussed introducing restrictions on the use of guns, while Cape York traditional owner Robbie Salee says he supports a ban on GPS devices.

"Anybody can pick up anything now and say, 'oh yes, we don't need to go [to] this old fellow to tell us where these hunting spots are'," he said.

However, Mr Salee says he does not support a full ban on traditional hunting.

Traditional owner Lauren Bowyer, from Archer Point, south of Cooktown, says she supports the idea of establishing an Indigenous authority that would have the power to fine rogue hunters.

"It's long overdue and its something that we really, really need to have established," she said.

"Obviously it needs to have representatives from each community in the Cape so that the whole voice is heard and not only the Cape but the whole Torres Strait as well, so everybody is heard.

"It needs to come from our people - not from somebody talking supposedly on behalf of the people."

Cape York traditional owner Horace Nona says the controlling body would operate like the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, complete with statutory powers and the ability to fine rogue hunters.

"We would like our rangers to go out there and force and apprehend and do whatever we need to do to minimise that sort of behaviour on sea country," he said.


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Report uses pre-dredging data

18 November 2011, by Nikita Watts And Daniel Burdon, Rockhampton Morning Bulletin

THE latest report on the environmental health of Gladstone Harbour is based on data 12 months old and gives no indication of what effects the summer floods or dredging activity may have had on the local marine ecosystem.

But the report also gives little to no indication of any negative changes to the local ecosystem since the last report in 2007.

The $750,000 Port Curtis Ecosystem Health Report Card monitors water quality, seagrass and sediment quality in the Gladstone Harbour area.

It was released yesterday by its 17 industrial sponsors, after several months of internal negotiations during a protracted "members' feedback" process.

One of the "major sponsors and participants" of the PCIMP, Gladstone Ports Corporation, could not reveal why the report had not been released before.

A GPC spokeswoman released a statement which said: "The funding was conditional on PCIMP and Central Queensland University releasing in a timely fashion all information on the results of their monitoring programs to the public.

"GPC has never instructed PCIMP or CQU to withhold the results of the monitoring programme."

The report card said that of eight different zones in the harbour, all scored at least a "B+", under a scoring system measured against Australian water-quality standards.

Data was collected by scientists working for Vision Environment, a Gladstone company which completes the program, over a three-year period - July, 2008, to November, 2010.

All data was collected before the 2010-11 summer floods and recent dredging operations.

The aim of the program was to produce baseline environmental data to inform local industry about what other technical studies should be undertaken.


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Image: The latest data released about Gladstone Harbour sheds no more light on the situation which forced Simon Whittingham reject 600kg of fish. ( Credit: Chris Chan GLAFISH)



Global Warming’s Impact May Be Detected in Genes, Suggests Study of How Seagrasses React to Heat Waves

16 November 2011, Science Daily (press release)

Seagrass populations thrive in the shallow coastal regions and offer an ideal habitat for many fish, crustacean and microbes. The worldwide decline of seagrass populations in recent years is therefore of major concern to science and to nature conservation. Researchers believe that climate change plays an important role as the increase in extreme events such as heat waves is a major challenge for the seagrass.

How exactly the seagrass species are impacted by extreme events is examined by scientists from the Kiel University, the University of Münster and the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences (IFM-GEOMAR) in a study recently published in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences.

Scientists led by Professor Dr. Thorsten Reusch from the IFM-GEOMAR are tackling the questions if heat waves have an effect on the genetic of the widespread seagrass species Zostera marina (eelgrass).

"In the Mediterranean grasses can resist higher temperatures then in Northern Europe. Here the sea grass populations are endangered by the occurrence of heat waves with temperatures over 25 degrees in the summer," Reusch says, explaining the background of the research project. The adaptability to heat seems to have a genetic basis which is the main interest of the scientists involved in the project.

For the analysis the PhD candidates Susanne Franssen and Nina Bergmann collected sea grasses from different locations in Northern and Southern Europe and exposed them to controlled heat waves in a special test site, the AQUATRON, in the laboratory. Afterwards the scientists analysed the activity of almost all genes of the plants.

Regardless of their origin, plants showed activation of genes known to buffer heat stress. Only after the heat wave, the southern European plants proved to be resilient, going back to their normal gene activity immediately after the heat wave. The northern European plants, however, showed signs of irreversible protein damage. Apparently, the critical process whether or not a plant continues to grow or eventually dies occurs during the recovery period after the acute heat wave. To predict the adaptability of organisms to extreme events, such as heat waves, the examination of gene expression during the recovery period seems to be the better parameter.

"These results raise further questions. For example, we are now particularly interested in the ability of particular genotypes within the northern populations to also have the ability to regulate their gene activity back to the normal levels. If this was true our populations in the North and the Baltic Sea would be able to adapt to climate change," says Reusch.

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Image: Divers transplant seegrass during a field experiment in the Kiel Bay. (Credit: T. Reusch, IFM-GEOMAR)



Baby dugong found dead on beach

15 November 2011, Fraser Coast Chronicle

ANOTHER marine animal has been found dead on a Fraser Coast beach in a year that has seen record numbers of dead turtles and dugongs.

Wildlife Preservation Society Fraser Coast chapter president Carolyn Bussey said a baby dugong had been found dead on a Burrum Heads beach, less than two months after an adult dugong washed up on a Pialba beach.

The baby dugong brings the 2011 tally of dugong strandings to 21 in total, compared to only 6 in 2010.

Across Queensland, Only Townsville has recorded a higher number of dugong strandings at 52 so far this year.

For turtles, Hervey Bay has recorded 94 strandings, compared to 65 last year.

A whale was also found washed up on Fraser Island this year and another young whale stranded itself on the Boonooroo coast line.

Residual effects from the January floods have been blamed for the spike in marine animal deaths.

As the main food source for both turtles and dugongs, the flood damage to seagrass beds has heavily impacted both species.

Water quality in the local rivers has also been blamed for creating silt runoff which can kill seagrass.

"It is very important to have healthy river systems with good riparian vegetation to minimise silt runoff in to the sea," Mrs Bussey said.

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Harbour's seagrass cover increases

10 November 2011, by David Sparkes and Megan McEwan, Gladstone Observer

SEAGRASS levels are increasing in Gladstone Harbour, according to a new report. Gladstone Ports Corporation (GPC) said the report was proof that dredging was not to blame for the reduction in levels early this year.

GPC has released the October results of seagrass monitoring which showed increases in seagrass cover around Fishermans Landing, Pelican Banks North and Pelican Banks South.

The seagrass cover at these sites had reached similar levels to the same time of year in 2010 and 2009.

GPC CEO Leo Zussino said this was a good result, showing the dredging is not killing off seagrass.

"What (the report) is saying is that inside Gladstone Harbour, close to the western basin, we have either significant improvements since September or it's the same (depending on which area.) And the Fishermans Landing one is spectacularly improved."

He said the report shows that dredging is not impacting on seagrass meadows.

"I think that what people are concerned about, is the impact of dredging upon seagrass beds that were denuded. And what this is saying is that we are extremely pleased to see that the seagrass beds in close proximity to the dredging project are continuing to recover at very good rates."

Capricorn Conservation Council project officer Chantelle James said although she had not seen the report she was glad to hear the seagrass percent cover had increased.

"We welcome that the report has been released and the Capricorn Conservation Council will over the coming weeks look at the report and work with industry and stakeholders to figure out what is happening in the harbour with water quality and seagrass cover," Ms James said.

But she said she was not convinced of the significance of the findings because it was in her understanding that seagrass levels always increased at this time of year.


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Calls for action on traditional turtle hunting after tourists witness slaughter on Green Island

10 November 2011, by Laura Packham, The Cairns Post

TOURISTS have watched on in horror as turtles have been slaughtered in a popular holiday location in the Far North.

Tourism operators are now calling for increased public debate about the traditional hunting of green sea turtles and dugongs and are seeking a ban on the practice in key tourist locations.

They said killings happened often enough to distress visitors and send the wrong message around the world.

Visitors to Green Island on Friday were confronted with a number of speared turtle carcasses left at the popular tourist island.

Two weeks ago, tourists said they saw fins being cut off turtles on an island beach.

A ranger at the park was also believed to have been threatened for asking traditional hunters not to kill marine animals in front of tourists.

The island attracts about 300,000 visitors a year.

Located about 30km from Cairns, Green Island is used for traditional hunting and fishing under the Native Title Act of 1993.

Indigenous leaders said they could self-regulate their traditional hunting practices.

Traditional owners of the area, also known as Wunyami, have hunted there for thousands of years.

Big Cat Green Island Reef Cruises tourism operator Steve Davies yesterday called for a ban on hunting turtles and dugongs in popular tourist areas.

Mr Davies also called for a return to the customary traditional hunting practices of using canoes instead of motorised vessels.

"Traditional methods of hunting for retaining their culture is great but roaring out on to the Reef in great big boats, with large outboard motors and spotlights is not traditional hunting at all," he said.

"Last year, a dugong and turtle were killed in front of 300 passengers on the Big Cat.

"It was just horrific, with blood everywhere and passengers crying. People were just devastated.

"The pictures these tourists take are being filtered all over the world."

North Queensland Land Council’s Danny O’Shane said he did not support a moratorium on hunting.

He said with between 70 and 90 per cent unemployment across some indigenous communities, such as Yarrabah, indigenous families relied on the practice for fresh meat.

"I think Australia should be more inclusive," he said.

"We are a hunting people and if tourists come to this place they must understand this has been our way of life for a long time.

"I don’t know if it does cause tourists to drop off, I think very few know about it, if any. I think the concern is

Former tourism employee Dominic Eggins said the killing of the endangered marine animals was difficult to explain to local and international visitors.

"It’s a really hard sell when you’re trying to tell people this is a beautiful pristine area, a marine park within the Great Barrier Reef where everything is protected and you can’t even take shells off the beach," Mr Eggins said.

"And just over there we’ve got some people in a boat traditionally hunting and killing dugongs and turtles."

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority in conjunction with traditional owners, has produced a brochure for local tourism operators of "how to tell the story" of traditional hunting and native title to visitors.

The brochure advises tourism operators to discuss the law that recognises Native Title Holders’ rights.

"Many traditional owner groups have taken active steps to limit the take of turtle and dugong and in some cases have voluntarily agreed to temporarily suspend take of these species," a GBRMPA spokesman said.

Last month Environment Minister Vicky Darling praised two Far Northern Aboriginal tribes, the Nywaigi and Girramay people, for suspending hunting permits until turtle and dugong numbers recovered.

The latest data on turtle populations show there were 1232 turtle strandings in 2011, compared with 639 last year.


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Reef chief recommends port rethink

07 November 2011, by Four Corners and the ABC News Online Investigative Unit, ABC Online

Queensland's iconic Great Barrier Reef could be put at risk if authorities do not rethink plans to allow massive expansion works at ports along the Queensland coast, an expert says.

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority chairman Russell Reichelt has also told ABC TV's Four Corners he warned the Federal Government that huge dredging operations aimed at servicing Queensland's growing coal seam gas industry posed an unacceptable risk to marine life on the reef.

At least six major port developments are either planned or underway up and down the Queensland coast, but Mr Reichelt says officials need to change tack to protect the reef.

"We think that there's far better outcomes for the function of the Barrier Reef ecosystem if major activity is constrained to a few highly managed areas rather than spread every hundred kilometres up the coast," he said.

He raised particular concerns over two planned expansions: one at Port Alma, south of Great Keppel Island, and one in the pristine waters of far north Queensland at Bathurst Bay.

Both plans include the development of coal-loading facilities.

'Extreme concerns'

Mr Reichelt says the authority expressed extreme concerns to the Federal Government about the development of a liquefied natural gas hub and the associated dredging operation at Curtis Island, off Gladstone.

It is the largest dredging operation ever undertaken in the World Heritage area, and part of the spoil will be taken out to sea to a dump site within one kilometre of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

Marine life is already under enormous stress in the area from this year's floods and Cyclone Yasi, which have caused a record number of dugong and turtle strandings as well as significant damage to seagrass beds.

Mr Reichelt says he provided written evidence to the government that the scale of dredging associated with the building of four coal seam gas processing plants on Curtis Island would have an unacceptable impact on marine life.

"Our advice was to raise extreme concerns with it," Mr Reichelt said.

"We regarded it as not acceptable in the ... World Heritage property and gave that advice to the department at the time.

"Our concerns filled many pages, and were related to any potential spill over into the marine park of dredging activity, the impact on migratory species, humpback dolphin, indo-pacifics and snubfin dolphins."

In an attempt to allay these concerns, Environment Minister Tony Burke imposed guidelines to ensure water quality and protect marine life.

Mr Reichelt then agreed with the decision to go ahead.

The first stage of the Curtis Island development was given the go-ahead just six weeks after Mr Burke took office last year.

The United Nations World Heritage Committee rebuked the Federal Government for failing to notify it in advance of the approvals for LNG projects inside the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage area.

The failure was a breach of World Heritage guidelines, but Mr Burke says the process followed common practice.

"For decades governments of each side, as a matter of routine, have responded to any enquiries that came internationally but they haven’t been providing notification in advance of decisions," he said.

"It's been the way the practice had been within the governments of both sides for many, many years.

"The moment this was raised by the World Heritage Committee, we undertook to change that process and make sure that there'll be a more routine method of notification."

A World Heritage mission will visit Queensland in the coming months, amid concerns the booming LNG industry could threaten the long-term health of the reef.

Dr Fanny Douvere, the World Heritage maritime co-ordinator, says Australia's go-ahead for the Curtis Island development triggered serious concerns at the World Heritage Centre in Paris.

"When we received the environmental impact assessment from the Government of Australia which is also online, it appears to have contradictory statements," she said.

"On the one hand, it states that the facilities and the measures taken for the protection of the environment make it unlikely there will be any significant negative impact on the outstanding universal value of the Great Barrier Reef.

"On the other hand, it also concludes there will be a direct and indirect impact on the coastal and marine habitats and species including seagrass, mangroves, dugongs and turtles."

Irreversible damage?

Gladstone and Curtis Island are microcosms of the resource development boom along Queensland's coast that are raising concerns about long-term stress on Australia's natural living treasure.

The development of four coal seam gas plants and planned port expansions will create jobs and increase Australia's export earnings - but is it at the cost of irreversible damage to the reef?

In the next 20 years, the Gladstone Ports Corporation has permission to dredge 46 million cubic metres from within the harbour boundaries, which are in the World Heritage area.

The multi-billion-dollar projects that require dredging around Curtis Island will also dramatically increase ship traffic.

Gas companies Santos, Origin Energy and the Gladstone Ports Corporation - which was granted approvals to do the dredging work - have been required to undertake environmental impact studies to gain government approvals, resulting in a significant number of environment conditions.

Water quality has been an ongoing and highly contentious issue.

As of last week, the multi-million dollar dredging project in disease-hit waters near Curtis Island has been stopped while scientists determine if it is impacting the water quality.

A three-week fishing ban was imposed on the Gladstone harbour due to considerable water quality concerns after sick fish with skin lesions and cloudy eyes were found.

The ban was lifted on October 6 following water test results, released by the Department of Environment and Resource Management (DERM), that indicated no deterioration in water quality since dredging began.

However, one of Queensland's leading independent water quality experts, Jon Brodie, told Four Corners the report has serious limitations.

"Water quality is a really complex business and there's lots of different contaminants," he said.

"So although you can do some water quality investigations and come up with some crude interpretation, if you’ve got biological effects still going evidently I'd say the fish tell a truer story than the water quality data does because of the complexity of the water quality data story and interpretation of it is very difficult."

On Friday, DERM released a second report on water quality in Port Curtis; this time, they included the testing that was originally omitted, for heavy metal contamination.

This latest report found levels of aluminium, copper and chromium did in fact exceed the safety guidelines at several sites in the harbour.

But the report found these were not "of significant environmental concern".


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Far North's green sea turtles too hungry to breed

07 November 2011, The Cairns Post

THE Far North's green sea turtles are too hungry to think about sex, according to experts who are tipping a short breeding season and dramatically reduced numbers of babies.

Seagrass meadows from Mission Beach south to Townsville were devastated by cyclone Yasi in February and in the following months, reports of dead and sick turtles were highlighted right up the coast.

Nine months after the monster storm, traditional turtle spots such as Cowley Beach are without nests and Mark Hamann from James Cook University’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences said it was because the species failed to fatten up before the breeding season – leaving many with no extra energy for mating.

"The turtles we are seeing are not in the best condition," he said.

"Their shells have sunken in and in the lead-up to breeding season they would have been very hungry, so I will not be surprised if many traditional nesting spots don’t turn up any turtles this year.

"They were just too hungry to breed."

Joined by Girringun Rangers and Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority staff in Cardwell on Friday, Dr Hamann released three green sea turtles into the ocean after attaching state-of-the-art satellite tags to their shells.

As part of JCU’s Extreme Weather Response Program the groups will track the turtles to better understand how they respond to cumulative impacts like loss of food and habitat degradation after an event like Yasi.

At a cost of $4500, the gear will measure depth and track movement sending daily signals over the next eight months.

Dr Hamann, who will lead the project, said the situation after Yasi was unprecedented.

"We need to see how green turtles react to this so we can prepare for similar conditions in coming wet seasons," he said.

"We know the loss of seagrass is impacting coastal green turtle populations, with unusually high numbers of deaths.

"We now need to know how the remaining turtles are responding to these conditions."

GBRMPA species conservation expert Mark Read said the results from the research would help managers consider future actions to protect turtle populations from additional stress.

"By working with the Girringun Rangers and researchers from JCU we will be able to combine traditional knowledge with scientific information to analyse the effectiveness of current management strategies and possibly improve them further," he said.


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Image: Better understanding: GBRMPA’s Phil Koloi (clockwise from left), Mark Read, Andrew Simmonds and JCU’s Mark Hamann release a turtle fitted with a satellite tag. Picture: SCOTT RADFORD-CHISHOLM



Commercial fishermen in Gladstone Harbour call for urgent compensation

04 November 2011, 730 Report Queensland

Source: 7.30 Queensland | Duration: 7min 49sec


There are fears pollution may have caused diseases in local seafood in Gladstone in central Queensland.
Marlina Whop

JESSICA van VONDEREN: First to Gladstone. It was once a fishing friendly coastline but these days there are fears that local waters are gaining the reputation as a dead sea. An unprecedented number of diseased or dead marine life has been found this year and there's debate about whether Mother Nature or industrial growth is to blame. A Government report out today found three metals in harbour water aluminium, copper and chromium exceed national guideline levels but there's no clear evidence they're harming marine life. However fishermen say their industry is collapsing before their eyes. From Gladstone, Marlina Whop reports.


MARLINA WHOP: It's a sight no fisherman wants to see. In the waters off Gladstone, a dead dugong bobs up and down. A worrying indicator of what's happening below.

DARREN BROWN, COMMERCIAL FISHERMAN: Yes VMA just wishing to notify that there is a dead dugong floating between the mouth of the Calliope River and tide Island

MARLINA WHOP: Darren Brown has been fishing off the central Queensland coast since he was a boy. He's never seen anything like this.

RADIO OPERATOR: Thanks for that call I'll notify parks and wildlife.

MARLINA WHOP: Like his fellow fishing operators in Gladstone, Darren Brown is alarmed at the soaring pace of marine animal deaths and disease.

DARREN BROWN: We've actually dropped probably by 70-80 per cent in turnover. This time last year we had 14 staff, now I've got about five and a half including counting casual. Turnover's right down cash flows right down. I've actually tied my trawler up due to just not viable to operate.


MARLINA WHOP: The Gladstone coastline is a World Heritage listed area about 70 kilometres from the Great Barrier Reef. Fishing is a popular past time for locals; for many it's the family business.

SHOP ASSISTANT: There you go. Thank you, you have a great day.

MARLINA WHOP: But ever since the outbreak of disease in marine life here the industry has been in panic mode. In mid-September reports of diseased fish prompted the Queensland Government to enforce a three week fishing ban around the region. Fishermen were catching blind barramundi, covered in red sores.

TREVOR FALZON, COMMERCIAL FISHERMAN: See how his fins are not nice and neat. And look at the slime.

MARLINA WHOP: Recently it was revealed some bull sharks have also been affected.

TREVOR FALZON: I had some observers from the Qld government on board the boat again and we went out and low and behold we started pulling bull sharks with really bad lesions on them.

MARLINA WHOP: Fishermen caught 10 sharks covered in unusual red blotchy patches.

TREVOR FALZON: Their jaws dropped. There were a quick couple of phone calls to Brisbane. They told them to take the samples straight away.

MARLINA WHOP: Bio-security Queensland scientists believe red spot disease and parasites are infecting fish but they're still searching for the cause. Conservationists blame the rapid growth of industrial activity on the harbour.

MICHAEL McCABE, CAPRICORN CONSERVATION COUNCIL, ROCKHAMPTON: This LNG coal seam gas industry is exceeding the capacity of science to understand what's going on and exceeding the capacity of both the companies and the Government agencies to properly monitor what's going on.

MARLINA WHOP: Michael McCabe believes a large scale dredging project has contaminated the water. In June, the Gladstone Ports Corporation started dredging the Harbour. It's aiming to move 46 million cubic metres of sea bed over the next 20 years.

LEO ZUSSINO, GLADSTONE PORTS CORPORATION: The western basin is going to be the most important industrial port precinct on the east coast of Australia. And it allows for up to 30 berths to be created in the western basin.

MARLINA WHOP: The dredging project is designed to expand the harbour so large container ships can eventually carry liquefied natural gas from nearby Curtis Island to the rest of the world. Three companies Arrow energy, B-G Group and Santos are spending billions of dollars to establish LNG plants on the island. The Ports Corporation's chief executive Leo Zussino admits dredging has encroached on fishing areas. But he insists there's no science to prove it's making fish sick.

LEO ZUSSINO: We are causing an impact upon commercial fishermen's harvest in Gladstone harbour while we are dredging. But we're not causing in our view and all the scientific evidence we've seen any impact upon fish that's causing disease in fish.

MARLINA WHOP: It's not just marine life getting sick. Many fishermen too are breaking out in rashes and fear the harbour water is making them ill.

MARK McMILLAN, COMMERCIAL FISHERMEN: Itchy. Really really really itchy.

MARLINA WHOP: Mark McMillan is one of those who became sick after coming into contact with harbour water. He says he started noticing changes in his catches a few months ago.

MARK MCMILLAN: I caught 15 tonne of barra before the dredging started and not one of them had any sign of disease and about a month after the dredging started they started getting diseased.

RON BOSWELL, NATIONALS SENATOR: But you just can't come in here on top of a traditional industry that has been around for 100 years.

MARLINA WHOP: Nationals Senator Ron Boswell is on board with the local fishing industry. He believes operators are facing ruin and deserve compensation.

RON BOSWELL: Because this harbour's going to be very very busy. There's going to be big floating gas bottles coming in here, coal loading, coal barges. Maybe you just can't fish here professionally and maybe we've got to recognise that.

MARLINA WHOP: That's something the Ports Corporation is considering. But Leo Zussino stresses any compensation would be for a loss of fishing areas, not because fish have been sick.

LEO ZUSSINO: We've got letters from the commercial fishermen's lawyer back in May with photographs of diseased fish. We hadn't started dredging so it's a pretty tall order from there to then say it's the dredging process that's causing the diseased fish.

MARLINA WHOP: Scientific results could now play a huge role in how compensation negotiations are played out. Research by Fisheries Queensland says that the wet summer may have been a factor in the harbour's poor health. It says Gladstone's Awoonga Dam overflowed and that could have posed a problem. A report on the matter says.

"We believe that the estimated 30, 000 barramundi washed over the spillway at the Awoonga dam between December 2010 and March 2011 due to overtopping has contributed significantly to the number of fish seen with symptoms" (18th October 2011 Fisheries Queensland)

The addition of so many large barramundi in the Boyne River below the dam would have significantly increased competition for food and increased physical stress levels of all fish" (18th October 2011 Fisheries Queensland)

MARLINA WHOP: The State Government has appointed an independent scientific panel to conduct more research. That panel requested to the ports corporation make its metal tests in the water more rigorous. So for the first time dissolved metals including arsenic, aluminium and cobalt will be monitored. While fishing operators wait for answers to those tests and more. They say they know one thing for sure the future of their industry is bleak.

DARREN BROWN: We've been a local business for 20 years now and for something to come in and just take it away from you in six weeks it's heartbreaking. I've got a young family I've got to support them and the pressure's immense I can tell you that. But I guess worst of all it's an environmental disaster. Like ah there's no need for those things to be floating belly up in this harbour.

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Saving Queensland's marine life

04 November 2011, by Alice Roberts and Jacquie Mackay, ABC Online

Concerns over the impacts of dredging on marine life in Gladstone have been raised by locals and environmental groups recently.

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority protected species expert Dr Mark Read addressed a national forum on ways industry are already working to manage human related impacts on turtles and dugongs.

He says this year they've recorded over 1200 turtle strandings along the Queensland coast.

"Whilst the level of marine strandings this year has obviously been alarming and disturbing, in terms of the overall population, we're not likely to have a long term impact and so the population is not going to be threatened," he says.

"However the story for dugongs is probably a little bit different because the population of dugongs along what we call the urban coast, which is from Cooktown down to the New South Wales border, that population is experiencing a number of threats.

"It has had some significant declines so any additional stresses like what we're seeing at the moment is actually going to be, in many ways, compromising that population over time."

So can populations of turtles and dugongs recover from this?

"One of the inherent challenges with turtles and dugongs is that their biology in many ways doesn't allow them to engage in or to have rapid population recoveries, especially dugongs," says Dr Read.

"So yes they can recover but we need to be thinking long term strategies if we're going to see numbers come back to anything that we've had in the past."

So what impacts are we seeing?

"The main impacts have essentially been from Cairns, south," he says.

"We've had significant impacts from the wet season and of course from tropical cyclone Yasi so we've seen a degradation and a decline of seagrass beds.

"Now if you're a dugong that relies almost exclusively on seagrass beds or a green turtle that uses that as a big part of your diet, that's really going to impact on you."

He says as a result they've seen the highest record of turtle strandings since the program started in 1996.

"We're just starting to see some recovery in seagrass beds in some areas whereas in others we're not seeing any recovery at all," says Dr Read.

"In many ways the long term prognosis is thinking about the focus on the habitat that supports these animals and making sure we can minimise the threats."

He says DEEDI and the Department of Resource Management is monitoring the situation in Gladstone.

He says they're keeping track of strandings and working closely with the Ports Corporation to ensure that industry and marine life can live alongside each other.

"We receive advice from DERM about what is happening there and certainly at this stage, the difficult thing is that there's really no data that links what's happening to the turtles and dugongs to the dredging," he says.

He says while there's little we can do about natural events affecting turtle and dugong numbers, we can help in other ways.

"Various government agencies have been working with commercial fishers and the Queensland Seafood Industry Association to minimise the potential impact of inshore netting on turtles and dugongs," says Dr Read.

"It's highlighting things like go slow areas where you can minimise the potential for hitting a dugong or a turtle.

"So the slogan we've talked about is 'go slow for those below'.

"It's about other groups like traditional owners making the decision to voluntarily cease traditional hunting in recognition that the animals that they have a connection to, are at this particular point doing it pretty tough.

"The other things is the really big programs like the reef water quality protection plan to minimise the outflow of sediments and nutrients from the land into the Great Barrier Reef which is going to give the seagrasses the best possible chance of recovery."

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Board Classifies Perplexing Invader As Noxious Weed

03 November 2011, OPB News

Washington oyster and clam growers now have more legal backing to go after an invasive sea grass. The state's Weed Control Board has voted to classify Japanese eelgrass as a noxious weed to allow commercial shellfish growers to control it better.

Shellfish growers say the non-native Japanese eelgrass is causing millions of dollars in lost production. "Infestations" of the seagrass smother clam beds and disrupt oyster seed.

Prof. Kim Patten manages Washington State University's extension unit at Long Beach. Patten says it's been challenging to reach consensus on a response because the invasive eelgrass has defenders alongside its critics.

"It is an ecosystem engineer because it changes all sorts of dynamics of the bay," Patten explains. "Some of those dynamics are beneficial for some species and negative for others."

For example, waterfowl eat the non-native eelgrass. Patten says the vote by the state noxious weed control board provides "legal clarity" to shellfish growers as they pursue a collective permit to apply aquatic herbicide.

But the board's decision offers no guarantee the growers will get that permit.

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Image: Experimental application of herbicide (on right) controlled Japanese eelgrass. Picture by Dr. Kim Patten, WSU Extension



Dugong, turtles in spotlight

3rd November 2011, Fraser Coast Chronicle

TURTLE and dugong populations on the Fraser Coast were a major source of debate earlier this week as Queensland's best marine scientists gathered to debate the future of the two species.

The Queensland Government convened a Turtle and Dugong Forum at Seaworld on Tuesday to discuss water quality, food sources and the lasting affect of the floods on Queensland populations.

Dugongs are found throughout the Great Sandy Strait region and feed on seagrass beds that are heavily affected by the health of the Mary River.

Department of Environment and Resource Management participants at the forum said both species were likely to recover from the heavy impact of the floods if weather improved this summer.

DERM assistant director general Environment and Resource Sciences Dr Christine Williams said weather predictions for the summer were likely to delay seagrass recovery in regions such as Hervey Bay after a heavy impact from the January floods.

Dr Williams said turtle and dugong strandings were likely to be higher than usual for several months due to the low availability of food.

"It is even more important than usual that we do all we can to reduce the human pressures such as boat strike and netting," she said.

Mary River Catchment Co-ordination Committee spokeswoman Tanzi Smith said the group hoped the forum allowed a more comprehensive view of river and water quality in the future.

"The thing not to forget is the health of the river when it is not flooded," she said.

The biggest change the group hopes to see come from such a forum is a review of the Mary River water resource plan.

"The dugongs and turtles in the Great Sandy Strait are at a disadvantage," Ms Smith said.

Flows from rivers in south-east Queensland are often ensured to protect the health of dugong food sources, but the same flow is not guaranteed for the Mary River.

The MRCCC hopes to see that changed before the scheduled 2016 water resource plan review.

"That (fresh water flow) determines a lot of things about sea grass growth," Ms Smith said.


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Seagrass threat from cable project

02 November 2011, by Kate Carr, St George and Sutherland Shire Leader

AUSGRID'S Botany Bay cable project has hit a critical phase, with crews burying cables along the bottom of the bay.

But questions have been asked about what impact the burial will have on a critical seagrass bed off Silver Beach.

The cable project, which involves laying 132,000-volt power transmission cables between Kurnell and Matraville, was initially approved in 2007, by then-planning minister Frank Sartor. It was amended twice by subsequent planning ministers to allow for dredging of the bay and higher limits on turbidity.

The Silver Beach seagrass bed is a protected habitat and Botany Bay Planning and Protection Council spokesman Bernie Clarke said it was one of the last refuges for deep water seagrass, called posidonia, in the bay.

"That type of deepwater seagrass is where fish complete their final growing stages," Mr Clarke said.

"The total number of fish species in the bay has already fallen by one-third."

An AusGrid spokesman said the burial through the seagrass bed would be managed by a panel including marine biologists, and representatives of Ausgrid, the Department of Planning, the Department of Industry and Investment, and the Office of Environment and Heritage.

However, it appears AusGrid is using exactly the same burial method across the entire bay, with no special machinery utilised to minimise the impact on the seagrass section.

The AusGrid spokesman said specially designed machinery which injected high-pressure sea water into the seabed was being used for the entire project, digging two trenches at 80-centimetre wide by 1.5 metres deep.

But a well-placed industry source told the Leader he understood the company was using a machine like an "underwater bulldozer" that weighed 32 tonnes.

"I think it is very unlikely to have the minimal impact on the seagrass that they describe," the source said.

"If you imagine digging in sand under water there's no way a trench can be dug 1.5 metres deep and 80 centimetres wide.

"That is impossible . . . [it] would be closer to two metres wide."

Mr Clarke said that even digging a 80-centimetre trench would have a "huge" impact.

"I don't think the seagrass will ever recover," Mr Clarke said.

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Qld's seagrass beds under threat into 2012

01 November 2011, Ninemsn

The seagrass beds which sustain Queensland's turtles and dugongs could remain under threat into next year, a forum on the Gold Coast has heard.

With turtle strandings along the Queensland coast nearly double last year's figure, specialists from around Australia gathered at Sea World on Tuesday to discuss the impact of January's floods and cyclones on turtles and dugongs.

A protected species expert at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Mark Read, said the rich underwater pastures which the turtles need to survive will remain under threat for some time.

"At this stage weather forecasters are predicting a moderate La Nina event this season which will produce milder weather patterns than last year's events," Dr Read said.

"Despite this we are still anticipating the species' main food source, seagrass meadows, will be adversely affected by these weather patterns, so it is important we minimise all other impacts.

"These include coastal development, habitat degradation, boat strikes, marine debris, sedimentation and pollution, oil spills and other threats to water quality."

Dr Read said an extra 60 people had been trained in how to perform necropsy examinations on stranded animals so vital information can be collated about their cause of death.

Sea World's director of marine sciences, Trevor Long, said because turtles have such a slow metabolism there wasn't an immediate impact after January's extreme weather.

"What happens is a crash over many months, and that's what we're into right at the moment," Mr Long said.

Mr Long said he'd like to see the creation of a rehabilitation centre in Queensland because there's no facility at the moment capable of dealing with the strandings.

"Rehabilitation centres are not difficult to manage or establish, and that's something I'd like to see come out of today's forum," he said.

Queensland Environment Minister Vicky Darling said so far this year there had been more than 1200 turtle strandings.

"Townsville, Gladstone and Moreton Bay have all had over 200 each, which isn't unexpected but is almost double last year's numbers," Ms Darling said.

"The message to people on our waterways is to slow down a little bit and look out below."

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October 2011


Dredging of disease-hit Gladstone waters stops again as scientists determine impact

29 October 2011, Courier Mail

THE largest dredge operating in disease-hit Gladstone waters has stopped work while scientists determine how much its operation may contribute to muddy harbour conditions.

Water quality tests are being conducted before, during and after the stoppage which has coincided with big tides.

Turbidity levels have spiked during previous big tides. With more king tides looming in the run-up to Christmas, it is hoped the issue can be clarified before then.

Greens environment spokeswoman Larissa Waters said the latest dredging suspension demonstrated the need for an urgent review.

"With reports of more dead dugongs and turtles and still no established cause of what's making the fish and the residents of Gladstone sick, it's critical that federal Environment Minister Tony Burke review his approval for the remaining 44 million cubic metres to be dredged."

Mr Burke has declined to stop dredging, saying the project is being monitored heavily.

Tests were being conducted on the partly decomposed carcass of a dugong found dead in the harbour earlier in the week.

In September, the State Government closed the harbour to fishing for three weeks after fears were raised about high numbers of diseased fish.

Scientists at first thought it was red-spot disease and a parasite. Red spot has since been mostly discounted but concerns continue about parasites and the possibility that dredging is disturbing acid sulphate soils, classically found in low-lying coastal areas.

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Call for slack hunters to clean up

28 October 2011, by Mark Roy, Torres New Online

LEAVING turtle and dugong waste dumped on the Tamwoy foreshore is attracting crocodiles and ruining the recent beautification works on the esplanade, according to a concerned Waiben resident.

Percy Misi says while many local hunters are doing the right thing, and taking the shell, bones and offal back out to sea, many simply leave it on the beach.

“This is not following ailan kastom, or the traditional way of disposing of the waste, which is to take it offshore and dispose of it in deep water,” Mr Misi said.

“Cutting turtle and dugong and leaving the waste creates a bad image.

“We have a good beautification project here, but this practice is undoing all that hard work.”

With this problem being ongoing for many years, Mr Missi said the Torres Shire Council was failing to properly enforce their by-laws in regard to the waste.

“We need rangers patrolling the area. The shire has a sign warning people not to discard remains, but there is no-one to police it,” he said.

“So more and more people are doing the wrong thing. How is the shire going to help with this problem? There is no mechanism in place for people to dispose of the waste.”

Torres Shire Council director planning and environmental services Frank Darke said the shire was trying to enforce the regulations.

“We have limited resources, and obviously can’t be there all the time,” Mr Darke said.

“What we can do is increase our patrols in that area.”

Mr Misi also raised his concerns for the safety of people using the kup muri and recreational area on the Tamwoy foreshore. “The result of this is that we are seeing crocodiles coming in here in the evenings searching for carcasses and meat,” Mr Misi said.

He said he hoped that by raising awareness of the issue people would adopt better practices.

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Image: Waiben resident Percy Misi with the discarded remains of a turtle on the Tamwoy foreshore last week.  Picture: Torres News online



Another dugong dies in harbour

26 October 2011, by Marlina Whop, ABC Online

The death of another dugong in the Gladstone harbour in central Queensland has added to concerns that industrial activity is harming marine life.

The dead dugong is an adult female - about two metres in length.

Fishermen found it floating in the Gladstone harbour yesterday afternoon.

Environmental inspectors have towed the dugong to shore to conduct an autopsy.

They say its in an advanced state of decomposition.

The cause of the death is not known but fishermen say it is further proof that dredging in the harbour and increased boat traffic is affecting the water quality.

The Capricorn Conservation Council says it is a worrying sign.

A number of diseased fish have been caught in the harbour.

Several other dugongs have been found dead this year, along with dolphins and turtles.


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Dead turtles found in dark slick

10 October 2011, by Tony Moore, Brisbane Times

The state government is investigating the death of two turtles found on the southern edge of Gladstone Harbour by a crab fisherman this morning.

Turkey Beach crab hunter Nathan Fox this morning told the ABC that he noticed the two turtles floating dead in a slick of grime on top of the water.

"It looked like an oil slick, but it wasn't oil, it was a mass of mud, sort of grime of top of the water," he said.

The crab hunter said a botanist was taking samples of what appeared to be a "slick", like an oil slick on top of the water.

"And we pulled over and got a bit of a sample from it and turned around and had a look and there was a dead turtle floating there," Mr Fox said.

Mr Fox said two turtles were found by the pair about 20 metres off shore at the southern tip of Gladstone Harbour near Turkey Beach.

The Department of Environment and Resource Management is today checking the species and details of the recent turtle deaths.

Water quality conditions in Gladstone Harbour has been the subject of intense scrutiny since the heavy rainfall and the start of dredging in the harbour.

Some environmentalists have complained the dredging of Gladstone Harbour, associated with the coal seam gas industry expansion, is responsible for changed water conditions.

However the state government has maintained large amounts of freshwater washed downstream following heavy rains created muddy conditions that destroyed turtles' natural food, seagrass.

Environment Minister Vicki Darling expressed concern on August 31 that 156 turtles, mostly green turtles, had been found dead in the harbour this year.

Ms Darling said green turtles were literally "starving to death".

“They are struggling to find a food source and literally starving to death," she said.

“These deaths will in all likelihood continue as food sources become rarer but we need to stress that Queensland's green turtle population is so large and well-functioning that it would take the deaths of literally thousands of these animals before the entire species came under threat."

Mr Fox said turtle deaths would continue.

"We don't think the worst is over, we just think it is just starting," he said.

"We are just going to keep going on."

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Trawler to be used in seagrass removal experiment at Port Geographe

05 October 2011, Busselton Dunsborough Mail

AN unusual way to remove seagrass wrack from clogging the Port Geographe marina entrance is to be trialed next week.

A fishing trawler is planned to be on site for four days from next Wednesday to capture seagrass wrack and release it back into the ocean, away from the marina entrance.

“The operator engaged to undertake the trial has experience in seagrass wrack removal in the waters off Bunbury and Fremantle, in response to navigation issues in those areas in what’s hoped to be a more efficient way to remove it,” Department of Transport (DoT) project manager James Holder said.

The accumulation of seagrass within the marina entrance was threatening safe navigation and skippers had been warned of the potential danger.

“Traditionally, the seagrass wrack accumulation is removed as part of a larger and more expensive dredging operation,” he said.

In addition to the seagrass trawling trial, a contract had been awarded to bypass approximately 150,000 cubic metres of seagrass wrack and sand from the beach (adjacent to the western groyne) east to Wonnerup and an adjacent offshore location. Work would commence on October 10 and take approximately seven weeks to complete.

Mr Holder said DoT, in consultation with the Shire of Busselton, had again coordinated the bypass operation because the developer of Port Geographe was now under administration, had ceased work on the project and was not meeting coastal maintenance work obligations.

The trawling operation and the upcoming bypassing work would largely be funded from a bank guarantee provided by the developer and other commercial entities under the Port Geographe Development Deed.

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Images: Port Geographe canal entrance (top) . Seagrass building up on the beach at Geographe. Pictures: Busselton Dunsborough Mail



Deaths not expected to hurt turtle numbers

04 October 2011, ABC Far North

A north Queensland ecologist says the green turtle population will remain resilient, despite more than 1,000 animals dying in coastal areas since Cyclone Yasi.

James Cook University's Dr Mark Hamann says while the number of recorded deaths is higher than previous years, the population is unlikely to experience a strong decline.

He says the deaths were near the coastline not in offshore areas.

"What we can be confident about I think is because those areas weren't impacted by the severe weather, turtles living out in those places, say the lagoons at Heron Island or the Swain Reef area or the areas ... right offshore on those outer reefs, I think those turtle populations are going to be really quite well out there," he said.

Dr Hamann says researchers are planning to study the health of green turtles in offshore areas on the Great Barrier Reef.

He says scientists want to examine the creatures in some of the reef's outer islands and atolls.

"Just so we can look at things like length and weight and whether they're relatively healthy or not," he said.

"We're starting to look at ... other projects along the Queensland coast with other user groups such as Indigenous groups, the Torres Strait community etcetera, so we can start to look at other ways of investigating turtle populations along the whole Queensland coast."

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Don't panic over turtle deaths: ecologist

03 October 2011, by Kym Angius The Brisbane Times

There is no need to panic over the spike in turtle deaths along Queensland's coast, an ecologist says.

In the past nine months, 1000 turtles, mostly green turtles, have died, compared with 555 in 2010, 625 in 2009 and 552 in 2008, figures from the Department of Environment and Resource Management show.

They are mostly dying from natural causes and are often found emaciated, with just mangrove seeds or algae in their stomachs.

Sea grasses, turtles' main food source, have died off in record amounts after millions of tonnes of sediment flowed into coastal areas during the summer's floods.

James Cook University marine turtle ecologist Dr Mark Hamann says the turtle population is resilient and the scale of deaths have been taken out of context.

"Green turtles live all throughout the Great Barrier Reef, in the coral atolls, the lagoons and in the deeper water, from Moreton Bay all the way up to the Torres Strait, and it is only the coastal strip that has been impacted by this extreme weather," he said today.

"There are a lot of turtles out there that haven't been impacted at all.

"To have 1000 die in a year is alarming, but it is not going to lead to any depletions.

"We don't need to panic."

The last survey of green turtles in coral areas, not including coastal areas, counted 800,000, increasing by three per cent a year, Dr Hamann said.

Concerns have been raised that a mass dredging project in the Port of Gladstone is contributing to the turtle die-off.

The state government is yet to decide whether a three-week ban on fishing in the port - which was implemented after diseased fish were caught - will be lifted when it expires on Friday.

Around 46 million cubic tonnes of seabed is being dredged to make way for two liquefied natural gas plants and export hubs at Curtis Island, as well as the expansion of the Gladstone port.

Local fishermen and the Australian Greens want dredging to be suspended until it can be confirmed that it's not linked to marine life dying off.

Of the 1000 turtles that have become stranded this year, 188 were found in the Gladstone area, where six dolphins and eight dugongs have also died.

One of four dredgers working on the project had stopped work on Friday because there had been too much turbidity and a bund wall was leaking.

Spoil that is dredged is being dumped into Fisherman's Landing on the harbour, a reclamation area that will create a land reserve used to service new port facilities.

The site is designed to be sealed, but Gladstone Ports Corporation said the bund wall is yet to be fixed and fine material could still seep through.

The corporation said on Monday that all work had resumed.

It couldn't confirm whether the bund wall had been secured.

The corporation argues there is no scientific evidence to suggest the project to date has had any effect that would contribute to the loss of marine life or disease in fish.

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September 2011


New marine park set to triple total area in WA coastal waters

30 September 2011,by Hope Holborow, Science Network Western Australia

Planning for the proposed Eighty Mile Beach marine park is underway with the release of the Indicative Management plan for public comment by Environment Minister Bill Marmion today in Broome. A key part of the $63 million Kimberly Science and Conservation Strategy, the plan would guide management of the marine park over the next ten years.

The proposed Eighty Mile Beach Marine Park is one of four proposed new marine parks to be considered as a part of the new Kimberley Wilderness Parks, a key component of the state governments major conservation strategy for the Kimberley. “The [Government] is committed to creating new marine parks at Eighty Mile Beach, Camden Sound, Roebuck Bay and the North Kimberley as part of the strategy, as well as new parks at South-West Capes and the Dampier Archipelago,” Mr Marmion says.

The four new marine parks will nearly triple the total area of marine parks and reserves in WA coastal waters and together will also protect the largest Humpback whale calving area in the southern hemisphere. “The proposed Eighty Mile Beach marine park will provide protection for a unique and spectacular part of the lower west Kimberley coastline, while providing for sustainable tourism use and enjoyment of the area and the maintenance of Aboriginal culture and heritage,” he says. Along WA’s north west coast, Eighty Mile Beach lies between Broome and Port Headland.

The new marine park would cover an area of about 209,00 hectares of coast, stretching from the south-west to the north-east of the state and encompassing all of Eighty Mile Beach, protecting migratory shorebirds and unique marine life while promoting collaborative management with traditional owners. “The Ramsar-listed Eighty Mile Beach is one of the worlds most significant feeding grounds for migratory shorebirds and supports an important nesting population of flatback turtles (Natator depressus) that are endemic to northern Australia,” the Minister says. The area is also rich in other marine life including sawfish (Pristis pristis), dugong (Dugong dugon), dolphins (Tursiops sp) and millions of invertebrates that inhabit the sand, mud flats, seagrass meadows, coral reefs and mangroves.

Importantly, sanctuary zones would be set up to provide higher levels of protection for marine biodiversity, while recreation and general use zones ensured the continued use of the marine environment for sustainable recreation and commercial activities.

The period for public comment closes at 5pm on January 20, 2012 and the Minister encourages everyone to have their say.

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Images: Dugong feeding trails through seagrass meadow (Roebuck Bay).  Picture: Seagrass-Watch HQ.  Feather Star (Roebuck Bay).  Picture: Fiona Bishop.



Floods may impact Moreton Bay marine life

28 September 2011, UQ News

Dr Chris Roelfsema, from the School of Geography, Planning and Environmental Management at UQ, is concerned about the impact the 2011 floods may have on seagrass in Moreton Bay. “Any degradation in seagrass cover in Moreton Bay could impact negatively on the already declining populations of dugongs and turtles that rely on it as a food source,” Dr Roelfsema said.

Dr Roelfsema and his colleagues Professor Stuart Phinn, PhD student Mitch Lyons and others have been using remotely sensed imagery and data collected in the field, from 1999 onwards to map seagrass cover in Moreton Bay and will use this data to assess the impacts of the floods earlier this year. “The current seagrass percentage cover will be compared to previous years' data and maps. This will indicate the extent of the impact from the 2011 floods,” Dr Roelfsema said.

As part of the research the Eastern Banks of Moreton Bay will be examined in more detail to determine the abundance and distribution of seagrass species and the Lyngbya majuscula bacteria, which can affect seagrass growth. “Lyngbya majuscula is a species of cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) that naturally occurs in Moreton Bay and is commonly found in seagrass beds,” Dr Roelfsema said. “We have noticed since 1999 several blooms have taken place and would expect to see this occurring again as a result of the floods,” Dr Roelfsema said.

“The impact of additional blooms on the natural environment may reduce seagrass cover and the marine animals that consume it, such as turtles and dugongs. Lyngbya also affects humans, producing breathing difficulties, along with skin and eye irritations, if they come into direct contact with it.”

During February, April, June and September 2012 maps of Lyngbya distributions will be analysed in relation to movements of turtles and dugongs who are tracked by researchers from Queensland Park and Wildlife Services. “The results of the research will be used to assist in policy guidance and environmental management by the agencies and partners responsible for the Moreton Bay, including Queensland's Department of Environment and Resource Management,” Dr Roelfsema said.

Dr Roelfsema works with the Biophysical Remote Sensing Group (BRG) at The University of Queensland. The current work will be extended under a proposed ARC Linkage project with the University of Western Australia to use remote sensing and integrated field techniques for mapping and monitoring coral reef and seagrass habitats. Results will be used for ongoing monitoring and management of the Moreton Bay by marine authorities.

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Image: Wynnum seagrass meadow. May 2011



Indigenous group suspends hunting in the wake of summer disasters

28 September 2011, Media Newswire (press release)

Environment Minister Vicky Darling has today applauded a move by North Queensland indigenous clans to suspend the traditional hunting of both turtles and dugong as the species continues to suffer from the fallout of the state's summer disasters.

Ms Darling said the Girrigun Aboriginal Corporation was leading the push to suspend traditional hunting until both species properly recover from summer’s floods and cyclones which had a devastating effect on seagrass beds – their major food source – the length of the Queensland coastline. She said the suspension involves two Aboriginal clans which – even though they are covered by an earlier agreement to cap hunting of turtles and dugong and hold Native Titles rights over sea country north of Townsville - have agreed to suspend hunting indefinitely. “I think this move speaks volumes about the capacity of local traditional owners groups to make their own informed decisions about cultural practices that have existed for thousands of years,” Ms Darling said. “I congratulate the clans of Girrigun for this decision because it acknowledges that while there are severe limitations in addressing the food supply crisis hitting turtles and dugong, we can address the impacts humans are having on the population and hunting is one of them.”

The Girrigun decision follows a landmark voluntary agreement reached just two weeks ago by Traditional Owners to suspend hunting of dugong in an area from Gladstone to Bundaberg. Ms Darling said the agreement between four Traditional Owner groups and the State and Commonwealth Governments meant no dugong would be taken through hunting in an area extending from Burrum Heads, south of Bundaberg, to – and including – Curtis Island off Gladstone. “As a part of this agreement, the traditional owners of this country have decided that they will not hunt dugong and will limit their take of green turtles to a maximum of 20 per year for the next five years.

“This is the sort of collaborative approach that is needed, particularly at the moment as this marine animal species struggles in the wake of our summer of disasters. “These are real outcomes for sustainable hunting that are occurring right now through genuine engagement with Traditional Owners. “You do not achieve these results through threats of heavy-handed regulation as the LNP has promised if they were to take office.

“Traditional owners don’t need the threat of new laws and regulations hanging over their heads to practice sustainable hunting. “You can only achieve real conservation outcomes when you work collaboratively with the Traditional Owners who have been the traditional custodians of the land for thousands of years.”

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Turtles and dugongs die in droves: DERM

26 September 2011, Ninemsn

Deaths of turtles and dugongs off Queensland have nearly doubled this year as seagrass struggles to recover from floods, an international conference on rivers has heard.

The Department of Environment and Resource's Dr Julia Playford told the International River Symposium in Brisbane that the animals were scavenging mangrove seeds and algae because seagrass beds, their major food source, had been destroyed by sediment, turbidity and low salinity after last summer's floods and Cyclone Yasi.

She said one million tonnes of sediment had washed into Brisbane's Moreton Bay from the floods, three times the annual average in just 10 days. South of Brisbane, 344,000 tonnes of sediment flowed down the Logan and Albert rivers, 10 times the annual load. In the state's north, Cyclone Yasi had stirred up sediment at depths of up to 190 metres. "That has been followed up with a significant increase of strandings of marine wildlife," Dr Playford told the symposium.

In the year to September 20, 150 dugongs had become stranded, with only three released, she said. That's compared to 68 in the same period in 2010, 37 in 2009 and 30 in 2008. Meanwhile, 999 turtles had died, compared with 555 in 2010, 625 in 2009 and 552 in 2008.

"When we find those animals we find that they are frequently emaciated, don't have seagrass in their stomachs," Dr Playford said. "They are mostly dying from natural causes, from diseases, although there are some boat strikes and netting impacts."

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Seagrass check on health of rivers

26 September 2011, by Michelle Ridley, The West Australian

Ecologists are hoping a tiny paddle-shaped seagrass known as Halophila ovalis will be able to help monitor the health of the Swan and Canning rivers.

A 12-month study of the seagrass, also known as paddle weed, kicked off yesterday to coincide with World Rivers Day. The seagrass will be surveyed once a month at six sites, one in the Canning River and five in the Swan River at Crawley, Mosman Park, North Fremantle, Applecross and Bicton.

Environment Minister Bill Marmion said the study would collect baseline data about the paddle weed that would be used to determine the health of the rivers. "More nutrients and phosphorus are going in because of development around the Swan River so we've got to make sure that we keep a check on that," he said. "Just by monitoring the quality of the seagrass we'll know the quality of the river."

Swan River Trust senior environmental officer Jeff Cosgrove said seagrass was sensitive to changes in light and temperature and could be indirectly affected by nutrients in the river. "Globally, seagrasses are known as good indicators of environmental health," he said. "We've been focusing on physical and chemical parameters to measure the estuarine health and we're moving now into using biological parameters."

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Image: Checking on the health of rivers. Picture: The Australian



Seagrass barometer of river health

25 September 2011, ABC Online

A new project will look at whether seagrass can provide important information into the state of Perth's river systems. Over the next 12 months samples of seagrass will be taken from the Swan and Canning Rivers.

It is hoped the marine plants can then be analysed by the Water Department and the Swan River Trust to determine the health of the city's waterways. The Environment Minister Bill Marmion says it may prove more efficient than the current method of measuring phosphorous and nitrogen in the rivers.

"We all know the importance of the health of the Swan River, we recreate on it, a lot of people go boating on it, it's important for our marine life, and some people actually swim in the river so we need to make sure it's healthy," he said.

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Image: It is hoped seagrass can become an indicator of the health of the Swan and Canning rivers.  ABC



Island tackles turtle troubles

23 September 2011, by Nathalie Fernbach, ABC Online

Five environmental groups, traditional land owners and city council will join forces to raise awareness of the hazards facing sea turtles and to examine ways to protect the creatures.

Geoffrey Bay Coastcare, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, the Department of Environment and Resource Management, the Sea Turtle Foundation, Queens Beach Action Group, Wulgarukaba traditional owners and Townsville City Council will examine the biology, habitat, nesting habits, threats to and management of turtles around Magnetic Island during a turtle nesting workshop this weekend.

Geoffrey Bay Coastcare's Vandhana hopes the workshop will act as a catalyst to get more locals and visitors involved in turtle care.

"I'd like to see a collaboration of individual community members and the organisations that exist to get together and use all of their knowledge and their education and work together more... to support the rescue of turtles and also to enhance the areas that turtles are most likely to nest at".

In addition to degradation of the turtles' nesting sites due to natural erosion and cars driving on the beach, sea turtles have been struggling to find food since cyclone Yasi explains Vandhana.

"The sea grass that the turtles feed on has been covered completely by sand so there is no food for them, the beach has been eroded, the foreshore has been eroded which means it could change in shape and even accessibility for turtles coming up..."

A turtle themed artwork created by Magnetic island school students will also feature at the workshop.

"I feel very strongly that children have a lot to say about environmental issues and the children on Magnetic Island especially are very aware of the environment, the marine environment and the land environment" adds Vandhana.

The turtle nesting workshop will be held on Sunday 25th of September from 1:00pm at the Magnetic Island Bowls Club as part of the Bay Days Festival.

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Image: The artwork created by Magnetic Island children will feature at the turtle nesting workshop.  Picture: Nathalie Fernbach - ABC local radio



Boat blamed for sea turtle death

23 September 2011, Fraser Coast Chronicle

Two mortally injured sea turtles have washed up and died on a Bay beach. One of the turtles expired soon after rangers arrived on the scene at Point Vernon yesterday. Its shell was shattered by a boat strike and it barely had the strength to blink. The latest deaths come after a dugong washed ashore near the WetSide Aquatic Park on Sunday and died from a ruptured bowel.

The deaths of these marine animals come in the same week as a handful of boaties have been fined for speeding in marine park go-slow zones. Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service operations manager Peter Wright said five boaties were caught ignoring go-slow zones in the Great Sandy Marine Park at the weekend. Four were issued with fines and one with a warning notice as rangers cracked down to protect vulnerable sea life. Penalties for not observing these regulations start at $400 and have a maximum court-imposed penalty of $1000.

Mr Wright said the summer floods had a devastating effect on coastal seagrass beds causing turtles and dugongs to forage longer over extended areas to find food. This made them more vulnerable to boat strikes.

"Rangers will not hesitate to target those people on the water who are ignoring go-slow areas and the fines handed out on the weekend should stand as a warning," he said.

"With extra boating traffic during the school holidays, marine park rangers have stepped up their patrols of the designated go-slow areas in the Great Sandy Strait. The go-slow regulations are there for a simple reason - going too fast can cause death or serious injury to our marine wildlife. He said go-slow zones in the Great Sandy Marine Park were introduced to reduce injuries to marine wildlife caused by boats. "Unfortunately this year, we are seeing an increased number of dugong and turtle standings the length of our coastline."

Go slow areas were clearly marked on the Great Sandy Marine Park zoning map which was available from a wide range of sources including the Department of Environment and Resource Management website:

More information: Click Here

Image: Ranger John Schwarzrock approaches the sea turtle found washed ashore at Point Vernon. Picture: Nat Bromhead



Aboriginal clans lead the push to suspend dugong and turtle

23 September 2011, by Daniel Strudwick, The Cairns Post

Tradional owners from two Aboriginal clans in the Far North are leading the push to suspend dugong and turtle hunting in Queensland until animal numbers have recovered from cyclone Yasi.

The Nywaigi and Girramay tribal groups, based between Ingham and Cardwell, have stopped issuing hunting permits because dugong and turtle populations have dwindled since the category 5 storm crossed the coastline in February.

The clans, which belong to the Girringun Aboriginal Corporation, were yesterday praised by Environment Minister Vicky Darling for self-regulating traditional hunting practices.

Girringun executive officer, Phil Rist, said the hunting suspensions sent a clear message to governments that traditional land owners were capable of managing their own hunting without intervention.

"The relationship that we’ve developed with agencies and the community is very good – they see the Girringun as very responsible and very capable of managing their take of turtle and dugong," Mr Rist said.

"The whole coast of Queensland was affected in some way from the natural disasters at the start of the year and the turtle and dugong numbers are a good indication of that effect."

He said Girringun tribal groups welcomed the announcement from Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke earlier this month, which ruled out an outright ban on turtle and dugong hunting.

But he said further funding was needed so that other Aboriginal groups could develop their own Traditional Use of Marine Resource Agreements, like the one Girringun signed in 2005.

The TUMRAs allow traditional owners to cap the number of dugongs and turtles that are killed each year.

Ms Darling congratulated the Girringun clans for indefinitely suspending traditional hunting, while seagrass beds – the major food source for dugongs and turtles – recover from the storm.

"Traditional owners don’t need the threat of new laws and regulations hanging over their heads to practise sustainable hunting," Ms Darling said.

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Image: Population dwindling: Cyclone Yasi damaged seagrass beds, the major food source for dugongs.



Traditional hunters agree to dugong bans

22 September 2011, Ninemsn

More traditional owners' groups in north Queensland have agreed to stop hunting dugongs and turtles to let the two species recover from the effects of disastrous floods.

Queensland Environment Minister Vicki Darling on Thursday said the Girrigun Aboriginal Corporation, which covers two clan groups in the Townsville region, had agreed to suspend hunting of both species indefinitely.

The clans are entitled to hunt both species under the Native Title Act but agreed to stop after widespread flooding across Queensland last summer damaged seagrass beds - the major food source for both animals - along the coastline.

The agreement comes two weeks after traditional owners' groups from Bundaberg to Gladstone agreed to self-imposed bans on hunting both species.

"I think this move speaks volumes about the capacity of local traditional owners' groups to make their own informed decisions about cultural practices that have existed for thousands of years," Ms Darling said in a statement on Thursday.

"I congratulate the clans of Girrigun for this decision because it acknowledges that while there are severe limitations in addressing the food supply crisis hitting turtles and dugongs, we can address the impacts humans are having on the population and hunting is one of them."

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Boaties urged to slow down

21 September 2011, Bundaberg NewsMail

FINES have been handed out to boaties who failed to heed warnings to slow down and protect Queensland's vulnerable marine life.

Environment Minister Vicky Darling said five boaties were caught ignoring Go Slow zones in the Great Sandy Marine Park, off Hervey Bay, at the weekend and were issued with $500 fines as the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service rangers cracked down to protect turtles and dugongs.

Ms Darling said the summer floods had had a devastating effect on coastal seagrass beds, the main source of food for the animals, leaving them vulnerable to boat strike.

"Rangers will not hesitate to target those people on the water who are ignoring

go-slow areas and the fines handed out on the weekend should stand as a warning," she said.

"The go-slow regulations are there for a simple reason - going too fast can cause death or serious injury to our marine wildlife."

The go-slow areas are clearly marked on the Great Sandy Marine Park zoning map, which is available from

More information: Click Here



Starvation not cause of death

20 September 2011, by Matt Nott, Fraser Coast Chronicle

AN autopsy conducted on a dugong that washed up on the beach in Hervey Bay has brought with it hope that the sea meadows of the Great Sandy Strait have survived the inundation of silt carried off the mainland by flood waters late last year.

Department of Resource and Environment regional spokesman Ross Belcher said initial reports from the autopsy conducted on Sunday showed that the dugong had died with its stomach full.

"A necropsy has been conducted on the dugong found washed up at WestSide, Hervey Bay, on the weekend has found that it died from a ruptured bowel," Mr Belcher said.

"The cause of the rupture has not yet been determined and samples have been taken for further examination.

"However the necropsy also determined that the dugong's stomach was full of seagrass, so the vet has been able to rule out starvation as a cause of death.'

For Mr Belcher, who is the regional manager for the Great Sandy Strait region, this autopsy results are good news.

"It hard to measure the conditions of the sea(grass) meadows, but they seem to be in better condition that we anticipated," he said.

"At the beginning of the year after the floods it was looking catastrophic."

More information: Click Here

Image: The dead dugong found washed ashore near Wetside at Pialba. Picture: Nat Bromhead



Dugong death a sea mystery

19 September 2011, Fraser Coast Chronicle

WAS it boat strike, hunger, disease or old age that killed the dugong which washed up on Scarness beach yesterday?

Experts will be able to give their reports after tests have been carried out on the carcass.

"Around this time of year is the peak time for dugong and turtle mortality," Department of Environment and resources management spokesman Ross Belcher said.

"We don't know as much about the dugongs as we would like but research is continuing."

Mr Belcher is the regional manager for the Great Sandy Strait region where some of the highest concentration of sea meadow in the region is to be found.

Dugongs feed almost exclusively on sea grass.

An increase in sedimentation after the floods has smothered some meadows and reduced availability of food.

"We have been very concerned about the loss of sea grass in the region as it has placed a lot of stress on the dugong populations," Mr Belcher said.

More information: Click Here

Image: Fraser Coast Chronicle



Floods having lethal effect on marine life

14 September 2011, by Matt Wordsworth, ABC Online

Animal welfare groups up and down the Queensland coast are reporting record numbers of turtle and dugong deaths in the wake of the state's massive floods earlier this year.

Marine scientists say sea grass beds have been smothered, and the next 12 to 18 months will be crucial for some species.

Fred Nucifora from Townsville's Turtle Hospital says the Great Barrier Reef has already seen a staggering number of turtle deaths this year - 910 compared to 515 at this point last year.

"We're at capacity at this point in time," he said.

"So we've been at capacity before, but we haven't been at capacity for so long. So we're doing all we possibly can to provide the best chance to the turtles we have in our care."

Marine scientists are just as concerned for the endangered dugong.

At the end of August there were 132 deaths recorded, compared to 62 in the same period last year.

Dr Christine Williams, from the Queensland Department of Environment and Resource Management, is not surprised by the numbers.

"The issue of turtle deaths and dugong deaths following flooding is not a unique phenomenon unfortunately," she said.

"It has happened in the past, but in the most recent past this is the biggest event we've ever had recorded in Queensland."

She says silty water laced with herbicides and pesticides that has flushed from rivers during a flood smothers and kills sea grass, the main food source for turtles and dugongs.

Dr Williams says sea grass off Gladstone was in the worst condition since records began after the floods, and a management strategy is in place.

"We don't believe that this will have a long-term impact as long as the sea grasses recover over the next 12 to 18 months," she said.

"I'm confident we'll find a solution. Some areas have come up with alternative ways of feeding dugongs using cabbages and if the sea grass doesn't work we'll be looking for other ways of trying to keep the dugongs in a healthy state."

But Greens senator Larissa Waters says the State Government is ignoring an important factor.

"The massive dredging projects that they've approved in the Gladstone area, which is in the Great Barrier Reef world heritage area, for the LNG ports," she said.

"There's 46 million tonnes of seabed that they want to dredge from Gladstone Harbour that they've approved, that the Federal Government has also approved.

"All of that sediment from that dredging is smothering the seagrass. So we have been calling on the Federal Minister to suspend that approval for dredging and reconsider whether it's really appropriate given the state of the seagrass after the floods."

The Bureau of Meteorology is predicting above-average rainfall in the north and severe thunderstorms in the south-east of the state this summer.

Dr Williams says it is not just householders hoping they are wrong.

"I'm sure the dugong and turtle are also hoping - if they could hope for these things - they'd be hoping for some nice clean water to encourage the sea grasses to recover," she said.

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Image: Turtle feeding on seagrass at Green Island.



Seagrass beds 'store $79 per ha of carbon'

13 September 2011, Belinda Cranston, Ninemsn

They've been quietly storing carbon dioxide for decades without causing a fuss or charging anyone a cent for the privilege but Australia's seagrass beds are at risk of being destroyed by climate change, a think tank says.

Sea grasses store 10 to 40 times as much carbon per hectare as forests, and Australia's sea-grass meadows are the largest in the world, a report by the Centre for Policy Development says.

Considering the Gillard government wants to charge $23 per tonne of carbon emitted by Australia's biggest polluters, that would make Australia's coastal seagrass beds worth $79 per hectare, the report's authors added at its official launch on Tuesday.

To some extent, the carbon has been absorbed without there being any damage to ecosystems, says Caroline Hoisington, co-author of Stocking Up: Securing our Marine Economy.

"A lot of biological systems in the ocean sequester carbon," she said at the launch of the report on Tuesday.

"There is nothing wrong with that. It encourages growth.

"The problem is when there is so much carbon that it can't be sequestered, and it starts to change the chemistry of the water in the ocean, making it more acid, and that starts to inhibit coral growth, and that is a big worry."

For this reason, companies that emit carbon should not think of the ocean as a sink where it can be dumped.

"It's more about recognising the value that it has played so far," fellow report co-author Laura Eadie said.

Ocean ecosystems add an extra $25 billion to the national economy each year which is not accounted for in official figures, the report says.

These includes $15.8 billion a year in carbon storage.

It was also of concern that 29 per cent of the world's sea grass beds had vanished since 1879.

"Australia has the world's largest sea beds, but warming ocean temperatures have resulted in loss," Ms Eadie said.

In Western Australia, about 1,000 hectares of sea grass were lost after a particularly warm summer, Ms Hoisington added.

"That is likely to increase," she said.

Land based pollution had also contributed to the loss of the sea grass beds.

The report, Stocking Up: Securing Our Marine Economy, is the first in a series looking at how different sectors of Australia's economy can benefit from policies to preserve the environment and the resources that sustain them.

Aside from warning of a decline in the number of seagrass beds, the report recommended building up fish stocks and creating more marine parks to buffer ocean ecosystems from the climate change affects of acidity and rising temperatures.

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Call for more marine parks

12 September 2011, Ninemsn

Australia needs extra marine parks and increased fish stocks to protect ocean ecosystems from the effects of climate change such as acidity and rising temperatures, a think tank says.

The Centre for Policy Development, releasing its report on marine economy security, says failure to act will risk 9000 direct jobs in commercial fishing and a marine tourism industry worth $11 billion a year.

Ocean ecosystems add an extra $25 billion to the national economy each year including $15.8 billion a year in carbon storage, the report says.

The report, released on Monday, says seagrasses store 10 to 40 times as much carbon per hectare as forests and Australia's seagrass meadows are the largest in the world.

Oceans also provide $6.2 billion a year in pest and disease control services in fisheries, as well as $1.85 billion per year of benefits in recreational fishing, it said.

Researchers looked at the south-western region of Western Australia as a case study and found the region provided an extra $435 million a year in value than official figures showed.

The report said extending a proposed marine protection area to cover coastal shelf, seagrass and coral reefs could protect a further $1.1 billion in economic benefits.

Report co-author Laura Eadie said the short-term costs of taking action should be put aside to reap the long-term benefits.

"In a world of increased competition for resources and rapid environmental change, it makes economic sense to protect the asset base of the marine economy," Ms Eadie said in a statement.

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Mass starvation of dugongs and turtles on Great Barrier Reef

11 September 2011, by Jonathan Pearlman,The Telegraph

A sudden mass starvation of turtles and dugongs, a rare sea mammal, off the coast of Queensland has prompted warnings of a long-term natural disaster in the normally sheltered waters just inshore of Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

Along hundreds of miles of beaches and on the shore of small islands, the rotting carcasses of green turtles and dugongs have are being washed ashore in alarming numbers - victims, scientists believe, of the after effects of the cyclone and floods that have afflicted this part of Australia in the past year.

Now naturalists fear that up to 1,500 dugongs – a species of sea cows – and 6,000 turtles along the Reef are likely to die in the coming months because their main food source, sea grass, which grows on the ocean floor, was largely wiped out by the floods and cyclone.

In some places the plants were ripped from the seabed by currents created by the storms and in others they were inundated under silt and soil washed out from the land by the torrential rains.

Beachgoers have reported stumbling across groups of turtles in shallow waters near Townsville – only to discover they were dead or dying.

"This is a long-term environmental disaster," said Dr Ellen Ariel, a turtle expert at James Cook University.

"It is not like an oil spill where you can clean the water and move on. It is such a large stretch of coastline... We have had mass strandings of turtles. The turtles are sick and starving and can't go on any longer. They don't have anywhere to go."

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority says it expects more dugongs to die than in any previous event.

Marine experts have expressed growing concerns about the future of the Reef's dugongs, which are regarded as a vulnerable species. The herbivorous creatures, related to the Florida manatee and believed to be the source of the mermaid myth, helped the Great Barrier Reef gain its listing as a World Heritage area in 1981.

But their number around the southern parts of the Reef, which attracts the largest number of tourist, has declined by an estimated 95 per cent over the past 50 years. Some 5,500 live in the main section of the Reef, and here growing numbers of carcasses have been washing up on to coastal golf courses and island beaches.

Clive Last, who works as a groundsman on a privately-owned island near the town of Gladstone, was making his way back to the shoreline on his boat last month when he spotted a "black bulge" on the rocks of a small island, Witt Island. He made his way to the pontoon and discovered the marooned body of a seven-foot dugong, with much of its skin peeled away.

"I could see straight away there was something there that shouldn't be there," he told the Sunday Telegraph.

"I thought, not another one. It was a big grey and white dead mass, but it was intact. There was no sign of trauma or cuts or bruising. Something is going wrong. I've lived here for 50 years but I have never seen deaths in such numbers."

Mark Read, a protected species expert at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, said turtles and dugongs were the "lawnmowers of the sea" and their losses could have a damaging impact on the overall marine ecology.

"We are looking at the highest ever record for stranded dugongs and the same for turtles," he told The Sunday Telegraph.

"Turtles and dugongs play a key role in maintaining healthy seagrass beds. We have concerns about the likely effect from a marked decline of turtles and dugongs. We don't know what the consequences are."

One of the world's experts on dugongs, Prof Helene Marsh, from James Cook University, said she was concerned about the dugong's future in the southern section of the Reef. "It is unprecedented that such a huge area of coast was affected. In this case, because the floods and cyclone were so huge and the damage so widespread - and it followed a wet year last year - we are wondering whether these animals have anywhere else to go."

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Image: The corpses of hundreds of dugongs have been washed up on shore. Picture: ALAMY



Findings will be made public

10 September 2011, by David Sparkes, The Gladstone Observer

Environment Minister Vicky Darling flew into Gladstone yesterday to address the community's growing anxiety over marine animal deaths. The minister was invited to the region by Gladstone Region Mayor Gail Sellers.

Cr Sellers has been calling for the Scientific Advisory Committee to release specific data on the deaths of turtles, dugongs and dolphins this year. Ms Darling did not release that information yesterday, but told reporters the data would be appearing on the Department of Environment and Resource Management (DERM) website on Monday.

"At the beginning of next week it will be posted on the website," she said.

"The scientific panel has had a look through a possible range of causes (of marine animal deaths)."

She said the committee had examined commercial net fishing, seagrass beds and water quality in the area.

"They have come up with a series of recommendations for DERM.

"I have actioned those recommendations."

Ms Darling said the evidence pointed clearly to seagrass depletion.

"It's not a situation unique to Gladstone. It is affecting wildlife up and down Queensland," she said.

Cr Sellers said she was happy with the minister's response to her concerns, and the information provided on Monday would go a long way to clearing confusion in the community. Ms Darling used her media conference at Spinnaker Park to announce a new initiative to rehabilitate seagrass beds in the Port Curtis.

She said DERM would be calling for tenders from researchers and scientists to undertake a program to rehabilitate and improve the resilience of seagrass beds.

"The scientific evidence is that, in addition to starvation, marine animals are weakened and become more susceptible to other direct impacts such as netting and boat strike," Ms Darling said.

World Wildlife Fund Queensland manager Nick Heath said the Minister's announcement for a program of seagrass rehabilitation was worth trying as an experiment, but only time would tell if it would be successful.

"It's expensive. It's difficult to manage all the variables. We believe prevention is better than cure," Mr Heath said.

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Image: Environment Minister Vicky Darling is taken to see the Little Sea Hill Lighthouse on North Curtis Island. Picture: Brenda Strong (Gladstone Observer)


Researchers want to save seagrass beds

09 September 2011,

The best scientific minds are being called on to rehabilitate seagrass beds off central Queensland, where a number of turtle and dugong deaths remain distressingly high.

Environment Minister Vicky Darling said the state would call for tenders from researchers and scientists to express interest in rehabilitating and improving the resilience of seagrass beds in Port Curtis, off Gladstone.

She said surveys taken after the floods showed seagrass cover, which is critical to the diet of green turtles and dugong, was the lowest ever recorded.

So far this year, a total of 910 turtles and 132 dugong have died along the Queensland coast, compared with 515 turtles and 62 dugong for the same time last year.

That includes 158 turtles in the Gladstone area compared with 36 for the same period last year, and eight dugong compared with two for the same period last year.

"The scientific advice is that, in addition to starvation, marine animals are weakened and become more susceptible to other direct impacts such as netting and boat strike," she said in a statement.

"We need to know what ... can be done to ensure that seagrass beds along the coast can survive future flooding events in better shape than they currently do."

The announcement came after conservation group WWF accused the government of missing a July 31 deadline to announce how it would manage the effects of this year's devastating floods on the marine environment.

Spokesman Sean Hoobin said WWF, which sits on the government's flood recovery committee, had repeatedly asked for promised management and recovery plans for coral, seagrass, dugong and turtle communities.

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Minister rejects probe into turtle, dugong poaching claims

09 September 2011, by Kirsty Nancarrow and Josh Bavas, ABC Online

Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke says he will not investigate allegations turtle and dugong meat are being sold on the black market in north Queensland. Mr Burke says it is not the Federal Government's place to ban traditional hunting.

Environmental campaigners, some traditional owners and the Liberal National Party (LNP), want hunting restricted to help populations recover after Cyclone Yasi. They say the practice is accelerating the decline of the animals in north Queensland waters.

Mr Burke says it would be "patronising" for the Government to impose a ban on Indigenous residents taking the animals. He says the Federal Government will instead spend $5 million consulting traditional owners on how to manage the problem. Mr Burke says the talks may lead to Indigenous rangers having a greater role in monitoring illegal practices.

"There's a whole host [of options] and I suspect the answer to that question will be different for different communities," he said.

"There's no point in me telling a team of bureaucrats based in Canberra to kick off an investigation into something like this.

"You really need to have the eyes and ears on the ground and that begins through a far more respectful approach, then just pretending there's a quick political solution to this."

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has welcomed the financial assistance to help protect the animals. But WWF conservation manager Cliff Cobbo says the educational programs need to be managed by local groups themselves.

"There's a whole gamut and a whole range of issues that could be addressed," he said.

"We're looking to secure investment for these communities to ensure that there's appropriate leadership around the issue, around sustainable harvest.

"Basically it's up to the communities to decide on what type of measures that those education programs can be delivered at a local level.

"There are a number of education programs that I think can be developed in some of these local Indigenous communities.

"The issue there is that these types of programs need to be owned and delivered by the local communities, hence they need to customise the packages at a local level."

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Clans agree to stop dugong hunting

09 September 2011, Sydney Morning Herald

Four traditional owner groups have agreed not to hunt dugong for the next five years and limit their take of green turtles to 20 a year. The groups, from central Queensland, imposed the bans after negotiations with the state government, says Environment Minister Vicky Darling.

The announcement comes amid a spike in deaths for both endangered species, with many blamed on starvation after this year's floods wiped out seagrass beds.

The agreement covers waters from Burrum Heads, south of Bundaberg, to Curtis Island off Gladstone, a distance of several hundred kilometres.

Ms Darling said the floods had had a devastating effect on sea grasses in the region, a primary food source for dugong and sea turtles.

"That's why we are seeing increased numbers of strandings and deaths of these animals this year and anything we can do to stem the numbers of deaths is more than welcome," she said in a statement.

Under the Native Title Act, traditional owners have the right to hunt dugong and sea turtles, which are both protected species.

Under the self-imposed ban, the Gooreng Gooreng, Gurang, Taribelang Bunda and Bailai people have temporarily given up that right.

Earlier this week, wildlife campaigner Bob Irwin called for a moratorium on traditional hunting to address a significant drop in the populations of both endangered species.

Ms Darling said the agreement would help traditional owner groups manage their seafood resources and monitor their waters for illegal poachers.

"These are real outcomes for sustainable hunting that are occurring right now through genuine engagement with Traditional Owners."

Last month, the government revealed 649 turtle deaths had been reported in the first seven months of 2011 - up more than 200 on the same period last year.

It also said 96 dugongs had washed up dead on the state's coastline in the first seven months of this year, compared with 79 for the whole of 2010. Researchers have said the actual toll would be much higher, as those are only the animals that have been found. Starvation as a result of the recent natural disasters is being blamed for many of the deaths.

But the conservation group WWF says both species are suffering from broader threats including coastal development and boat strikes from a dramatic ramp up in shipping activity related to the mining boom and other industries.

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Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke rules out ban on sea turtle and dugong hunting

09 September 2011, by Heather Beck The Cairns Post

Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke has ruled out an outright ban on sea turtle and dugong hunting, saying he did not support the "knee-jerk" reaction of taking away the rights of traditional owners.

"It is both patronising in the extreme and completely impractical to tell communities that have been hunting sea turtle and dugong sustainably for hundreds of years that they are now the problem," he said.

"I think that view is factually wrong and deeply offensive and has played to some of the worst elements in Australian society."

At Cooya Beach yesterday, Mr Burke announced a Federal funding boost of $5 million to help indigenous groups make inroads into dugong conservation by giving them the resources to monitor animal numbers, patrol local waters and stop illegal poaching.

Mr Burke was met with an initially prickly reception from Eastern Kuku Yalanji people who were in the dark about the announcement. However, he emphasised the project was about indigenous leadership, with regional forums the first step to find out what communities believe should be done.

Information and ideas from the forums will be partnered with scientific information before traditional owners can apply directly for a share of the $5 million.

Kuku Yalanji traditional owners Bennett Walker and Ray Pierce hope the funding will give communities the means and power to enforce compliance, rather than resulting in more talk.

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Image: Leadership: Environment Minister Tony Burke meets Ray Wallis, of the Wuthathi tribal group of Shelburne Bay, at Cooya Beach yesterday. Picture: Marc McCormack Cairns Post)



$23m to protect Cape York Peninsula

08 September 2011, SBS World News Australia

The Queensland and federal governments have announced $23 million to protect Cape York Peninsula ahead of a potential bid for World Heritage status.

Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke said the new funds would finance the purchase of high conservation value land for inclusion in Australia's national reserve system. It would also support consultation with Indigenous communities, and their participation in sustainable agriculture and natural resource management. The funds will support the voluntary acquisition of land considered to be of national environmental significance.

Queensland Environment Minister Vicky Darling said indigenous people must be given opportunities to manage their own country, for conservation and appropriate economic development purposes.

"That is why Queensland has developed a special tenure type called National Park (Cape York Aboriginal Land) which is jointly owned and managed for conservation purposes by Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service and the Traditional Owners," Ms Darling said.

"When properties with high conservation values are acquired, a portion is handed back to traditional owners as Aboriginal land in recognition of their desire to return to homelands."

"Traditional owners can decide to develop outstations for traditional owners, protect some areas as nature refuges and to pursue economic development in keeping with the environmental and cultural values of the land such as carbon offset management or eco/cultural tourism."

The announcement includes $3 million to support engagement and consultation with the Indigenous people of Cape York towards a potential future World Heritage nomination, and for the mapping of environmental and cultural values.

The Wilderness Society welcomed the funding but warned the money could be wasted unless the cape was protected from coal mining and other threats. The society again called on governments to impose a moratorium on new developments until the conclusion of the World Heritage process.

Director Lyndon Schneiders said it was the biggest single investment in Cape York conservation in more than a decade.

It would also progress World Heritage assessment and possible listing, he said.

"It is important that while the World Heritage assessment proceeds, potentially destructive developments, including proposed coal mines, are put on the backburner," he added.

The Australian Conservation Foundation also welcomed the funding, particularly $17 million earmarked to acquire sites of natural and cultural significance.

"This funding will continue to provide a good foundation for better long-term opportunities for the people of Cape York Peninsula," chief executive Don Henry said in a statement.

He also welcomed $5 million included in the project for community-based turtle and dugong projects.

The conservation group WWF said it also welcomed the funding to help indigenous communities conserve turtles and dugongs and better manage their own sea country.

It said the announcement came amid unprecedented turtle and dugong deaths after the recent natural disasters, and amid ongoing threats from irresponsible fishing practices and major coastal development.

The group said it hoped whoever won the next state election would invest in an indigenous ranger program to tackle turtle and dugong poaching.

"There are a number of traditional owner groups along the Great Barrier Reef coast that have entered into voluntary conservation agreements to reduce traditional hunting but still lack the resources to engage in broader conservation work," said WWF's Conservation on Country Manager Cliff Cobbo.

"We hope this package will assist these communities to further their work to protect these species, and encourage other communities to follow suit."

Chairman of the Gudjuda Aboriginal Reference Group Eddie Smallwood said recent deaths of turtles and dugongs had led indigenous communities to seek ways to better protect these animals.

"Turtles and dugongs have an important cultural role in our communities and we want to see these iconic animals conserved more than anyone," Mr Smallwood said.

"To do this we need extra support to establish ranger programs, research activities and to upgrade our existing conservation programs."

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Call to shell out funds for starving sea turtles

05 September 2011, by Brad Ryan, ABC Message Stick

Traditional owners on the far north Queensland coast are asking for government funding to help starving sea turtles.

The Mandubarra Land and Sea Corporation on the coast near Innisfail, south of Cairns, says a self-imposed ban on Indigenous hunting has helped to boost sea turtle numbers. However, it says that was before Cyclone Yasi wiped out large tracts of seagrass, which is a major food source for the turtles. Authorities say the number of turtles being washed up on north Queensland beaches has increased 700 per cent in a year.

Mandubarra spokesman James Epong says traditional owners are running a program to replant seagrass but they need funding.

"All the expenses have been covered by the elders in the group," he said.

The corporation has applied for funds under the Federal Government's Reef Rescue program.

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Bob Irwin calls for dugong hunting ban

03 September 2011, ABC Online

Australian wildlife campaigners Bob Irwin and Ben Cropp are calling on Indigenous Australians to stop hunting dugongs and sea turtles.

Mr Irwin and Mr Cropp will appear in a series of television advertisements from tomorrow, seeking help from Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders to stop the rapid decline of dugong and sea turtle numbers.

Mr Irwin says numbers have dived sharply and something has to be done.

"We would like to put a temporary moratorium on the hunting of dugongs and turtles until we can get an accurate count," he said.

"If we don't get our act together and these animals disappear totally, indigenous people aren't going to have anything to hunt anyway."

Mr Cropp also agrees the hunting has to be suspended.

"It hasn't been sustainable," he said. "There has been far too many turtles and dugong killed and we need to tally them up."

Mr Cropp says some Indigenous Australians have also resorted to selling the meat.

Both men say they fully support traditional hunting rights, but for now asking Indigenous Australian's to help them restore dugongs and sea turtle populations.

"I am not against traditional hunting providing it is truly traditional and sustainable, but we have got to stop this sale of dugong and turtle meat because it is escalating the killing," Mr Cropp said.

The advertisements will be aired in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland from tomorrow to coincide with Steve Irwin Day.

Mr Irwin's son, Steve, died after being stabbed by a stingray while filming a documentary in 2006.

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Ports CEO defends dredging

02 September 2011, by David Sparkes, Gladstone Observer

Gladstone Ports Corporation CEO Leo Zussino has launched a passionate defence of the Western Basin Dredging Project.

Speaking at a media conference yesterday, Mr Zussino said he understood community anxiety over the extraordinary number of marine animal deaths this year, but all the scientific evidence so far pointed to depleted seagrass meadows being the cause, rather than dredging.

Mr Zussino said he was concerned the public had not been made fully aware that there have been marine animal deaths along most of the Queensland coast this year. He also emphasised that scientific evidence showed those deaths were almost certainly due to seagrass being damaged by the floods.

Some community members and commercial fishermen have been seething in their belief that the dredging project had caused turbidity and damage to seagrass levels, leading to marine mammal deaths and damage to fish stocks.

Mr Zussino said that view was flawed, since initial dredging only began recently and there has only been some 395,000 cubic metres removed. Regular dredging in the harbour since 1996 has removed about 100,000 per year, without any identified impact on marine wildlife

Capricorn Conservation Council (CCC) Acting Coordinator Chantelle James told The Observer CCC was opposed to the scale of development involved in the LNG projects, but agreed it was likely that the main cause of marine animal deaths was the floods damaging seagrass meadows.

"If the monitoring and science say it's not the dredging, then we are happy to go with that," she said. "I can't comment on the science (presented by GPC today) because I have not seen it."

Ms James said CCC's main concern was that there were a combination of small factors, possibly including dredging, which are combining to put pressure on marine wildlife.

"We do need to be careful not to just blame the dredging for all the deaths. (But) CCC asks, accumulatively what are all the issues (impacting marine wildlife). What can happen when you have a numbner of threats combined together, is it can be exhasperated."

Animal deaths in 2011
                                       Queensland    Gladstone Area
Dugongs                                129                  8
Dolphins                                 31                    5
Turtles                                    843                 143

Mr Zussino said marine animal deaths in Gladstone area were consistent with a pattern across Queensland. Some people The Observer has spoken to said Gladstone makes up a smaller portion of the coast than the number of deaths it accounts for.

Water Monitoring
A water quality monitoring program involving 20 sites with 9 continuous monitors to provide readings has been in place since 2003. It tests water for turbitity, total suspended solids, temperature, conductivity, pH, dissolved oxygen and light attenuation.

The commercial fishing industry has called for water testing to be conducted by an independent body. Mr Zussino said he believed Fisheries Queensland was monitoring water quality independently, although several commercial fishermen have told Teh Observer they are concerned about the independence of the monitoring by Fisheries Queensland.

According to GPC, the monitoring shows turbidity in the harbour is primarily impacted by tidal activity.

Seagrass damage
The Department of Employment Economic Development and Innovation has monitored seagrass levels in the area since 2002. DEEDI’s most recent findings show that seagrass levels took a major hit in the year leading up to late 2010, due to a significant wet season in late 2009 and early 2010. GPC says seagrass meadows took an even greater hit after the floods in early 2011, prior to dredging.

There are approximately 7,000 hectares of seagrass meadows in Gladstone area. The Western Basin Dredging and Disposal Project involves removing about 124 hectares near Fishermans Landing. 1,600 hectares are considered potentially affected by the project, although monitoring will keep a close watch on those meadows.

Dredging so far
The dredging project began with 2 small backhoe dredges. A 3rd grab dredge joined the project just over a week ago.

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Dugong protection plan

02 September 2011, Gladstone Observer

The LNP’s announcement to better protect Queensland’s dugongs and turtles from poachers is welcome but lacks substance without a funding commitment that would enable indigenous communities to better manage their own sea country, the World Wildlife Fund says.

WWF is calling for $30 million over 5 years to invest in an indigenous ranger program for communities along the Queensland coast to stop illegal turtle and dugong hunting.

“We applaud measures to better protect these iconic species from poachers and to pursue better opportunities for partnerships with traditional owners but these statements lack substance until there is a solid funding commitment in place,” said WWF’s Conservation on Country Manager Cliff Cobbo.

“It’s good to see our political leaders taking the protection of these animals to heart, but to deliver true protection will need much greater capacity in indigenous communities to stop poaching and maintain voluntary protection measures.”

WWF says $30 million would adequately resource indigenous communities to stop illegal dugong and turtle hunting, undertake important research and monitoring work, and implement voluntary measures to ensure traditional dugong and turtle take is within sustainable limits.

Chairman of the Gudjuda Aboriginal Reference Group Eddie Smallwood said he supported the LNP’s intention to build better partnerships with traditional owners but said a funding commitment would help indigenous groups pursue conservation plans already in place.

“We don’t need to reinvent the wheel with regards to conservation of turtles and dugongs, but we do need greater capacity and resources to upgrade our existing conservation plans,” Mr Smallwood said.

CEO of the Girringun Aboriginal Corporation Phil Rist also called for greater investment to help traditional owners undertake research, monitoring and evaluation work that would underpin existing indigenous conservation measures.

“Right along the coast traditional owners are collaborating and developing their research and evidence-based arguments for protecting these species, but we need much greater investment to help us conduct our own research, monitoring and evaluation work,” he said.

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August 2011



How the world benefits from protecting seagrass

29 August 2011, by Dr Leanne Cullen-Unsworth, WalesOnline

Health Wales is highlighting the work of Welsh Crucible researchers – the cream of Welsh research talent. Dr Leanne Cullen-Unsworth explains the vital role seagrass plays in sustaining our food supply

I have always been interested in people and places and have a natural curiosity about the way different systems in the world around us are linked together. I’m particularly interested in looking at the threats to our lifestyles arising from a changing global environment.

I’ve worked closely with communities around the world to integrate both science and local knowledge, using it to develop sustainable solutions to problems like how to co-operatively manage our valuable natural resources now and in the future.

I was in Australia when I saw the research fellow post advertised for the Sustainable Places Research Institute at Cardiff University. I knew then that it was exactly the kind of cross-cutting, interdisciplinary work I wanted to be doing.

Having spent three years working with Aboriginal communities in Australia, I now hope to develop new community relationships in Wales.

In this way we can share knowledge that will support the development of socially and economically appropriate conservation and management strategies for our natural environment. I strongly believe there’s a need to move away from seeing humans as a disruption to previously well-functioning ecosystems and recognise we are part of the ecosystem adding to the diversity that is needed to sustain life.

My background is in marine science and I’ve recently focused my attention on seagrass habitats and their potential role in meeting our future food needs through the fisheries that they support.

Seagrasses are a group of around 60 species of flowering plants that live submerged in shallow marine and estuarine environments. They are found on all of the world’s continents except Antarctica, covering around 0.1% to 0.2% of the global ocean. In many places, including Europe, they cover large areas of the sea floor where they are often referred to as seagrass beds or seagrass meadows.

These meadows are valuable habitats that provide important ecological and economic goods and services. They support thousands of marine animals, including food fishes, like cod and herring as well as charismatic species such as turtles and seahorses.

Seagrasses also play an important role in sediment stabilisation and provide protection from coastal erosion, making them one of the most important coastal marine ecosystems for humans. Despite their importance, seagrass meadows are declining globally at an unprecedented rate – 7% annually. This loss is often associated with coastal development, poor land management, and over-exploitation of fisheries.

Our ecological knowledge about seagrass is limited, and marine conservation priorities often do not recognise the value of the goods and services they provide us with.

There is a real need here for more research to be done, as protecting seagrasses will have numerous benefits, including helping to protect biodiversity, ecosystem structure, fisheries support function, food security, climate regulation through carbon sequestration and other essential ecosystem services.

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Famine threatens Australia's gentle sea cows

28 August 2011, by Roger Maynard, The Independent

Extreme weather has destroyed the dugong's feeding grounds – just the latest menace facing this already endangered species.

An underwater famine is posing the latest threat to one of Australia's most endangered marine species, the dugong, which lives entirely on sea grass. At least 100 have starved to death in recent months and many more are likely to follow in the absence of their only food source.

Torrential rain and storms, including Cyclone Yasi earlier this year, have destroyed vast swathes of sea grass from northern Queensland to the New South Wales border. More than 1,000 miles of coastline which once provided the perfect habitat for these oddly shaped and gentle creatures are now denuded of the dugong's natural foodstuff.

Known as sea cows because of their total dependency on sea grass, numbers have plummeted over the past decade as they struggle to cope with extreme weather conditions, escalating industrial activity, and hunting by indigenous fishermen. Turtles, too, have fallen victim to the seagrass famine with several hundred reported washed up dead along the coastline.

"This is a national environmental disaster," says Professor Ellen Ariel, a marine biologist at James Cook University in Townsville. "What's happening now is they have nothing to eat and it's not going to change in any way soon. Sea grass takes between two to three years to recover, if there are no other extreme weather events in the meantime."

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority is similarly concerned, recently launching a campaign to protect dugong and green turtles which it predicts will die in record numbers. Forced to stray from their regular foraging areas in search of food, the two species are much more vulnerable to disease, injury and death. A major industrial development at Gladstone on the mid-Queensland coast is also increasing pressure on the marine habitat.

A multi-billion pound gas processing plant on the edge of the Great Barrier Reef has already attracted criticism. Last month Unesco's world heritage committee expressed its extreme concern at the Queensland and federal government's backing of the project. For her part, Queensland Premier Anna Bligh has pledged to make a comprehensive assessment of the plant's environmental impact.

In addition to climatic and industrial threats to the dugong population, indigenous fishermen have also been accused of endangering the species. Next month a television campaign will be launched by animal activists who believe Australia's Native Title laws are allowing the "uncontrolled" and "unmonitored slaughter" of dugongs and turtles. Australians For Animals has accused some aboriginal groups of "appalling cruelty".

Campaign organiser Colin Riddell says: "We have a confirmed report of a dugong calf being tied to the back of a boat, its cries bringing in the mother so they can both be killed. We have reports in our office of indigenous groups going out in motor boats with a GPS to find dugongs. Once found, they radio their mates and entire pods of dugongs are slaughtered."

Dugong hunting has been an accepted part of Australia's indigenous culture for thousands of years. Their ivory and bones are used in traditional crafts and their meat, which is said to be similar to high quality beef, is regarded as a delicacy. The Native Title Act allows dugongs to be caught by aborigines for personal, domestic or non-commercial needs, but, according to Mr Riddell, some are being sold for profit. He claims the meat sells for nearly £100 a kilo and is even being exported.

Now he is urging the government to call a moratorium on dugong hunting until population numbers are established. "I don't have a problem with Native Title hunting if it's done sustainably," he insists. "But let's just see how many are left."

The dugong's placid nature and slow swimming style make it easy prey for predators. Spending their entire life at sea, they swim by moving their broad spade-like tail in an up an down motion and by the use of their two flippers. The large grey mammals which are up to 10ft long, can live for decades but take time to reach sexual maturity and do not breed rapidly. Without the sea grass they will simply starve to death.

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Image: Dugong (GBRMPA)



$500 for shakin' it for dugongs

25 August 2011, by Hannah Busch, Fraser Coast Chronicle

Hervey Bay dance group Nefertiti Dance will accept a $500 award today for their entry in the Shakin' It for the Dugongs dance competition earlier this year.

The brain child of educator and catchment specialist Peter Oliver, the Shakin' it for the Dugongs competition was an experiment in using the internet to generate awareness about the need to protect dugongs in the Great Sandy Strait.

Nefertiti Dance gained more than 900 views on video-sharing website YouTube for their entry to the competition.

Entrants were required to choreograph a dance to Mr Oliver's song Dugong Rock.

Videos with the most views and originality were declared the winners in June.

Mr Oliver will hand over the prize money today at Enzo's cafe, where the group will perform their winning dance for the public at noon.

The group have previously performed the dance at the Paddle Out 4 Whales event.

In the event of wet weather, the performance will be held at University of Southern Queensland Hervey Bay campus in the executive suite.


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Port Geographe harbour entrance hazard

24 August 2011, Busselton Dunsborough Mail

The Department of Transport has issued a warning about a potential navigational hazard in the harbour entrance channel at Port Geographe.

Mariners have been advised to navigate with extreme caution, allowing for the changing sea-bed conditions and to consider local tidal variations when traversing the area.

DoT said seagrass wrack had accumulated, making the channel entrance significantly shallower in some areas.

It said the affected area included the full extent of the entrance channel as defined by the rock breakwaters.

There was a moving seagrass wrack layer in the area, which may vary significantly in thickness and position over a short timeframe.

DoT project manager James Holder told the Mail that the department had conducted a hydrographic survey at Port Geographe almost two weeks ago to determine the annual requirements for coastal maintenance.

“This survey revealed shoaling caused by seagrass wrack in one section of Port Geographe entrance channel, reducing the navigable depth,” he said.

“DoT has issued a temporary notice to mariners and will monitor this situation.

“From experience we know this situation can change quickly and larger tides can move the material out of the channel.

“There are a number of options available for remedial action if necessary.”

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Shark Bay seagrass 'potentially an $8 billion carbon sink'

22 August 2011, The University of Western Australia

Shark Bay's extensive seagrass meadows act as a massive carbon sink which stores more than eight billion dollars' worth of carbon dioxide if valued according to the Federal Government's proposed carbon price.

That's the figure calculated by researcher Professor Jim Fourqurean who is part of a new global initiative aimed at utilising seagrass meadows to help mitigate climate change.

Professor Fourqurean has been researching the seagrasses of Shark Bay - a World Heritage area - as part of his work with The University of Western Australia's Oceans Institute, where he has been the Gledden Visiting Fellow.

"Shark Bay's seagrass meadows are a vital habitat for dugongs and sea turtles, and they provide the food for fisheries such as the Shark Bay prawn and scallop fisheries," he said.

"There are about 4,000 square kilometres (400,000 hectares) of seagrasses in the bay which places it among the largest seagrass meadows that have been recorded in the world.

"When you think of carbon storage and ecosystems, you generally think of canopies of trees, so a lot of attention has gone into forests.

"But there is as much carbon on average stored in a seagrass meadow as there is stored in a forest. It's not stored as a living biomass; it's stored as soil carbon."

Professor Fourqurean has calculated the amount of carbon dioxide stored in the seagrass meadows, as part of work involving his Oceans Institute colleagues Winthrop Professor Gary Kendrick and Emeritus Professor Di Walker who are undertaking a Caring for Our Country project funded by the Australian Government.

"My average number is 884 tonnes CO2 equivalents per hectare," he says.

"So if you multiply that 884 tonnes of CO2 by 400,000 hectares of seagrass, you get about 350 million tonnes of carbon stored in the seagrass meadows underneath Shark Bay."

The Federal Government proposes introducing a carbon tax which prices carbon at $23 per tonne, which means the seagrass carbon offset is potentially worth a considerable amount.

"So about $8.13 billion of carbon is stored in the seagrass meadows of Shark Bay - if that carbon had a price on it in the world market," he says.

Professor Fourqurean is involved in the Blue Carbon initiative, along with UWA Oceans Institute Director Professor Carlos Duarte. The initiative is a relatively new international scientific body aiming to preserve seagrass habitats as a climate mitigation strategy. Part of the work is exploring the monetary value of the carbon in seagrass meadows as part of a possible offset scheme.

"One of the reasons we're doing that is seagrasses are disappearing at a rate faster than the rate at which coral reefs are disappearing and the tropical forests are disappearing," he says.

"It's not a simple policy issue to solve, because a lot of marine environments don't have a single owner.

"And the reason seagrasses are disappearing is not because of land conversion, like tropical forests are being lost. Usually seagrasses are lost because of poor watershed management practices and declining water quality near shore.

"So trying to figure out how to capture carbon credits to pay for the maintenance and the reduction of the loss - or maybe even the creation of new seagrass meadows in order to increase the carbon storage - is conceptually difficult."

More information: Click Here

Image: Professor Fourqurean dives among the seagrasses at Shark Bay ... researchers are looking at seagrass habitats to help mitigate climate change. (University of Western Australia)



Great Barrier Reef: Rising turtle deaths prompt warnings of wildlife crisis

18 August 2011, by Oliver Milman, The Guardian

Researchers believe cyclones and flooding earlier in the year have wiped out the sea grass beds on which the turtles feed

Unusually large numbers of dead and dying sea turtles are washing up on Australia's Great Barrier Reef coast, prompting environmental groups to warn of a wildlife crisis in the region.

Researchers and local residents have reported that several Queensland beaches have been strewn with the carcasses of the animals, with wildlife centres in the northern city of Townsville inundated with ailing turtles.

According to the Queensland state government, 649 turtle deaths were reported in the first seven months of 2011, up 200 on the same period last year.

Dugongs are also suffering badly, with 96 of the aquatic mammals reported dead in the first seven months of the year, compared with 79 in the whole of 2010.

Sick and starving turtles have been observed approaching the shallows, where they invariably die. Researchers believe that a severe loss of sea grass, the turtles' staple food source, is to blame for the escalating death toll.

Widespread floods and the subsequent Cyclone Yasi, which hit northern Queensland in February, wiped out around 90% of the seagrass in certain areas of the Great Barrier Reef coast.

Fred Nucifora, director of Reef HQ Aquarium, told the Sydney Morning Herald that the centre's turtle hospital is running at full capacity, with 15 turtles now being cared for.

"The turtles that are presenting are highly emaciated, they are suffering from not having enough food," he said.

Queensland's recent natural disasters have heaped further pressure on turtle numbers, which face numerous other threats.

An Australian government report released last week revealed that agricultural pesticides released by farmers have swept across the Great Barrier Reef, causing damage to coral and wildlife.

Endangered species such as the leatherback turtle and green turtle have also seen their numbers dwindle due to fishing nets and boat strikes.

"In the past, turtles have been healthy enough to deal with extreme weather events, but the combined pressure of more fishing nets, declining water quality and associated disease, on top of the loss of critical habitats as a result of large coastal developments have all undermined their chances of survival," said Cliff Cobbo, a conservation manager at WWF Australia.

WWF has urged the Queensland government to overhaul regulations surrounding fisheries and coastal development, as well as reduce the amount of pollution released into the sea.

Vicky Darling, Queensland's environment minister, said that a panel of marine scientists will explore the causes of the turtle deaths and draw up recommendations to combat the problem.

More information: Click Here

Image: A green sea turtle on the Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, Australia. Photograph: Tim Laman/NG/Getty Images



Young Leader Honoured

15 August 2011, Natural Matters (Gympie, QLD, Australia) edition 27

The region’s leaders in natural resource management gathered at the Gympie Conference Centre as part of the Burnett Mary Regional Group’s 2011 Showcase. Gympie Region Mayor Ron Dyne welcomed delegates to Gympie, joining BMRG chair Dr Evelyn Meier in opening the conference.

BMRG general manager Danny Green highlighted the year’s achievements in conservation with programs, including Paddock to Reef - a research program aimed at measuring run-off from cane and horticultural crops run in collaboration with the Department of Economic, Employment and Innovation.

A high number of quality nominations were received for the Showcase Awards which recognised achievements in a range of categories. The high number made the job of choosing the finalists particularly hard and demonstrated just how much work people have done to address natural resource management issues throughout the region.

The winner of the Young Leaders Award was Amy Thompson. After meeting Gordon Cottle (Seagrass-Watch Local Coordinator for the Great Sandy Strait Flora and Fauna Watch) at Norman Point, Amy became an enthusiastic Seagrass-Watch volunteer in the Great Sandy Strait. Under Gordon's mentoring and support, Amy has become an avid leader and is hoping to realise her dream via James Cook University.

Award winners: First Row : Amy Thompson - Young Leader Award, Maree Prior – Facilitator/Coordinator Award, Lesley & Don Bradley - Urban Care Award, Glen Baker - Volunteer Award, Ross & Beth Shanks - Primary Producer Award, Top Row: Mike Harrison - Innovation in Sustainable Farm Practices Award, Mark Amos - Facilitator/Coordinator Award, Sean Ryan (Private Forestry Service Qld) - Community Group Award, Marc Bright on behalf of Uncle Eugene Bargo - Indigenous Award



Pesticides hurting Great Barrier Reef: report

15 August 2011, by Timothy McDonald, ABC online

The Queensland and Federal Government's first report card on water quality in the Great Barrier Reef has found pesticides used in agriculture are causing significant problems for the reef.

The report says some farmers need to be more careful with their chemicals, finding that nearly one-quarter of horticulture producers and 12 per cent of graziers are using practices considered unacceptable by industry and the community. In the case of the sugar cane industry, roughly one-third face the same criticism.

Nick Heath from the World Wildlife Fund Australia says the sugar cane industry in the wet tropics had a 72 per cent rate of "unacceptable practice". Mr Heath says the report shows government needs to further limit the use of chemicals, and he has called for a ban on the weed killer Diuron. "Pesticides have been found at toxic concentrations up to 60 kilometres inside the World Heritage area and at concentrations known to harm coral," he said. "And you may be aware that there's a big die-off in turtle and dugong numbers at the moment as a result of the floods. Those floods are carrying these pollutants and they're basically destroying the seagrass beds of Queensland."

But the sugar cane industry's peak body, Canegrowers, says the data reflects practices of a few years ago, and says there has been significant change since then. Canegrowers chief executive Steve Greenwood says Diuron is used safely and should not be banned.  "The banning of Diuron from use within the cane industry would be a major setback for us," he said.  "Without the use of that herbicide we would basically have no other replacements for that. "We've used money from the Government, as well as a fair whack of our own money, to start significantly changing the way in which we operate along the coastal areas.  "The data isn't actually out there yet - it's soon to be released after three years - but there's already signs of very, very significant change."

'Moderate condition'

The report says the Great Barrier Reef is in moderate condition overall.

Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke says there are a number of factors that can have an impact. "Some of it is just straight dirt and sediment, because clearing that washes out [the reef]," he said.  "Some of it is in the increasing carbonic acid in the ocean itself which ... after the reef takes a hit following a major weather event, it recovers more slowly.  "So there's a series of impacts there. Agricultural chemicals are one of them."

Mr Burke says the use of chemicals has become much more precise and environmentally friendly in the past few years, but said some of those improvements may be undermined by Cyclone Yasi.  "There's been a major weather event which did cause the reef to take a hit," he said.  "So you'll see some improvements in practices. Exactly how that translates in different parts of the reef is something that will come out when we get the report."

More information: Click Here

The Great Barrier Reef-wide summary, six regional summaries and technical report are available on the Reef Plan website.



Pesticides hurting Great Barrier Reef: Govt report

13 August 2011, by Timothy McDonald, AM ABC online

ELIZABETH JACKSON: The Queensland and Federal Government's first report card on water quality in the Great Barrier Reef has found that pesticides used in agriculture are causing significant problems.  The sugar cane industry says the data reflects practices of a few years ago, and it argues the situation has improved since then.  But the World Wildlife Fund says the report shows that some chemicals used in agriculture should be banned.  Timothy McDonald reports.

TIMOTHY MCDONALD: The report says the Great Barrier Reef is in moderate condition overall.

The Environment Minister Tony Burke says a number of factors that can have had an impact.

TONY BURKE: Some of it is just straight dirt and sediment because of land clearing that washes out. Some of it is in the increasing carbonic acid in the ocean itself which can mean after the reef takes a hit following a major whether event, it recovers more slowly.

So there's a series of impacts there. Agricultural chemicals are one of them.

TIMOTHY MCDONALD: The report says some farmers need to be more careful with their chemicals.

It says nearly a quarter of horticulture producers and 12 per cent of graziers are using practices considered unacceptable by industry and the community. In the case of the sugar cane industry, roughly a third face the same criticism.

Nick Heath from WWF Australia says in some areas, the numbers are even worse.

NICK HEATH: The sugar cane industry in the wet tropics had a 72 per cent rate of unacceptable practice.

TIMOTHY MCDONALD: The industry's peak body says the report's figures come from several years ago, and there's been significant change since then.

Steve Greenwood is the chief executive officer of Canegrowers.

STEVE GREENWOOD: We've used that money from the Government, as well as a fair whack of our own money, to start significantly changing the way in which we operate along the coastal areas.

The data isn't actually out there yet; it's soon to be released after three years but there's already signs of very, very significant change.

TIMOTHY MCDONALD: Tony Burke says the use of chemicals has become much more precise and environmentally friendly in the past few years. But he says some of those improvements may be undermined by Cyclone Yasi.

TONY BURKE: There's been a major weather event which did cause the reef to take a hit. So you'll see some improvements in practices; exactly how that translates in different parts of the reef is something will come out when we get the report.

TIMOTHY MCDONALD: Nick Heath says the report shows that Government needs to further limit the use of chemicals and he's calling for a ban on the weedkiller Diuron.

NICK HEATH: Pesticides have been found at toxic concentrations up to 60 kilometres inside the World Heritage area and at concentrations known to harm coral.

And you may be aware that there's a big die-off in turtle and dugong numbers at the moment as a result of the floods. Those floods are carrying these pollutants and they're basically destroying the sea-grass beds of Queensland.

TIMOTHY MCDONALD: Steve Greenwood opposes moves to ban the chemical.

STEVE GREENWOOD: The banning of Diuron from use within the cane industry would be a major setback for us. Without the use of that herbicide we would basically have no other replacements for that.

TIMOTHY MCDONALD: Steve Greenwood says the chemical is safe is used correctly.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Timothy McDonald with that report.

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Gladstone turtle deaths blamed on extreme wet season

12 August 2011, Megan Hendry, ABC Online

The Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) says the extreme summer wet season is to blame for the number of turtles washing up on beaches in the Capricorn Coast region. There have been seven stranded turtles reported on the Capricorn Coast over the past week and 68 in the Gladstone region in central Queensland since the start of the year.

QPWS marine regional manager Damien Head says an increase in turbidity and nutrient run-off is causing problems for turtles and dugongs right along the Queensland coast. "It's caused a decline in the seagrass beds which is a major food source for dugong and turtles," he said.

"They're subsequently in poor condition and on the search for more food and if unsuccessful there, they are coming up ashore and people are reporting those to us.

"Historical trends indicated the second half of the year is the worst time of the year for marine mega fauna mortality.

"Encouragingly as the seagrass beds recover, the population of turtles and dugongs will recover and stabilise as well."

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Our home is girt by sea; our land abounds in nature’s carbon sinks

12 August 2011, Peter Macreadie, The Conversation

Reducing carbon emissions is necessary, but what about the carbon that has already been released into the atmosphere? Many countries are turning to “biosequestration” for the answers: using nature – including plants and soil – to capture and store carbon. And Australia’s greatest storage potential may be in our oceans.

Australia is one country hoping biosequestration will get us out of the climate change mess. The irony is that biosequestration is the same process that created fossil fuels: the carboniferous forests, which gave rise to the coal measures, and the rich deposits of microalgae which gave rise to oil-rich strata.

Soil and trees are important, but have their drawbacks

In June of this year the Labor government outlined its plans to use biosequestration to offset Australia’s carbon emissions. The scheme is known as the Carbon Farming Initiative, or CFI, and is due to face the Senate later this year.

Under the CFI, farmers can convert farmland back into forests, earning them carbon credits. These can be sold to individuals or businesses that have a mandate to offset their emissions.

As acknowledged by Ross Garnaut, the initiative has some practical and social limitations. Are farmers willing to change their land use practices? Is there enough land to make meaningful offsets? Could there be adverse impacts on biodiversity, such as expansion of monoculture forests and the clearing of native vegetation for forest establishment?

There are also technical concerns. How long can carbon be stored? What is the potential for large amounts of carbon to be released if systems become degraded? Do we really understand the environmental factors that influence biosequestration rates?

A study recently published in Nature has also revealed some unexpected consequences of using terrestrial systems for capture and store carbon.

The authors of the study found that increasing CO2 levels in terrestrial soils stimulated production of other greenhouse gases. Methane (CH4) went up by 45% and nitrous oxide (N2O) by 20%. These gases are 25 times and 298 times (respectively) more dangerous than CO2 in terms of their global warming potential.

Look to the sea

As the prospects of using terrestrial systems to sequester carbon become increasingly limited, a new hope has emerged in “blue carbon”. This is carbon captured by vegetated coastal habitats, particularly mangroves, seagrasses, and saltmarshes.

Although these habitats only occupy about 1% of the seafloor, it is estimated that they capture and store up to 70% of the carbon in the marine realm.

Terrestrial systems typically bind carbon over decades, and can become saturated with carbon. Blue carbon is stored over millennia and can accrete carbon vertically as sea levels rise.

In a land that is girt by sea, and blessed by a rich coastal vegetation, Australia is in one of the best positions to capitilise on its blue carbon resources, particularly its seagrasses.

Australia has vastly more seagrass than any other country in the world. Along its 32,000 km coastline, Australia has around 90,000 square km of seagrass. This is enough seagrass to cover the state of Victoria.

In terms of carbon abatement value, Australia’s seagrass is worth around $AU45 billion at a price of $AU23 per tonne.
Protect it or lose it

Our blue carbon resources, however, are continually under threat from human activities such as coastal development and run-off from agriculture. This can lead to direct loss or modification of their carbon sink potential.

The risk here is that these habitats could switch from being carbon sinks, to being carbon sources. If their stored carbon is released, it will further acidify our oceans and contribute to the ever growing atmospheric CO2 burden.

The challenge for Australia is to maintain the abatement potential of its blue carbon resources and prevent their future loss. We also have to consider restoring blue carbon habitats from where they have disappeared.

The challenge for science is to better understand the causes of variability in the carbon sequestration rates of blue carbon habitats, and to understand how they might be affected by future changes in our climate.

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Download mp4 visual file (36mb)

Read more on Carbon: seagrass, sequestration & stewardship : Seagrass-Watch Issue 36 March 2009 (6.5mb)



Qld disasters claim turtles and dugongs

12 August 2011, Ninemsn

The terrible animal death toll from Queensland's summer of natural disasters is adding up, with a jump in turtle deaths stacking on top of a high number of dugong fatalities.

Figures released on Friday show 649 turtle deaths were reported in the first seven months of 2011.

The toll has jumped by more than 200 compared with the same period last year when 436 turtles died.

It comes after figures showed 96 dugongs washed up dead on the state's coastline in the first seven months of this year, compared with 79 for the whole of 2010.

A breakdown of the figures show 90 turtles died in the Gladstone area in central Queensland, home to a major port and a growing number of ships and dredging projects for the gas export industry.

There were 84 deaths in Townsville, 57 in Moreton Bay, 14 in Hervey Bay and the remainder spread across the state.

Queensland Environment Minister Vicky Darling said the majority of deaths were from malnutrition, sickness and diseases.

Like dugongs, turtles were struggling to find food because seagrass beds, their major food source, had been impacted by turbidity and low salinity following flooding in the coastal catchments, Ms Darling said on Friday.

"These are tragic and confronting numbers and they can be directly attributed to the floods and cyclones," she said.

"These animals are struggling to find a food source and literally starving to death."

Ms Darling said the turtles were weak and as a result spent more time on the water surface where they're more vulnerable to boat strikes.

The situation in Gladstone was the most concerning, she said.

Former environment minister Kate Jones established a panel of marine scientists to examine the causes of deaths in Gladstone.

Ms Darling said the panel's work wasn't finalised yet but a number of initial recommendations were underway such as improved reporting and turtle health checks.

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Dugong warning sounded

11 August 2011, Mackay Daily Mercury

Increased dugong activity around Airlie Beach has the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service urging boat skippers to pay attention when on the water.

Whitsunday Mayor Mike Brunker echoed their warnings, saying the QPWS had recorded an increase in dugong activity at Shute Harbour, Abel Point Marina and Hill Inlet.  “The dugong are migrating to feed on local seagrass beds but unfortunately these beds are in close vicinity to shallow boating areas such as harbours and jetties (and) these are high vessel traffic areas,” Cr Brunker said.

He asked boaties to keep an eye out for dugongs over the next few months; to avoid shallow seagrass meadows and when in shallow areas to reduce speeds to below 10knots.  “By applying a bit of commonsense, unfortunate situations ... can be greatly reduced.”

The 24-hour marine animal strandings hotline number is 137468.

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Turtle crisis looming on reef: WWF

09 August 2011, Sydney Morning Herald

Starving turtles and carcasses are washing up along the Queensland coast amid warning of a wildlife crisis on the Great Barrier Reef.

Researchers, traditional owners and residents are reporting a spike in the number of dead, starving and sick turtles being found along the coast since last summer's floods and Cyclone Yasi.

There's also been a rise in dugong deaths after the natural disasters destroyed large tracts of the seagrass the two species rely on for food.
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The conservation group WWF on Tuesday called on the state government to urgently release data on turtle deaths and strandings.

The government on Monday revealed 96 dugongs had been found dead in the first seven months of 2011, compared to 79 for the whole of last year.

Statistics on turtle deaths are expected to be released soon.

Anecdotal evidence indicates reef turtle populations are in crisis.

Girringun Aboriginal Corporation chief executive Phil Rist said traditional owners north and south of Townsville had found large numbers of dead turtles and some dugongs in recent weeks.

"I think Yasi was the straw that pretty broke the camel's back. These poor animals have been subjected subjected to so many threats, water quality, runoff and pesticides, coastal development, boat strikes," he told AAP.

"Now the seagrass they need to survive has been smashed by the biggest storm in living memory to hit us."

He said fisheries officers had reported 90 per cent of seagrass beds had been lost in the Cardwell and Tully area.

"Dead and starving turtles are being found in patches of two and three here, another four there. I'd be surprised if the numbers aren't very significant when you put them all together."

He said some local traditional owners were so concerned they had agreed voluntarily not to issue traditional hunting permits.

Barbara Gibbs, who lives on Magnetic Island off Townsville, says she's seen about 15 starving turtles and three dugongs since the beginning of June.

She said she recently came across a group of 10 turtles, ranging from babies to fully grown adults, that had come into the shallows to die.

"They had mossy green growing on their backs, they were really sedentary, right in the water around your feet," she told AAP.

"There's just no food for them after the cyclone. It's a really hard thing to see."

Other island residents had reported many more dead or sick turtles and dugongs, with similar sightings in places like Pallarenda, on the mainland north of Townsville.

Fred Nucifora, director of Reef HQ Aquarium, the national education centre for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, said turtles were starving.

Reef HQ's Townsville-based turtle hospital was currently running at capacity with 15 turtles now in care.

"We're certainly seeing a lot more turtles at this point in time, than at the same time last year," he told AAP on Tuesday.

"The turtles that are presenting are highly emaciated, they are suffering from not having enough food."

The most common species brought to the hospital is the threatened green turtle.

As juveniles they are omnivores, but as they age they tend to favour herbivorous diets, and in their older years they almost exclusively eat sea grass.

WWF spokesman Cliff Cobbo said the extreme weather had added to existing threats to turtles.

" ... the combined pressure of more fishing nets, declining water quality and associated disease, on top of the loss of critical habitats as a result of large coastal developments have all undermined their chances of survival," he said.

Turtle researchers, vets rangers and wildlife carers met in Townsville in July to discuss the extraordinary number of sick and dead turtles washing ashore.

Among them, Dr Ellen Ariel, a senior lecturer at James Cook University's School of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences, cited a "massive increase" in turtles being found dead or dying.

The workshop was held to discuss what could be done to coordinate response plans to the crisis.

Comment was being sought from Environment Minister Vicky Darling.

More information: Click Here



Queensland dugongs 'starving to death'

08 August 2011, Sydney Morning Herald

More dugongs have died this year than in all of 2010 because of Queensland's summer of disasters.

Ninety-six of the sea mammals washed up dead on the state's coastline in the first seven months of this year, compared with 79 for the whole of last year.

Environment Minister Vicky Darling says scientists believe most of the dugongs died of starvation after Queensland's floods devastated their main food source, seagrass.
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Floodwater had deposited a "triple whammy" of pesticides, sediment and fresh water on the seagrass, she said.

"Seagrass beds have become stressed by repeated periods of high turbidity and low salinity following flooding in the coastal catchments," Ms Darling said in a statement.

"This is a trend that tragically is highly likely to continue for the rest of the year."

Of the 96 dugongs, six died from human-induced causes such as boat strikes.

Scientists believe about 90 died from poor physical condition consistent with lack of food, Ms Darling said.

In their weakened condition the animals may also be more susceptible to boat strikes and getting tangled in nets, she said.

Most deaths happened around Townsville, in the state's north, and in Moreton Bay, in the south-east.

Ms Darling said she expected dugong deaths to increase this year, but scientists had told her the Queensland dugongs were not in danger of dying out.

"They advise us that marine habitats will recover fully over the next few years, leading to an increase in marine animal health and a decrease in stranding numbers - assuming a return to more normal seasonal conditions," she said.

"Our dugong population has been traditionally very resilient and there's no reason to believe they will not bounce back."

Ms Darling said the state government had already taken measures to protect marine animals.

These included cracking down on pesticide run-off in the Great Barrier Reef and run-off from drains, and go-slow and no-fishing zones in Moreton Bay.

More information: Click Here



Oceans left out of the climate conversation

08 August 2011, PRWire

Responses to climate change in Australia have so far overlooked the role of oceans and coasts, according to one of the international pioneers of citizen science, Brian Rosborough, Founder of Earthwatch.

Coastal vegetation and oceans which account for 55% of all the carbon captured in the world should be a part of the climate change conversation.

Mr Brian Rosborough founding chairman of Earthwatch Institute is in Australia to celebrate the organisation’s 40th birthday at their Oceania Gala on August 10th in Melbourne, which is being used to raise funds for oceans research.

A recognised visionary on promoting scientific research to track changes in the climate for over four decades Mr Rosborough said, “community involvement with scientific research was one of the most powerful keys to progress the international climate change conversation”.

Mr Rosborough said, “It was vital that scientific research into the oceans is translated into actions to protect the health of coastal vegetation and oceans.

Oceans play a significant role in the global carbon cycle. Not only do they represent the largest long-term sink for carbon but they also store and redistribute CO2. Some 93% of the earth’s CO2 (40 Tt) is stored and cycled through the oceans.*

Vegetated coastal habitats provide vital ecosystem functioning and can act as large carbon sinks but they are experiencing a steep global decline, up to four times faster than rainforests.

This issue is particularly relevant to Australia as it has over 35,000 km of coastline, the mangrove flora of Australia is one of the world’s most diverse, and it covers about 18 per cent of the coastline.

Australia has the world’s most diverse array of tropical and temperate seagrasses. Australia hosts more than half of the world’s 60 species and 11 of the world’s 12 genera of seagrasses, with about 51,000 square kilometres of seagrass meadows, with Shark Bay in Western Australia home to the world’s largest sea grass bed.

“Unlike carbon capture and storage on land, where the carbon may be locked away for decades or centuries, that stored in the oceans remains for millennia” Mr Rosborough said.

Earthwatch Executive Director Richard Gilmore said a coordinated scientific approach to understanding and conserving mangrove forests across Australia and Asia would provide enormous environmental, economic and social benefits. “Not only do mangroves store vast amounts of carbon, they provide vital habitats for threatened species, protect people from rising seas and storm surges and provide livelihoods for millions of the world’s most vulnerable people”.

* Source: Nellemann et al, United Nations Environment Program

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Fish nurseries need more than mangroves, says study

05 August 2011, Reuters AlertNet

Conserving mangroves alone may not be enough to protect local fisheries in the Caribbean, according to a study.

Research in the Caribbean and Mexico had previously shown that the mangrove swamps act as vital nurseries for many tropical fish species.

Now, a study conducted in Honduras reveals that seagrass beds and coral reefs also need to be conserved to boost fish populations and protect fisheries.

This is because seagrass beds act as nurseries, too, and link inland mangroves and offshore coral reefs. Juvenile fish migrate through these habitats, from nurseries to coral reefs, where they live as adults.

"The degree of habitat connectivity is important for the different life stages of many fish species," Jessica Jaxion-Harm, who conducted the study as part of her PhD at the University of Oxford, United Kingdom, told SciDev.Net.

By surveying fish in seagrass beds, mangroves and coral reefs on the islands of Utila and Cayos Cochinos, she found that daily migrations occur between mangroves and seagrass, because certain fish species feed in seagrass beds at night.

She suggests that the connectivity of seagrass, mangroves and coral reefs should be taken into consideration when implementing policy and conservation practices.

"Intermediary habitats are used as a stepping-stone in many fish life cycles," said Octavio Aburto-Oropeza, a researcher at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, United States. "You cannot separate one ecosystem from another in terms of the function they have in the lifecycle of a species."

Globally, since 1970, about 35 per cent of mangroves have been deforested, 29 per cent of seagrass beds have been lost, and 30 per cent of coral reefs have been degraded.

In Utila, for example, eco-tourism practices may harm the habitats they are trying to save, according to Jaxion-Harm. Lack of water treatment facilities mean that sewage from tourist areas flows into the mangrove ponds, endangering fish populations.

"We have been losing many areas of mangroves and seagrass beds due to tourism developments, urban habitation and shrimp aquaculture," said Aburto-Oropeza. "It is common that coastal lagoons are used for discharge, causing pollution.

"Traditional fishermen in Honduras, like many around the world, are aware of the need to preserve the health of these habitats. The problems with tourism and pollution come from outside, far away from these coastal communities," he said.

Edward Barbier, an environmental and resource economist at the University of Wyoming, United States, added: "Habitats and fisheries are interrelated, and such linkages are what makes them productive and valuable. The foundation of this value is the interconnectedness of these habitats, which mirrors the life-cycle of fish.

"Beyond the biological and monetary value of fisheries, if you start losing fish species, changing the biological food web and the interconnectedness between key species, you may affect the function of the whole marine environment."

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New home for sick turtles

04 August 2011, by Sam Davis, ABC Online

Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre (CTRC) will start construction on a 25-tank turtle clinic on Fitzroy Island next week as turtle strandings continue to rise in the Far North post-Cyclone Yasi.

The owners of the tourism resort have donated land previously used as a clam and prawn farm to accommodate an increasing number of sick turtles.

CTRC's 10-tank facility at Portsmith has been running at capacity almost all year and the centre's co-founder, Dr Jennie Gilbert says Cyclone Yasi wiped out many seagrass beds, leaving green turtles, in particular, with little to eat.

"What's happened is that the sedimentation that's gone out into the ocean, that's caused the seagrass not to be able to grow because they need light and the seagrass beds have been destroyed," she said.

"They say it's [affected] all the way between Cape Flattery and Mackay but the worst affected area is between Cairns and Townsville and literally the seagrass beds have disappeared in shore.

"Green turtles of course are seagrass and algae grazers, so it's affecting them and they say that this will go on for about two or three years."

Mrs Gilbert says the new facilities are not only much needed and timely but will be a significant improvement as well.

"The benefit of this is the flow of water will be very clean. We'll be able to put a lot more tanks in and increase the size as we get more money," she said.

"We do fund this out of our own pockets. We get some help from the public and some companies around town but this is going to be fairly big.

"We do need money for tanks and filters and things like that."

In June, the Department of Environment reported a 500 per cent increase in turtle strandings in North Queensland.

More information: Click Here

Image: Green turtles like Sam can look forward to being cared for in a bigger and better facility after the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre announced the opening of a new facility on Fitzroy Island. Picture: Sam Davis - ABC



July 2011




Oceans Oration illuminates the depths

25 July 2011, by Rob Payne, Science Network Western Australia

UWA Oceans Institute Director Dr Carlos Duarte has highlighted the importance of seagrass beds in absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere.

In his Inaugural Professorial Oration Ocean: Opportunities in Exploring the Planet’s Last Frontier, given to a full house on Thursday July 21, Dr Duarte stressed the myriad benefits to be derived from expanding ocean research and touched on the on-going international Malaspina Expedition.

With a future of further climate stress, Dr Duarte emphasised the exciting potential oceans hold for clean energy, food, carbon absorption, water conservation and sustainable biodiversity. “There is a huge scope for innovation and discovery,” he said. “I see a clear pathway to a brighter future.” However, this positive step requires society to push for much greater marine research.

Dr Duarte illuminated the deep ocean—the largest ecosystem on the planet—which has been virtually ignored to date. “We know more about the topography of the moon than we do our oceans. “It is paradoxical that we’re experiencing water shortages on Earth when we look from space to see a planet marbled with blue.”

At present, marine exploration represents only ten per cent of biodiversity research. A mere ten per cent of all named species are aquatic. Given that 70 per cent of the Earth’s surface is water, we’ve barely scratched the surface of discovery.

“The naming of marine species is growing 0.9 per cent per year,” said Dr Duarte. “At this rate, we’ll need 200 to 1000 years to get the full inventory of the oceans. This is too slow.” Increasing research requires increasing awareness about what can be gained.

Dr Duarte emphasised how the deep sea region is already providing lucrative commercial and scientific benefits and there is much more to develop. As an example, he cited hyperthermophile bacteria from deep ocean vents which produce an amylase used to liquefy corn biofuel at high temperature and pressure, delivering $150 million in savings per year.

Similarly, cryophile bacterial-derived enzymes from the Arctic being used in food and medical applications, though increased water temperatures are threatening these with extinction.

Other recent marine applications include an antiviral ointment with active ingredients of the marine sponge Cryptotethya cryta, to Estée Lauder’s anti-aging cream Resilience with Caribbean gorgonian—as well as various anti-cancer drugs.

Dr Duarte also emphasised the oceans role in the on-going carbon debate. “Seagrass meadows can absorb 17 tonnes of CO2 per hectare per year. The Amazon absorbs 1.02 tonnes per hectare per year." “If that were not enough, there is no fire underwater, so the carbon is secure. “There are answers in our oceans. If there is a problem we need to fix, the task is to find the marine creature that can do the job.”

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Another dugong death

25 July 2011 by David Sparkes, Gladstone Observer

Another dead dugong has been found in Gladstone Harbour, and the man who found it wants some answers.  Clive Last, who in May discovered a dead dolphin on Turtle Island, was shocked on Friday afternoon when he found the body of a dead dugong on Witt Island.

Mr Last is wary of suggestions marine animal deaths this year can be attributed to boat strikes and net fishing. He said those explanations didn’t match his observations on the harbour.  “I honestly believe it’s either starvation (from damaged seagrass meadows) or there is something in the harbour,” Mr Last said.  “Right now, turtles and dugongs are continually coming up.  “That means there is (something) going on.”  He believed the dolphin he found in May had no injuries to indicate it had been killed by boat strike or fishing nets.

The Department of Environment and Resource Management reported the dolphin’s body was too decomposed to conduct a necropsy.

Mr Last said, once again, the dead dugong’s body showed no sign of injury. He took five photos and called Queensland Parks and Wildlife.

Mr Last, whose work requires him to spend a lot of time on the harbour, is increasingly disturbed by the trend of dead marine animals in Gladstone Harbour.  “If I don’t see another one after today, I’ll be very happy,” he said.  “I’d also be very happy if someone would come up with the truth about what is really killing them.  “You can’t keep saying it’s boat strike, when I’ve got photos showing it’s not boat strike.”

Mr Last said he was worried the scientific advisory committee’s investigation into the deaths in Gladstone Harbour would take too long to come up with results.  DERM could not be contacted over the weekend.

The list goes on

  • The dead dugong found on Witt Island was the latest in a long, mysterious list of marine animal deaths this year.
  • Three dead dolphins were found in Gladstone Harbour in May, within two weeks of each other.
  • The latest discovery is the fourth dugong found dead in the harbour since May
  • More than 40 turtles have washed up dead in the harbour since April. The turtle deaths have been the subject of intense debate between environmentalists and commercial fishermen.
  • Marine experts from various organisations have told The Observer seagrass levels, damaged by the floods, are putting stress on the animals.

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Image: This dead dugong was found on Witt Island by Clive Last, who is increasing worried by marine animal deaths in Gladstone Harbour.



Indigenous input essential to survival of endangered species

25 July 2011 Sydney Morning Herald

Green turtles and dugongs have been on the global ''red list'' of threatened species for many years, but the situation is looking up for Australian populations as a community-based protection approach evolves.

Hunting is one reason numbers have dropped in parts of Australia. Both species enjoy legal protection nationally but indigenous communities are able to hunt dugongs and turtles for cultural and economic reasons.

"Urban development, fishing impacts and hunting are some factors, but remember indigenous people have a right to hunt and people in Torres Strait Islands have been harvesting dugongs for 4000 years," Helene Marsh, professor of environmental science at James Cook University, said.
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Research suggests that harvests in some areas are unsustainable but indigenous communities are key to the solution, joining James Cook University and the government to protect marine life.

"The Australian government has invested large amounts of money in the indigenous ranger programs, and they not only provide valuable training and employment opportunities in remote communities but they also have species conservation benefits," Professor Marsh said.

One example is community development of the Traditional Use of Marine Resources Agreements in the Great Barrier Reef region, which guides sustainable hunting.

"I think a huge amount of progress is being made and it will evolve over time. This is truly the way to go because most hunting occurs in remote areas and, in order to manage it effectively, you need the help of the local people," Professor Marsh said.

"I don't think we have an imminent conservation crisis for either the dugong or turtle in Australia. We're lucky we have good stocks, so we need to look after them."

The Department of Sustainability and Environment estimates the dugong population in Australia to be about 57,000, based on figures from 1995 to 2008, but a department spokesman said there were no definitive figures on dugong or turtle numbers.

"The Australian government is part of a national partnership approach for the conservation and protection of turtles and dugongs," the spokesman said. ''There is also state and Northern Territory legislation in place to protect turtles and dugongs."

More information: Click Here

Image: Birthright ... a turtle is dragged on board a boat in a practice that is reserved exclusively for indigenous people. Courtesy Peter Morris



Marine rally to end sea turtle deaths

22 July 2011, by Natalie Poyhonen , ABC Online

Turtle experts from across Australia are meeting in Townsville to develop a response to how best to rehabilitate sea turtles following a number of strandings. The Queensland environment department says years of extreme weather, including cyclone Yasi, has damaged seagrass habitats, a major food source for sea turtles.

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More protection needed for marine animals

18 July 2011, David Sparkes, Gladstone Observer

Experts on the Great Barrier Reef are calling for increased efforts to protect dugongs and green turtles. The campaign by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority was launched yesterday as news emerged of another dead turtle found at Tannum Sands on the weekend.

GBRMPA is stepping up its efforts to promote smart boating and fishing practices to protect the animals, as record numbers of deaths are being recorded along the coast. “The evidence is pretty strong that it’s a loss of seagrass and loss of condition (that is the main factor in the deaths),” GBRMPA chairman Dr Russell Reichelt said. “Essentially these animals are actually staving.”

Dr Reichelt said the extreme pressures being put on the species by low seagrass levels made it more important than ever for boaters and fishers to take extra care. “We think some of the people who use the marine park can do things to minimise harm to the animals.

"(Even though seagrass is the main problem) that doesn’t mean that boat strikes and occasional accidents with nets don’t still happen.”

He said there was anecdotal evidence turtle behaviour was being affected by the seagrass damage from the floods.

Dr Reichelt said he was looking forward to the findings from the Scientific Advisory Committee recently set up to investigate marine animal deaths in Gladstone Harbour.

He said he hoped it would provide answers to questions that have caused controversy in recent months.

A turtle was found dead on Second Beach in Tannum Sands on Sunday. It was about 1m wide.

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Image: This turtle was found on July 17 at Second Beach, Tannum Sands.  Courtesy Bianca Box



Uni steps in to help sick turtles

14 July 2011, by Murray Cornish, ABC Online

Researchers at James Cook University (JCU) are trying to cater for sick turtles as the number of strandings in north Queensland continues to soar.

The number of stranded turtles is up almost 700 per cent on previous years and scientists believe it will continue to rise.

The Townsville Turtle Hospital has been unable to cope with the influx and scientists at the JCU School of Veterinary Science are setting up extra tanks.

JCU virologist Ellen Ariel says there is no funding for the rescue effort yet and they are asking for donations.

"The reason the turtles are in such bad condition is because the seagrass beds have been destroyed and they're not going to recover for quite a while," she said.

"It may actually take years, so we're looking for a long-term solution - we don't actually have any solutions at the moment but we're doing the best we can.

"We're trying to raise some money to get some filters and pumps and tanks.

"We got donations from the Sea Turtle Foundation for $2,000 so that we can feed them for a little while and provide them saltwater, the problem is in that little while it's not going to solve the problem."

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One dugong killed a month in Far North Queensland

01 July 2011, Daniel Bateman, The Cairns Post

One dugong a month has been killed in Far Northern waters, according to an official dugong death tally. The Queensland Government has confirmed 40 of the threatened marine mammals have died over three years.

While many of the animals were killed in fishing nets, many of them were reported as being killed in suspicious circumstances. And there has only been one dugong reported killed in the region stretching between Cardwell to Cape Tribulation. The figures come as Bob Irwin, the father of Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin, urged the Government to review its animal cruelty laws to stop the suffering of endangered species taken by indigenous hunters.

The environmental campaigner, who’s been asked to run for the Queensland Party at the next election, says the state has failed to stop the horrific deaths of endangered dugongs and turtles. "Our governments are no longer concerned in regards to blatant cruelty, whether it be domestic stock or native wildlife," Mr Irwin said.

Cairns and Far Northern Environment Centre co-ordinator Steve Ryan said the latest dugong death tally was disappointing. "It is clear that there is an unacceptable number of dugong, dolphin and turtle deaths occurring in our region," he said. "Reform of net fisheries in Queensland is long overdue...There are simply too many nets.

"Current efforts to ensure traditional hunting is carried out sustainably also remain inadequate and in need of far greater support."

A Department of Environment and Resource Management spokesman said the department was working closely with research partners, including the CSIRO and James Cook University, and others to protect dugongs. "We continue to work ... to determine the best way to protect these animals," he said.

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June 2011




Researcher says Yasi wiped out green sea turtles food supply

30 June 2011, by Sam Davis, ABC Online

Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre (CTRC) co-founder, Dr Jennie Gilbert says the category-five cyclone wiped out many sea grass beds throughout the Great Barrier Reef, leaving green sea turtles with little to eat.

"The seagrass has been destroyed and these animals, the green [turtles], that live off it are are literally starving," Dr Gilbert said.

"These animals were probably eating well beforehand and now they're just searching for food sources."

Six green sea turtles have been found stranded and been taken in by CTRC in the last month but Dr Gilbert says she expects more.

"Another two or three turtles and we're actually at capacity," she said. "The experts tell me that they're expecting this to go on for a few years. It will take a while for the sea grass beds to come back because they have been destroyed."

"Hinchinbrook [Island] which had beautiful sea grass beds is now sandy beds."

Earlier this week, the Department of Environment reported a 500 per cent increase in turtle strandings in North Queensland.

53 stranded turtles have been found on Townsville beaches since January.

Dr Gilbert says the cold blooded turtles might also be affected by a drop in water temperature since Cyclone Yasi.

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Image: Flipper is one of the six green turtles at the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre. Courtesy Sam Davis



Seagrass blues

29 June 2011, by Andrew J Wight, Cosmos Online

The world's seagrass meadows are under threat and with them, species diversity and economic activity - but there's another reason to care about their fate.

Squishy and largely hidden, seagrass meadows may have a more difficult time grabbing headlines than their coral reef cousins, but researchers are now finding that preserving these forests of the sea may have a vital role in the climate change puzzle.

If you were to look out over Port Phillip Bay as it laps against the Melbourne shoreline, you are close to some of the most diverse marine habitats on the planet - and that's just a small part of Australia's seagrass meadows.

Along our 32,000km coastline, there's some 90,000 square kilometres of sea grass meadows, each made up of individual seagrass plants: mainly large, leafy and sun-loving.

Out of the 72 known seagrass species, Australia has 26 of them, some of which are found nowhere else on Earth, such as the endangered Posidonia sinuosa of Western Australia.

Seagrass meadows provide homes, food and nurseries for many marine creatures, in particular serving as feeding grounds for dugongs and western rock lobsters (Panulirus Cygnus) and breeding grounds for many commercially important fish species.

They are also important for water quality, filtering water and serving as an indicator of the health of the marine ecosystem, but the health of the meadows themselves has become of increasing concern.

In a recent study, 15 of the 72 known species of seagrasses were listed as 'Endangered', 'Vulnerable' or 'Near Threatened' on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.

Seagrass researcher at the University of Technology Sydney, Peter Macreadie says there are multiple factors that make seagrass vulnerable, but the biggest threat is the creation of anoxic dead zones by algal blooms.

"Seagrass are plants that grow on the seafloor, so when nutrient runoff is taken up by the algae, the algae become dense and it blocks the sunlight from reaching the seagrass."

There is also direct damage done by humans via dredging or by boat propellers. If some plants are disturbed in the middle of a meadow, the 'hole' will actually get bigger and bigger, eating away the meadow from the inside. "We know we've lost 30% of the world's sea grasses already," says Macreadie.

Many seagrass scientists are now concerned about changes in water temperature caused by the apparent effects of climate change, he added. "Seagrass is changing its range and distribution, but they can only tolerate a certain set of temperatures."

Paradoxically, seagrass may be part of the solution to this threat.

"When we think about carbon sinks, most of us think about tropical rainforest like the Amazon," says Macreadie. "But seagrasses, mangroves and salt marshes cover 1% of the seafloor, but are estimated to sequester 70% of the ocean's carbon."

The first Blue Carbon report came out in 2010 and detailed how coastal ecosystems, including seagrass sequester carbon. According to Macreadie, it is estimated that seagrass beds can store for carbon for thousands of years, as opposed to the dozens of years of terrestrial plants.

"Like any plant, seagrasses go through seasons and left undisturbed, a typical plant could last for years and years. But unlike, say a rainforest, when seagrass shed their leaves or die, the leaves, roots and rhizomes don't decompose readily. That litter gets buried beneath the seagrass meadows and layers start to form."

Research groups from Europe have found that this layer of fibrous material gets locked away in deep sediments, and the amount of carbon sequestered can be estimated.

"We can age these cores and we're finding seagrasses up to 6m deep stored for thousands of years," said Macreadie.

It is hoped that by showing the capacity of seagrass to store carbon, they will be better candidates for funding and awareness in the same way that forests are conserved for their biodiversity and carbon storage capacity. There are, however, some hurdles to overcome.

The combined threat of increased pollution, increased population pressures from humans and their slow regeneration time means world is struggling to hold on to the seagrass it has, let alone expand their current range.

Past director of the University of Western Australia's Oceans Institute, Gary Kendrick says restoration can get expensive.

"I've been working on a five-year restoration project and the chances of full recovery are still slim, as restoration is high risk and high expenditure. The seagrass restoration itself can cost anywhere from AU$8,000 a hectare to hundreds of thousands of dollars per hectare," he says.

"There are studies of a field that cost $1 million a hectare to restore. That's about ten times what it costs to restore a forest. It is much easier to conserve the seagrass habitats we already have in the first place, rather than trying to restore them after the fact. In Australia you can count the research groups on one hand, but the awareness of the importance of seagrass is growing."

What Kendrick hopes to do in the next five years is to bring together Australian groups in a research centre. "Rehabilitation is going to cost, so we'll look at what are the big threats to the seagrass and how do we best counter them?"

Mick Keough, at the Department of Zoology at the University of Melbourne, who has recently received funding to identify key seagrass habitats in Melbourne's Port Phillip Bay says the situation is improving for seagrass in Australia. "Some state governments, Western Australia and New South Wales in particular have strong emphasis on protection of seagrass."

But he adds that while seagrasses are seen as important by government, public perception is a real problem. "They aren't as charismatic as the reefs, but their role in nutrient cycles are a really important part of the ecosystem. I don't think anyone sees them as a pest anymore, but the don't have the same passion as they might for the barrier reef."

Researchers need to understand how disturbances affect seagrass habitats and the processes that are important for their recovery, Keough adds. "Within the Bay, many species are found predominantly in seagrass meadows, and some species actually rely on seagrasses for survival in part of their life cycle," he said.

So when you step on that squishy piece of seagrass on the beach, don't curse: without these humble plants, our seas would be less rich with life, our water more turbid and our climate more turbulent.

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Good news for Gladstone's seagrass meadows

29 June 2011, Media Newswire

The discovery of seed banks off Gladstone is good news for the recovery of seagrass meadows in Port Curtis.

Fisheries Minister Craig Wallace said Fisheries Queensland scientists had discovered seed banks at many sites visited locally as part of their investigation into the resilience of Gladstone’s seagrass meadows. “This discovery shows seagrasses in the area have the capacity to recover following flooding in the past year,” Mr Wallace said.

“Any seagrass recovery will be good news for fish species that depend on these habitats. “If climate conditions in the second half of this year continue to be favourable for seagrass growth, we can expect to see some recovery of these meadows.”

Gladstone Ports Corporation ( GPC ) who commissioned the study said the program formed part of a wider research and monitoring project. GPC CEO Leo Zussino said the project was about monitoring and understanding Gladstone’s seagrasses. “We are undertaking one of Australia’s most detailed seagrass research and monitoring programs in a port to ensure the future of these critical fisheries and dugong and turtle habitats,” Mr Zussino said. “The program is using world leading science to understand the natural cycles of seagrass change and develop guidelines and thresholds to protect seagrass during future developments.”

Fisheries Queensland Principal Scientist Michael Rasheed said the project was ongoing and would continue to monitor for signs of recovery. “We have found seeds in places where the majority of the above-ground seagrass had been lost,” Dr Rasheed said. “The presence of seagrass seeds in the sediments provides a potential source of recovery for seagrass meadows that have declined following recent weather events.”

Seagrass is being monitored at seven locations within the Gladstone harbour area including Pelican Banks North, Pelican Banks South, Facing Island, Fisherman’s Landing, Wiggins Island ( West ), Rodds Bay and Redcliffe.

The program includes the monitoring of intertidal seagrass, biomass interpretation, temperature loggers and light loggers, seagrass tissue nutrients and statistical analysis, as well as regular remapping of seagrass distribution.

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Another dugong found dead

23 June 2011, by David Sparkes, Gladstone Observer

Another dugong has met a grisly end in Gladstone Harbour. The animal died in the Calliope River and was found near the NRG power station, where warm water is piped out and marine life is known to enjoy these conditions. The Department of Environment and Resource Management confirmed reports about the dead mammal that began filtering through to The Observer yesterday morning.

Queensland Parks and Wildlife Services operations manager Dave Orgill said the service received a report via its hotline that a local person had found the dead dugong overnight on the river. “QPWS immediately retrieved the carcass,” he said.  “Staff did a necropsy (animal autopsy) with assistance from a local vet. “Initial indications are that the animal was healthy and died through massive trauma to its mid section. While results are yet to be validated, the trauma is consistent with boat strike.”

Former Environment Minister Kate Jones announced a scientific panel to investigate the recent deaths of animals in the Gladstone Harbour two weeks ago.  “This death will be investigated by the scientific panel that has been established to investigate the recent deaths of a number of dugongs, dolphins and turtles in waters off Gladstone,” Mr Orgill said.

It has been a bloody year for dugongs in the Gladstone region.  This is the third dead dugong found in less than a month and three dead dolphins were also found in May.

Anyone who finds dead or injured marine wildlife should call the QPWS hotline on 1300 130 372.

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Scientists to probe marine deaths

16 June 2011, by Sam Darroch, Gladstone Observer

While the Department of Environment and Resource Management continues investigations into the death of two dugongs last week, one pertinent question lingers: What is happening in our harbour?

The increasing number of marine deaths in the Gladstone region has reached a point where it’s difficult to hold fishing nets and boating accidents solely responsible, and the call for accountability grows ever louder from our concerned community. “Unless we’ve done the autopsy we should not comment on the source of the problem, but we must investigate why these things happen,” troubled citizen Jan Arens said. “Because we have a government that is so keen to develop this LNG industry at such a breakneck pace we’re losing sight of the fact that we share the harbour with these animals and they’re protected by international law. If we are going to compromise dugong habitats within listed dugong protection areas, and the government says we are going to enforce that with monitoring, that needs to be in place before we start messing around with their habitat.”

With the Western Basin dredging project currently in its early stages, Gladstone Ports Corporation said it was committed to the preservation of the harbour’s protected species. “We have been monitoring the harbour for many years, which has included monitoring seagrass and water quality,” a spokesman said. “Part of the litigation for the dredging project is that there is $17 million allocated for environmental conservation. “The Western Basin dredging project is still in its early stages and we are currently working on those specific guidelines and considering programs.”

Despite these allocations, the community at large remains dissatisfied with the level of precaution being taken to ensure marine life is properly catered for, and have called for government intervention. “We as a nation have declared this as a protection area for these animals and subsequently have these dredging activities on, you could question whether it’s absolutely necessary or if there is a better way,” Mr Arens said. “The culpability lies squarely with those who are putting pressure on their habitat.”

Turtle Island caretaker Clive Last, who discovered a dead dolphin in May, echoed Mr Arens’ call for stricter industry regulations. “Measures should have been put in place before this was allowed to go ahead, the same holds true for the accommodation situation.”

State Environment Minister Kate Jones contacted The Observer yesterday afternoon to announce the creation of a scientific panel to formally investigate.

Report strandings and deaths to the department on 1300 130 372.

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Image: The carcass of the dead male dugong washed up at Seven Mile Creek. Courtesy Chrissy Harris


Seagrass meadows remain 'forgotten' in conservation debate

13 June 2011, The Ecologist

Every hour, an area of seagrass the size of two football pitches is lost. The rate of loss is equal to that occurring in tropical rainforests and on coral reefs yet it receives a fraction of the attention

Seagrass can be found in every continent except for Antarctica, usually in shallow coastal regions, as they need light to survive. Their optimal depth is sub-tidal down to 15 metres although some can live down to 60 metres in clear waters such as the Indo-Pacific.

Whilst there are widespread concerns about the degradation of coastal and ocean ecosystems from human activities, marine ecologists say 'uncharismatic' habitats like seagrass meadows are often forgotten or marginalised in conservation agendas.

'People don't necessarily understand its importance - it doesn't have the charismatic appeal. For example, in the tropical oceans it doesn't compare in colour to coral reef. But it actually has a huge impact on the productivity and biodiversity of the coral reef and marine ecosystem,' says Richard Unsworth, a marine expert working on the SEACAMS project at Swansea University.

Seagrass meadows provide food and habitat for fish, playing a vital role in the marine food chain as well as being home to endangered species like dugongs and green turtles.

Recent research has highlighted the large 'blue carbon' role seagrass has in absorbing carbon and locking it away into sediment. On a local scale, the absorption of carbon dioxide may also mitigate the negative effects of ocean acidification on coral growth.

Seagrass can help trap pollutants and act as a 'natural water filter' but too many nutrients, such as from sewage run-off can lead to its degradation as it can block sunlight or encourage algae growth. Other significant threats include; sand dredging projects, coastal development, extreme weather events and rising sea temperatures.

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Dugong death sparks national worry

10 June 2011, by Sam Darroch, Gladstone Observer

Another dugong is dead. And while the region’s call for answers gets louder it’s becoming abundantly clear something’s not right in our world heritage listed harbour. That’s the big concern for Queensland World Wildlife Fund Manager Nick Heath and the region’s residents.

“The reality is we’re killing these animals and we don’t know why they’re dying,” concerned citizen Jan Arens said.

While the cause of death remains uncertain, there is national anxiety over increasing instances of dugong strandings with 76 reported as of March this year compared to 81 in total for 2010. In a rapidly perturbing trend, a deceased dugong was discovered at approximately 10am thismorning by a HookUp contestant on the high tide line at 7 Mile Creek, Rodd’s Island.

This latest incident follows the mysterious death of two dolphins last month on Boyne and Turtle Islands, preceded by the discovery of 22 dead turtles found washed up at the mouth of Boyne

River in April. A Department of Environment and Resource Management spokesman confirmed they had received reports of the death and officers are currently investigating the matter further, however with a lack of consistency in the autopsy process the worry is that it’s not enough.

“We are gravely concerned for the future of Dugongs in the Gladstone Region,” Mr Heath said. “We’re calling on the Government to step in; Dugongs used to be in their thousands in various coastal and estuarine areas of Queensland and now they’re down to their hundreds or even less. “In so few cases is a cause of death actually concluded and that lack of follow through is leading to a lack of policy. “No data, no response, no change, and if there is no change Dugongs are going to become extinct in Gladstone and other parts of Queensland.”

With the dugong population already under stress due to flood related seagrass depletion, concerned parties are advocating for more Government funding to ensure comprehensive investigations are performed to find the underlying causes moving forward. “We have got a huge problem and if somebody doesn’t find out what’s going on soon we won’t have too many of them left,” Turtle Island caretaker Clive Last said.  “It’s time someone got up here from the Government, opened their mouth and told the truth.”

It is not known whether heavy lacerations to the dugong’s body occurred after its death or caused it directly.

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Dugong health hit by floods

10 June 2011, by Seanna Cronin, Fraser Coast Chronicle

Hervey Bay’s dugongs have fared worse than their Moreton Bay counterparts after the summer floods, a Sea World and University of Queensland survey has found. Researchers from UQ, Sea World and Taronga Zoo spent the past two weeks catching wild dugongs to survey the health of the populations. It was the first time the team had carried out its revolutionary capture methods in Hervey Bay, which suffered massive losses to its dugongs after the 1991 floods.

“We've been studying dugongs with UQ for many years, probably 10 years, but it was only four years ago we developed the techniques and processes to be able to lift them (dugongs) out on board and do the work,” said Sea World's director of marine sciences, Trevor Long. “You've got to remember these are big animals and they're very sensitive animals. We've got to be very, very cognisant of their welfare and caring about our approach.”

UQ marine mammal researcher Dr Janet Lanyon said the 1991 floods showed that the Hervey Bay dugongs were more vulnerable than the Moreton Bay population because their feeding grounds were closer to the coastline. “The seagrass beds in Hervey Bay copped the full brunt of the floods up there in 1991, and the dugong habitat was virtually lost because the seagrass beds were smothered,” she said. “The beauty of Moreton Bay's feeding area is it's a little removed from the coast – a few kilometres offshore.”

The researchers were pleased to catch several pregnant dugongs, including a whopping 600kg female, in Moreton Bay. “Catching pregnant females is a really good sign that the population is healthy and that they are reproducing,” Dr Lanyon said.

But as of Wednesday the researchers had not found any pregnant dugongs in Hervey Bay. “From an observation point of view, we've seen some of the animals here have been in slightly poorer condition than those in Moreton Bay,” Mr Long said. “We won't know any real details until we get all of the blood work back, but from a physical point of view these animals are certainly thinner.”

Mr Long said the trip would lead to a better understanding of Hervey Bay's less-studied dugongs. “The good thing is we've got some benchmarking for future assessments,” he said. “That's the best thing, otherwise you never know where you're at. You don't know whether they're getting better or worse.”

Mr Long said the results of blood toxicology tests, which would take several months, would reveal any impacts on the dugongs from pollutants or heavy metals washed into the bays by the floods.

More information: Click Here

Image: Dugong researchers head out to the Sea World vessel moored at Burrum Heads. Courtesy Alistair Brightman


World Oceans Day: 8th June

2011 Theme - “Youth: The Next Wave for Change”

On World Oceans Day people around the planet celebrate and honor the body of water which links us all, for what it provides humans and what it represents. Be a part of this growing global celebration! Thanks to The Ocean Project and The World Ocean Network for helping to promote and coordinate this event since 2003.

World Ocean Day provides an opportunity to get directly involved in protecting our future, through a new mindset and personal and community action and involvement – beach cleanups, educational programs, art contests, film festivals, sustainable seafood events, and other planned activities help to raise consciousness of how our lives depend on the ocean.

Recent research has revealed that youth, especially those between the ages of 12 and 17, are especially important to ocean conservation. According to reports from The Ocean Project, youth not only have the highest level of concern about the problems facing the world's oceans, from oil spills and overfishing to climate change, but also are the most confident in their ability to make a difference, and increasingly looked to by the adults in their families for ways to be part of the solution by 'going green,' or perhaps more appropriately, 'going aquamarine!'

This year, World Oceans Day encourages you to reach out to young people in your community and help inspire them. The future of ocean conservation is in their hands!

More information: Click Here



Silt a threat to dugongs

07 June 2011, Rockhampton Morning Bulletin

BIOLOGISTS from the University of Queensland have teamed up with Sea World and Taronga Western Plains Zoo to assess the health and reproductive status of wild dugongs in Hervey Bay. The research team started work here yesterday after completing a similar project in Moreton Bay.

Leader of the UQ Dugong Research Team Dr Janet Lanyon said the floods had placed a huge question mark over the health of the dugongs along the entire Queensland coast as the silt and sediment had the potential to kill their only food source, seagrass. “This trip is extremely important to give us an indication of how the Hervey Bay dugongs have fared following the recent flood disaster,” he said.  “We know that following the 1991 disaster which included two floods and a cyclone in a short space of time, we saw the deaths of at least 99 dugongs as a result of a massive seagrass die-off.

“In almost every case of the 99 recorded dugongs which washed up along the Queensland and New South Wales coasts in 1991 there was evidence of starvation.  “During this period it is estimated that the Hervey Bay dugong population fell from approximately 1700 animals to as few as a couple of hundred.”

The aim of the research trip will be to determine both the health and reproductive status of dugongs. Reproductive status of individuals is one of the most important factors for estimating reproductive capacity and health of the population. Dr Lanyon said field biologists would this week be sampling a selection of dugongs, representative of both sexes and from adult, sub-adult and juvenile size classes.

Sea World Director of Marine Sciences Trevor Long said the sampling involved lifting wild dugongs out of the water and on board Sea World's research vessel to take a comprehensive series of blood and other tissue samples to measure reproductive hormones, collect semen from adult males and conduct abdominal ultrasounds to confirm pregnancy of females.

Mr Long said a specially designed stretcher was used to cradle the animals from the water on to the deck of research vessel Sea World One. “This is the fourth year in which Sea World and UQ have teamed up to conduct this study which allows us to capture data to help establish baseline clinical blood parameters for the species and monitor annual reproductive capacity,” he said. “These baseline parameters can then be used to assess the health of dugongs in wild populations further up the Queensland coast and elsewhere, and also for comparison with dugongs in human care.”

Mr Long said the dugong was a major conservation priority for Sea World. “The Sea World Research and Rescue Foundation's work in past years has resulted in the rescue and rehabilitation of dugongs Pig and Wuru, who now reside at Sydney Aquarium. “It's also great to be conducting this research around World Environment Day which is a global day for positive environmental action.”

The plan is to capture up to 20 dugongs in Hervey Bay over five days with a team of 16 skilled personnel taking approximately 30-40 minutes to sample each animal.

Source: Click Here

Image by Grahame Long, SeaWorld


Dugongs doing well after Brisbane floods

01 June 2011, Sydney Morning Herald

Fears had been held for them after tonnes of silt and other rubbish washed down the Brisbane River and into the bay during January's floods, threatening the seagrass the dugong relies on to survive.

Biologists from the University of Queensland (UQ) have teamed up with Sea World, Sydney Aquarium and Taronga Western Plains Zoo to assess the health and reproductive status of wild dugongs in Moreton Bay this week. The team has been taking samples of the population, which involved lifting wild dugongs out of the water and putting them on board Sea World's research vessel to take a comprehensive series of blood and other tissue samples. The samples are used to measure clinical health parameters and levels of pollutants, including heavy metals.

Sea World director of marine sciences Trevor Long said the work they have done so far this week has been very encouraging. Mr Long said they had pulled five animals on board on Wednesday - among them two pregnant females and one of the biggest dugongs they had ever pulled out of Moreton Bay. He said most of the animals have been in very good condition, with only about two in what he called "slightly poor condition".

Mr Long said they were very pleased with the findings. "There was a lot of concern, even amongst ourselves, about what would be the outcome for this population, considering the amount of silt that came out of the Brisbane River," he told AAP. "It was a concern when we had the floods because we had floods in 1991 in Hervey Bay and we lost a lot of animals there, probably over half of the population."

The Hervey Bay dugong population has still not recovered, and Mr Long and the team will be heading there next week to see if there are any signs of improvement. But he said the number of pregnant dugongs in Moreton Bay has been encouraging because they only have babies once every three tofour years and their calves stay with them for about 18 months to two years.

Mr Long said the next step is to improve the education and policing of laws that protect the dugongs in Moreton Bay. He said the population is still very vulnerable in Moreton Bay with the growth of the Brisbane port and the high number of people using the waters of the bay. "We've raised a lot of awareness and from that marine parks have put go-slow zones in to protect the animals from boat strike," he said.

But Mr Long said some boaties still go through those zones flat out even though they know why the go-slow law is there. "It's one thing to create a law, it's another to police it," he said.

Source: Click Here


Seagrass 'at risk of extinction'

01 June 2011,

A species of seagrass found only in western and southern Australian waters is at the risk of extinction, says an international study. The seagrass -- Posidonia sinuosa -- is one of 10 seagrasses worldwide identified in the four-year study that are in danger of being lost forever, according to lead author Prof Gary Kendrick at the University of Western Australia.

Posidonia sinuosa is found in Western Australia from Kalbarri through to Eyre on the south coast and also in Cockburn Sound, which has had declining populations for several decades. The seagrass is also found along the South Australian coast as far as Encounter Bay. "Posidonia sinuosa is declining at an alarming rate -- about 1.2 per cent every year," Prof Kendrick said.

According to researchers, the loss of seagrasses has significant repercussions for both ocean ecosystems and for humans as seagrass meadows provide homes, food and nurseries for countless marine creatures, including commercial fish and crustaceans such as the western rock lobster. They are a major sink for carbon dioxide and are being developed as valuable ecosystems in the global carbon market.

"Globally, the biggest threat to seagrasses is coastal development. Degraded water quality and the mechanical damage from dredging and port, industrial and urban growth on the coast are other major factors. "Perhaps surprisingly for many people, climate change isn't identified as a threat. Seagrasses are, in fact, one of the few groups expected to benefit from climate change," said Prof Kendrick.

The seagrass study involved more than 20 leading researchers who used the Red List criteria of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature to determine the conservation status of 72 seagrass species.

It found that Posidonia sinuosa was in "vulnerable" category, the second highest threat classification after "endangered", according to the IUCN system.

"This latest study is the product of four years of international workshops and input from hundreds of seagrass experts. It will provide policy makers around the world with an official guide for seagrass conservation," Prof Kendrick wrote in the 'Biological Conservation' journal.

Source: Click Here

Image courtesy Gary Kendrick


May 2011




New study provides global analysis of seagrass extinction risk

25 May 2011, Virginia Institute of Marine Science Press Release

A team of 21 researchers from 11 nations, including professor Robert "JJ" Orth of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, has completed the first-ever study of the risk of extinction for individual seagrass species around the world.

The 4-year study, requested by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), shows that 10 of the 72 known seagrass species (14%) are at an elevated risk of extinction, while 3 species qualify as endangered.

The authors caution that loss of seagrass species and seagrass biodiversity will seriously impact marine ecosystems and the human populations that depend on the resources and ecosystem services that seagrasses provide. A 1997 study placed the value of those services at US$34,000 per hectare per year. Seagrasses offer critical habitat for aquatic life, clear the water by reducing wave action, absorb excess nutrients, and reduce shoreline erosion.

The study, in the online issue of Biological Conservation, determines the likelihood of extinction for each of the world's 72 species of seagrass using the categories and criteria of the IUCN's Red List of Threatened Species.

The IUCN Red List is the most widely accepted method for assessing a species' probability of extinction and its conservation status on a global scale. Red List categories run from "least concern" to "near threatened," "vulnerable," "endangered," "critically endangered," "extinct in the wild," and "extinct."

Placement in a category reflects a species' abundance, reproductive rate, geographic range, and other such factors. A "data deficient" category holds species for which there is inadequate information to assess extinction risk based on distribution, population status, or both. The researchers placed 9 seagrass species (12.5%) in that category.

The researchers listed 48 species (67%) in the "Least Concern" category, including eelgrass (Zostera marina), the most common seagrass in lower Chesapeake Bay. Orth notes, however, that most of these species—including eelgrass—are declining in their area of coverage. (Data from VIMS' annual aerial survey shows that eelgrass is absent from one-half of its former range and continues to decline in the areas where it remains).

Orth says that eelgrass was listed as a species of least concern—despite severe declines in Chesapeake Bay, San Francisco Bay, and other parts of its range—because it is still widespread elsewhere and thrives in less developed and clear-water areas. He cites his team's successful efforts to replant eelgrass in the seaside bays of Virginia's Eastern Shore as evidence of the species' ability to rebound quickly given clear and cool water.

VIMS scientists have been restoring eelgrass to Virginia's seaside bays since 1997. Their efforts have resulted in the largest and most successful seagrass restoration project in the world, with 38 million eelgrass seeds broadcast onto 309 acres during the last decade. As of 2010, these restored sites have spread naturally to more than 4,200 acres.

Source: Click Here

Image: Seagrasses provide a key habitat in Chesapeake Bay and other coastal areas worldwide. Photo courtesy of Virginia Institute of Marine Science.



April 2011




Green group fears seagrass gone

18 April 2011, ABC Wide Bay

A Fraser Coast environmental group says it is concerned a build-up of silt from the floods has washed away seagrass in the region.

Gordon Cottle from the Great Sandy Strait Flora and Fauna Watch says endangered dugongs feed on the seagrass and may be at risk if it has been destroyed.

Mr Cottle says a recent survey at Poona, south-east of Maryborough, found some areas were devastated.

"The silt cover there was 150 millimetres. We did a complete survey in accordance with Seagrass-Watch protocol but what would normally have taken us an hour-and-a-half, took us 20 minutes," he said.

"There was just no visible grass whatsoever."

Source: Click Here


Seagrass health at all-time low

14 April 2011, Gladstone Observer

Seagrass levels in parts of Gladstone Harbour are at their lowest levels since surveys began under a Gladstone Ports Corporation assessment program.

GPC CEO Leo Zussino said the decline in seagrass levels was caused by factors related to the La Nina weather pattern.

“This can be attributed to the impacts from the high rainfall, rivers in flood and low light conditions that have occurred over this period,” he said.

“There have been similar declines in seagrass beds at other east coast locations where seagrass is being monitored.”

Mr Zussino said while many areas had unusually low levels, other large areas of seagrass remained in Port Curtis and Rodds Bay and included the Pelican Banks meadow.

He said the health of seagrass meadows in Pelican Banks was particularly important, because it is a known feeding ground for dugongs.

“In the main dugong areas, (seagrass levels) are not too bad. These are spatially expansive meadows that are likely to have high fisheries productivity,” he said.

Mr Zussino said seagrass beds had been badly affected by two big wet seasons in a row and were not related to dredging activities in the harbour.

He also said the lower levels were connected to seasonal patterns.

“The findings for this quarter show the state of the seagrass is at the bottom end of its natural yearly cycle,” he said.

“There is some recovery already happening (since the floods) but coming into winter, this is the time seagrass beds go to sleep.

“So there is not going to be any significant recovery until about August.”

Quarterly GPC surveys are monitoring seagrass at seven locations in the Gladstone area.

The surveys' findings will be closely watched by environmental groups, which are concerned the planned dredging operations in the harbour might damage seagrass meadows – a crucial source of food for the area's dugongs.

Mr Zussino said he understood community concerns about the harbour's health and the monitoring of seagrass was important if environmental standards were to be met.

Source: Click Here


Survey shows seagrass decline

12 April 2011, Gladstone Observer

A new Fisheries Queensland report shows a large decline in seagrass in the Gladstone region recently.  The report, based on seagrass surveys taken in February, said the decline was partly expected due to the impacts of the La Nina cycle.

High rainfall, low light and high turbidity within Gladstone Harbour during the past three months caused the decline.

The news of low seagrass levels will concern local environmental groups, who have campaigned for the conservation of seagrass meadows to help protect the region’s dugong population.

Seagrass meadows were examined at Fishermans Landing, Pelican Banks, Wiggins Island, Facing Island, Rodds Bay and Redcliffe.

Many of the areas had no seagrass at all, while others had extremely low seagrass coverage.

In a statement yesterday, Fisheries Queensland acknowledged that seagrass levels were unusually low in Port Curtis.

“Fisheries Queensland recognises that seagrass areas in Gladstone and Port Curtis form an important fish habitat area for animals such as dugong,” it said.

“The monitoring program aims to ensure any future development, such as dredging, will have a minimal impact on habitat and seagrass areas.”

Michael McCabe, from the Capricorn Conservation Council, said a more comprehensive collection of data on seagrass levels in the region was required as part of ongoing efforts to protect the dugong.

“We’re very concerned that not enough is known about the impact of seagrass levels on the dugong’s migratory habits,” he said.

“We’re also very concerned about pressures on the dugong population.”

Source: Click Here

Note: Seagrass meadows in Queensland have declined in abundance down the east coast over the last 3-4 years. Seagrass declines where they have occurred are most likely the result of natural variations in climate, particularly tropical storms and flood run-off, against a background of reduced water quality.

For more on the status of seagrass in Queensland, CLICK HERE



Warrior Reef turtles 'targeted' by PNG nationals

08 April 2011 10:31, Torres News

Turtle along Warrior Reef are being “plundered” by Papua New Guinea nationals operating in boats under the cover of darkness, according to a local Traditional Owner.

Percy Misi, who says he is a T.O. from Mabuiag and who lives on Masig (Yorke Island), told the Torres News there is a “huge black market trade” in turtle. “People are coming across to Warrior Reef at night to plunder the reef,” Mr Misi said. “We believe they are coming from the PNG side. We need more surveillance - I don’t think Customs goes that far.”

Mr Misi telephoned the Torres News on Thursday, March 31, to comment on the article on the illegal trade of dugong and sea turtle meat (Torres News, March 30, page 1). He thanked the Torres News for publishing the article, saying it was important to get the issue into the public domain. “This will help get the community talking about this important issue, but we also need to focus on people illegaly poaching turtle on the outer islands,” he said. “It’s not so much a problem around Saibai, because there the villagers have control of it. “I don’t think it is so much the villagers of PNG’s Western Province either, but they are coming from further inland. “There needs to be more management of the situation from the PNG side.”

Last month, two Spanish travellers who were stranded on Daru for two weeks reported that boats around the island were coming and going at night. “We would hear dinghies during the night, constantly on the move, but with no lights,” Maria Valencia told the Torres News.

Under the Torres Strait Treaty, which defines the border between Australia and PNG, coastal people who live in PNG and keep the traditions of the region are allowed free movement without passports or visas in the the Protected Zone and nearby areas for “traditional activities”. Traditional activities under the Treaty include ceremonies and social gatherings, and also hunting and fishing for food.

The special provisions apply to traditional inhabitants from 13 villages in coastal PNG, who are allowed to travel south into Australia as far as the 10 degrees 30 minutes South latitude line near Number One Reef. The area includes the Warrior Reef, a system of reefs 80km in length.

The commercial harvest and sale of turtle meat is not considered a “traditional activity” under the Treaty. A report by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, The Sea Turtle Resources of the Torres Strait Region, found turtle were not present in great numbers around settlements. This means traditional fishers have to travel further to catch turtles.

“Turtles of any size class are scarce on reefs immediately adjacent to settlements such as Yorke Is., Thursday Is. and Daru and is assumed to be the result of localised overfishing for turtle,” the report says.

“These turtles are a shared international resource with the feeding grounds and migratory pathways of some individuals spanning the territorial waters of three nations.”

Source: Click Here


Conservation key to turtle/dugong future

08 April 2011, By Grant Banks, Torres News

Even third-world countries manage their fisheries better than Australia, an internationally recognised conservatrion activist has told a meeting in Cairns.

Pete Bethune, founder of Earthrace Conservation and former Sea Shepard ‘whale warrior’, also told the Torres News: “The Solomon Islands - on Australia’s doorstep and a great deal poorer - has recognised the need for protection for these species and has already banned the hunting of [turtle and dugong].”

Conservationist, politicians and animal rights groups met in Cairns last Thursday to discuss the hunting and trade of sea turtles and dugong in north Queensland and the Torres Strait.

Although at first not all those at the meeting could agree on what action should be taken, a final resolution was made that aims to ensure Native Title rights are preserved while protecting the long-term future of sea turtle and dugong.

The meeting included who took a hard-line stance on the issue saying he would like to see the current legislation changed to remove all Native Title rights involving any endangered species within Australia.

Mr Bethune said: “There’s a gaping wound in this country today, and, those with the power to change things, need to address it urgently before Australia loses any more respect around the world,” he said. “The Native Title Act and Animal Care Act are failing endangered species entirely; that dugongs and sea turtles continue to be hunted in Australian waters and killed using such disgusting methods under the guise of customary rights is a disgrace.”

Cairns-based dugong and sea turtle campaigner Colin Riddell also spoke strongly for changes to the Animal Care and Protection Act 2001. “As Queensland legislation stands now, no indigenous person in Queensland can be held responsible for the acts of cruelty we are seeing perpetrated on dugongs and sea turtles,” he said.

The Liberal National Party Candidate for the Cook Electorate, Craig Batchelor, said: “Sometimes you just need to stand up and say ‘this is not right’. “We must close the loophole in legislation which permits acts of cruelty to be carried out to animals taken under indigenous land rights. I cannot understand why some people in Government dare not challenge this issue for fear it may offend someone.”

Member for Leichardt Warren Entsch fought to ensure the on-going Native Title entitlements of Torres Strait islander people saying that without his input at the meeting a much different outcome would have been reached. Even so - he said that the conservation of these species needs to be ensured. “I want to empower the Elders by providing them with Legislation that allows the Elders to manage the conservation of sea turtle and dugong.”

He said that this would require an initial survey of sea turtle and dugong numbers - to be carried out by government and indigenous parties. “We need to be inclusive of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people every step of the way,” he said.

Greg Hunt, Shadow Minister for Climate Action, Environment and Heritage, asked for an immediate voluntary 90% reduction in dugong and turtle hunting numbers, and failing that, said that a total ban on the hunting of all turtles and dugongs would be the only solution.

Source: Click Here


March 2011




Dugong washes up on beach

28 March 2011, by Emma Mcbryde,Rockhampton Morning Bulletin

Dennis Bryant found a 2.9m long dugong washed up on the main beach on Saturday.

Dennis Bryant said he had never seen anything like it before.

The Keppel Sands resident of 11 years found a 2.9m long dugong washed up on the main beach on Saturday.

Dennis believes the dugong may have died after it got caught in a net. “It had marks underneath its flippers that looked like it had been struggling to get out of a net,” he said.

“We’ve seen dolphins and turtles washed up on the beach before, but never a dugong. It was an adult female and it looked like it had recently given birth because of the enlarged size of the teats.

“There must be a calf out there, but it will be dead by now.”

Dennis said Queensland Wildlife and Parks took a skin sample of the adult mammal on Saturday.

A fully grown dugong can be up to three metres in length and weigh about 400kg.

“Rocky Council came this morning (Sunday) and dug a hole to bury the dugong, it would have been very heavy,” Dennis said.

Image: Keppel Sands resident Greg Seierup examines a dugong washed up on the beach overnight. Photo by Chris Ison

Source: Click Here


2011 declared Pacific Year of the Dugong

15 March 2011, by David Sheppard, Island Business

The dugong, also known as the sea cow, is a stranger to many Pacific islands nations and territories. However, we all agree that this peaceful animal is no less deserving of a special year to recognise its importance to marine biodiversity of the Pacific.

Last year, the Pacific Regional Environment Programme meeting in Madang, Papua New Guinea, noted the importance of the continuing health of dugong populations for a healthy Pacific Ocean, and declared 2011 as the Pacific Year of the Dugong. The range of this marine mammal spreads from east Africa in the Indian Ocean, including the waters of six Pacific islands nations and territories—Australia, New Caledonia, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.

On the global scale, dugongs are considered vulnerable to extinction. While they are still present at the extreme ends of its distribution range, dugongs have disappeared from several areas including waters off Mauritius, Taiwan, western Sri Lanka and the Maldives. In the Pacific Islands region, the status of dugong populations is generally unknown with the exception of that in the Torres Strait.  Palau’s dugong population is considered to be the most isolated in the world and unlikely to be increased by dugongs from other areas, and thus can be classified as “endangered”.

There is little information on dugong populations in the Pacific and much work is needed to develop information, awareness and management programmes to better protect dugong populations in our region.  At the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), we have a regional marine species programme that focuses on marine species of conservation concern, including the dugong.  The 2011 campaign is one step to overcome the challenges and lack of knowledge and awareness of the dugong.

Dugongs are the only surviving species of the family Dugongidae, with its closest relative, Stellar’s seacow, hunted to extinction within 27 years of its discovery in the eighteenth century.  It is a big eater. It is the only vegetarian mammal that is strictly marine and can eat up to 50 kilos of seagrass a day, and feeds for up to 16 hours of the day. The fact that dugongs are long-lived and slow-breeding, make them susceptible to population decline.

To maintain its population, survival needs to be high with low sustainable human mortality. It has been estimated that a dugong population of only 100 animals would not sustain any human-caused mortality and for a 1,000 dugong population, the sustainable human-caused mortality per year has been estimated to be less than 13 individuals.

Dugongs are also of high cultural value in many parts of the Pacific region—a valued source of food, medicine and artefacts and a flagship species for coastal peoples. In some Pacific societies, the dugong is considered to be an important totem because of its large size and strength, and features prominently in stories and legends. Subsistence hunting of dugongs may have been sustainable in the past. However, the combination of increasing human populations in the Pacific and the introduction of new harvesting technologies such as outboard motors and gill nets has severely impacted the species.

The activities associated with hunting dugongs and the preparation of meat also have great significance and are an expression of long cultural traditions. Specific parts of the dugong are used in customary events such as weddings, funerals and traditional feasts, as well as for making traditional items, including drums, spoons, scrapers, hooks, laces and necklaces. Although dugong meat is a traditional and sometimes highly prized meat in some societies, some cultures place traditional taboos against killing them.

Dugongs are also easy targets for hunters to make food and medicine. These slow moving animals are highly susceptible to coastal hunters and they have been long sought after for their meat, oil, skin, bones and teeth. They also face many other threats including incidental by-catch, vessel strikes and destructive fishing practices.

The incidental drowning of dugongs caught in fishing gear, such as gill-nets, has contributed to the major decline of dugongs in much of its Pacific range. The increase in vessel traffic also increases the likelihood of dugongs being killed by vessel strikes. Then there are the threats to the food sources of dugongs; coastal development, including human settlements, increases sedimentation and turbidity in coastal waters where seagrass is found. Sedimentation and turbidity not only smothers seagrass but also reduces the amount of light reaching them, resulting in their degradation and a reduction in their density and productivity.

Added to this threat of the dugong, food security is the challenge of coping with the nutrient runoff from land whereby the enrichment leads to algal bloom which in turn results in reduced light levels for seagrasses.

We ask that you help spread awareness about the need to protect dugongs before they are lost from the Pacific forever. Dugongs need our protection if they are to survive in the future. Pacific governments have shown support for the Pacific dugong by signing a Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation and Management of Dugongs and their habitats throughout their range, under the auspices of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS).

However, greater respect and protection is needed at all levels if we are to help the dugong survive. Remember the continuing health of dugong populations is essential to maintaining a healthy Pacific Ocean. Join us as a Pacific family in making sure we play our part to protect this peaceful animal.

Source: Click Here



Blue Carbon: An Oceanic Opportunity to Fight Climate Change

10 March 2011,by Robynne Boyd, Scientific American

Mangroves, salt marshes and sea grasses soak up to five times more carbon than tropical forests, making their conservation critical.

Mangroves are tangled orchards of spindly shrubs that thrive in the interface between land and sea. They bloom in muddy soil where the water is briny and shallow, and the air muggy. Salt marshes and sea grasses also flourish in these brackish hinterlands. Worldwide, these coastal habitats are recognized for their natural beauty and ability to filter pollution, house fish nurseries and buffer shorelines against storms.

Less known is their ability to sequester vast amounts of carbon—up to five times that stored in tropical forests. Dubbed "blue carbon" because of their littoral environment, these previously undervalued coastal carbon sinks are beginning to gain attention from the climate and conservation communities.

Because they hold so much carbon, destroying them can release substantial amounts of CO2. People around the world wreck coastal habitats through aquaculture, agriculture, timber extraction and real estate development. To date, human encroachment has destroyed more than 35 percent of mangroves, 30 percent of sea grass meadows and 20 percent of salt marshes.

Stopping such destruction could therefore become an important element in confronting climate change. "Blue carbon is a source of emissions that hasn't been addressed by the climate community and therefore creates an opportunity to reduce emissions," says Roger Ullman, executive director of the Linden Trust for Conservation in New York City, which promotes the use of conservation finance and environmental markets. "These fabulous ecosystems…don't cover a very large expanse of territory, yet still provide enormously important services to humanity and are being destroyed three or four times faster than the rate of tropical forests."

Emissions from wetlands destruction  

Case in point is California's Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta, explains Dan Laffoley, marine vice chairman of the World Commission on Protected Areas at the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. Over the last 100 years, 1,800 square kilometers of wetlands were drained, emitting two gigatons of CO2 that had been accruing in the plants and soils for thousands of years. Between 10 million and 15 million tons of CO2 continues to be released from the Sacramento Delta each year, an amount equivalent to around 3 percent of California's total greenhouse gas emissions.

At the global scale, coastal wetland destruction could account for 1 to 3 percent of industrial emissions; a number that will increase along with coastal wetland destruction. "In 2011 we have a reason why mud is important," Laffoley says.

Even so, almost all coastal and marine system research and exploration is about a decade behind its terrestrial counterpart. People have focused on understanding the surrounding lands, rather than the unseen animals, plants and processes below the ocean's surface, explains Emily Pidgeon, director of the Marine Climate Change Program for Conservation International. The ocean is more dynamic and its systems generally more complicated to access and understand than land-based ecosystems, such as forests.

Take remote sensing, for example. Most approaches, including satellite-based systems, cannot see underwater. So whereas these methods very effectively provide data that enable scientists to estimate the amount of carbon in forests, they cannot get the equivalent information on the carbon load of sea grasses or other submerged marine ecosystems, especially in sediment where most of the CO2 in blue carbon systems is stored. Instead, scientists are required to go to sites and dig up meters of the sediment to measure how much carbon it holds—a thankless task, to be sure.

"Mangroves are as unsexy as you get, since you ride a boat through them and get covered in mosquitoes," Pidgeon says.

Green cash for blue carbon
Getting local communities to save their mangroves will depend on economics. Land managers, farmers and other developers often opt to control these watery landscapes, thereby transforming them into income-generating acreage, such as a shrimp farm or rice paddy. The carbon markets, with their carbon credits selling between $15 to $20 per ton, could offer an alternative. The fees would encourage land conservation, which would prevent the release of carbon into the atmosphere, and the markets would reward them for mitigating climate change.

Whereas many of these programs are at least three to five years in the future, the preliminary economics looks like it could work, especially in certain cases to preserve these fragile ecosystems, such as avoiding the conversion of mangroves to shrimp farms in the Indo-Pacific region.

Still, the main hope for conserving these coastal habitats lies in a combination of economics and science. The first step is recognizing the importance of coastal carbon pools as a significant tool for climate mitigation, says Stephen Crooks, a wetlands expert who is climate change program manager of ESA PWA, a San Francisco–based environmental consulting and engineering firm.

Even without carbon markets nations have obligations to manage their greenhouse gas emissions, which means that the carbon in these coastal habitats can be tallied in national accounts as a way of contributing to their management of global greenhouse emissions. This would be especially helpful in the Coral Triangle (an oceanic area between Southeast Asia and northern Australia that encompasses Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, East Timor, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands) as well as Bangladesh, Indonesia and China, where coastal habitats are being destroyed at an alarming rate. Companies could also start volunteering to launch socially and environmentally friendly coastal habitat projects in the name of climate protection.

The final prong would be the creation of international carbon markets. As Crooks puts it: "One day the biggest bang for your buck may come from conservation."

Source: Click Here



Local eyes keep watch on marine habitat

10 March 2011, Torres News

Community members and students from Tagai State College are taking part in Seagrass-Watch, a scientific program to track global patterns in seagrass health.

Working at the low tide, students last week recorded visual estimates of seagrass species and algal growth at Hammond Island, Mangroves Bach Beach, Federal Beach (Front Beach), and Wongai (Horn) Island.

Fisheries Queensland senior fisheries officer Jane Mellors said the students undertook seagrass monitoring four times every year. Seagrass-Watch is described as “the largest scientific, non-destructive seagrass assessment and monitoring program in the world”.

The Seagrass-Watch program is open to everyone in the community to join in. Information on the Seagrass-Watch program, and ways to participate,is available online at

Photo: The Seagrass-Watch team at work at Federal Beach last Sunday. From left are (standing) Shanee Lyons, Annabelle Blanket, Rhys, and Teiyanee Mosby, and taking measurements with a quadrat are Shalana Uta, Powa Savage and Aaron Bon.

Source: Click Here



Climate change may halve Pacific Islands’ coastal fish catch

04 March 2011, Secretariat of the Pacific Community - Press Release

Heads of Pacific Islands’ fisheries agencies heard yesterday that climate change is predicted to cause big declines in coastal fisheries resources in the region, with potential production cut by as much as 50% by 2100. Higher sea temperatures, ocean acidification, and loss of important habitats like coral reefs, seagrass beds and mangroves are projected to have a drastic impact on the inshore resources that support many coastal communities, according to Dr Morgan Pratchett who spoke at the SPC Heads of Fisheries meeting on the vulnerability of coastal fisheries to climate change.

Impacts on mariculture – the farming of saltwater fish and shellfish – are also expected to be negative. Pearl culture – the most valuable aquaculture in the region – is expected to suffer as rising levels of carbon dioxide cause the ocean to become more acidic and make it harder for the pearl oysters to form their shells. Seaweed farming is also likely to be hit as higher water temperatures increase the risk of disease.
Some of the expected impacts are positive, however. Freshwater fisheries in countries near the equator could potentially become more productive as a result of increased rainfall. Freshwater aquaculture of fish like tilapia could also benefit from increased freshwater availability and higher temperatures.

For the region’s largest fishery, tuna, the projected impacts of climate change are mixed. Models of the abundance and distribution of skipjack (the most plentiful tuna in the region) were presented by Dr Patrick Lehodey. These suggest some increase in production potential over the next 25 years, but a small reduction in the longer term. The best fishing grounds are also expected to shift generally eastwards, with countries in Polynesia the main winners. For bigeye, the most valuable of the four tunas in the region which is already subject to overfishing, the projections are less promising. Again the population is expected to shift to the east, but climate change is expected to cut production in all Pacific Island countries by 2100.

While there are always great uncertainties in forecasting the impacts of climate change on complex physical and biological systems, these results come from a thorough study of the vulnerability of Pacific Islands fisheries carried out by an international team of experts over the past three years. They represent the best and most up-to-date assessments available.

In looking at these long term impacts, the meeting was urged not to lose sight of the more immediate needs for improved management of fisheries and fisheries habitats. For coastal fish, protection of coral reefs, mangroves and seagrass from other causes of damage and avoiding overfishing provide the best chance of these systems being able to adapt to climate change. For freshwater fisheries, the potential positive impact of climate change will rely on good management of the watersheds; and, as WCPFC Executive Director Professor Glenn Hurry reminded the meeting: without effective management to maintain the region’s tuna resources, fisheries will decline well before the time frame used in climate change predictions.

“We need to look for win-win solutions that give both short and longer term benefits” emphasized SPC fisheries and climate change adviser Dr Johann Bell. He pointed out that good management of coastal resources, improving access to tuna for coastal populations, and the development of freshwater aquaculture were steps that produce immediate benefits in terms of food security for a growing population, as well as helping to adapt to climate change. Heads of Fisheries were also reminded that action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at all levels is needed to mitigate climate change impacts.

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Gladstone dredging begins soon

04 March 2011, The Observer

Queensland Treasurer and Minister for State Development and Trade Andrew Fraser has welcomed the announcement of a dredging project that will see Gladstone Port become one of the world’s major Liquid Natural Gas exporters.

Gladstone Ports Corporation announced that the first stage of the $1.3 billion Western Basin Dredging and Disposal Project has been awarded today. Joint venture partners Van Oord and Dredging International Australia will commence the first stage of the dredging project worth an estimated $387 million immediately. The Western Basin Master Plan covers around 12,000 hectares, stretching from Friend and Laird Points near The Narrows to Auckland Point in the south and east to Boatshed Point on Curtis Island.

Treasurer Andrew Fraser said this was a milestone day for the port. "This is the largest dredging project undertaken in Australia and will ensure the economic future of the port and of Gladstone", Mr Fraser said.

Totally funded by the LNG proponents, the first stage of the project will see six million cubic tonnes of material dredged from the Western Basin and placed in the port's offshore spoil area. "This is approximately one quarter of the total amount of material to be dredged from the Western Basin," Mr Fraser said.

"Dredging will start in early June and we expect that by early August the majority of spoil will be placed in the bund area currently under construction at Fisherman's Landing. "This project has been conditioned by both state and federal governments and will serve as a template for future dredging works throughout Australia.

"The conditioning of the Western Basin Disposal and Dredging Project shows the commitment of both my government and the federal governments to the balanced and orderly development of the Gladstone region.”

Last year Gladstone environmental advocate Paul Tooker said the Queensland Government was unnecessarily killing off dugongs by taking the cheap option of dumping dredge spoil on seagrass beds. “This dredge spoil can be disposed of at the traditional dredge spoil grounds, or on the mainland, thus avoiding the destruction of these seagrass beds,” Mr Tooker said.

Dredging of the Gladstone harbour is expected to create 55 million cubic metres of dredge spoil with the majority dumped on seagrass beds. Mr Fraser said stringent environmental conditions had been placed on the project. "This is to ensure the project has minimal impact on the environs of the Gladstone harbour,” Mr Fraser said.

“The approval contains a stringent set of dredging conditions, monitoring requirements, ecosystem research plus a range of measures to protect and enhance endangered species.”

However, Capricorn Conservation Council's (CCC) Coordinator Michael McCabe told The Observer the dredging is going to create a lot of uncertain pressures on top of the massive impacts already expected. "There is an acknowledgement through the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority that dugong populations may come under stress and history has shown when there is impacts on seagrass beds dugings may mass migrate to areas they can feed," Mr McCabe said.

"Our worry is despite conditions the dredging is of grave concern because if we damage seagrass beds dugongs may lose their migratory feeding possibilities. History has shown that they travel the coast for seagrass and end up in Sydney and die because the waters are too cold. "The CCC would urge extreme caution, very close monitoring and preparedness to cease work if there is any impacts that occur on the health of the marine eco-system."

The Western Basin Dredging and Disposal Project incorporates the deepening and widening of existing channels and swing basins and the creation of new channels and swing basins over a 20 year period.

Material dredged during this project will be placed in a reclamation area to the north and immediately adjacent to the existing Fisherman's Landing reclamation area which will create a land reserve used to service new port facilities.

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Call for pause on Qld coastal developments

02 March 2011, The Age

A green group wants a moratorium on large-scale coastal developments in Queensland until the effects of the recent floods on dugong habitats are known.

The Queensland government this week announced the approval of a $950 million tourism and residential development on Hummock Hill Island, about 30km southeast of Gladstone.

The island is home to endangered nesting turtles, dugongs and birds.

Nick Heath, from the conservation group WWF, says the waters around Gladstone are an important dugong habitat and facing a raft of threats.

"This approval comes at a time when marine environments up and down the Queensland coast have been decimated by the recent floods," he says.

"It also comes on the back of the recent approval of a massive LNG dredging operation inside a critical dugong sanctuary at Curtis Island, also near Gladstone.

"The cumulative impact of all this could well result in death by a thousand cuts for Queensland's dugongs."

He says the Queensland government should hold off on approving large-scale coastal developments until the full effects of the floods on the marine environment are known.

The Hummock Hill Island project, dubbed Eaton Place, includes resort hotels, holiday units, camping grounds, residential housing, an 18-hole golf course, private airstrip, shops and village precincts.

The coordinator-general's report released on Tuesday acknowledges the threat it poses to dugongs, nesting turtles, including some endangered turtle species, and migratory birds.

The report said marine species, particularly dugongs and turtles, would be susceptible to being killed or injured by the increased boating activity the venture will bring.

However, it says a low number of turtles use the island's beaches for breeding only infrequently.

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Save our seagrass

01 March 2011, Cooloola Advertiser

Marine group needs helpers

Maree Prior has been watching seagrass for 12 years. She is passionate about the environment and wants to make sure that Tin Can Bay waterways stay pristine.

Seagrass beds are a breeding ground for fish and other sea creatures and food for dugong.

Maree said the first concerns about seagrass in the region started following the 1992 floods when CSIRO Fisheries research consultants and some local fishermen were worried about the impact on local seagrass beds.

She became an official Seagrass-Watch member after one of the original community awareness sessions, back in 1999.

Watching seagrass has now become a community affair in the region's coastal areas.

Maree said schooled and volunteers from the Cooloola Coastcare Association monitored sites at Norman Point, Tin Can Bay, Pelican Bay and Rainbow Beach. The Great Sandy Flora and Fauna Watch, headed by Gordon Cottle and Robyn Bailey, monitors 18 sites from Rainbow Beach to Reef Islands.

"Gordon and Robyn have been consistently monitoring Great Sandy Seagrass fro over 10 years, and Robyn has certainly been the quiet achiever who has collated all the data and sends to Seagrass HQ in Cairns," Maree said.

"One of Gordon's greatest achievements was building local capacity and getting the Boonooroo Coast Guard and SSSMEG inv loved."

Seagrass was monitored annually, bi-annually and quarterly, maree said. Some sites are accessible by foot from a land base, while others require boat access. Sites are monitored at low tide and it takes about one to two hours.

"It's not a risky business at most sites, although the mud can become quite soft and uneven, and there are sometimes oysters and other shellfish, hot sun and wind - the usual seaside elements."

Half the fun of Seagrass-Watch was getting to enjoy nature while you protect it, she said. The Cooloola Coastcare Association is calling for volunteers to assist in its Seagrass Monitoring Project.

Maree said recent floodwaters were making their way to the sea and suspended sediment and flotsam might be visible for some time.

The turbid floodwaters reduce the amount of light reaching seagrass, which it needs to grow, and also included elevated concentrations of nutrients, which can increase algae growth and smother seagrass leaves.

Register at before march 16 for seagrass workshops on April 2 and 3. For details email, or call 0417 554 905.



Schools get green grants

01 March 2011, ABC North Queensland

Two schools on Palm Island, off Townsville in north Queensland, will today be awarded grants to conduct innovative environmental projects.

Bwgcolman Community School and St Michael's Catholic School will each get a $500 grant from the Reef Guardian program.

The program's education officer, Carolyn Luder, says students will use the money for a seagrass monitoring project in collaboration with Seagrass-Watch.

"This is a great partnership project where the schools will be working to regularly monitor the front beach and any seagrass that's down there and that will help them detect environmental change," she said.

She says the program has benefits for the whole community.

"It's important that students get enthusiastic about doing these projects and they do help to get the students involved in environmental awareness, as well as the community can get involved in these projects as well," she said.

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image of Palm Island courtesy ABC North Queensland


February 2011




Scientists gain fresh insight to travel diaries of dugongs

23 February 2011, The Cairns Post

DUGONGS have been tracked for the first time swimming across the shark-infested stretch of ocean between Torres Strait and Papua New Guinea.

Scientists have been using a satellite to follow the journeys of three female and three male dugongs that were tagged between Mabuiag and Turnigan islands in September.

One of the six endangered sea mammals took a week to swim the 150km expanse of ocean between the islands into PNG waters, possibly in search of seagrass.

Another herd northwest towards the Gulf of Carpentaria, and four of the animals moved across different management boundaries. James Cook University researcher Dr Mariana Fuentes said their movements showed the importance of Torres Strait Islander communities and Papua New Guinea working together to manage their dugongs.

The Torres Strait supports the largest population of dugongs in the world, however, little is known about the mammals in the region.

“All of the information we’re getting is pretty exciting and new,” she said.


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Professor warns of long-term economic effects of flooding

17 February 2011,

A WELSH university professor at the forefront of climate change research has warned of the catastrophic consequences of extreme weather on coastal ecosystems.

Dr Richard Unsworth said rising sea temperatures and extreme storms and flooding, as seen in the Australian state of Queensland last month, could lead to the destruction of coral reefs and delicate underwater seagrass populations, upon which many of the world’s economies depend.

Coral reefs cover less than one tenth of 1% of the world’s oceans, but support more than a quarter of its marine species, while seagrass covers some 10% of all coastal ocean and plays an important part in the global carbon cycle, filtering sea water and supporting marine wildlife.

Both are vital for the fishing and tourism industries across the world, including in Australia.

The Great Barrier Reef alone is thought to generate more than $5bn every year from tourism and a further $400m from recreational and commercial fishing, while the coastal ecosystems of the Indo-Pacific region support food production for up to a billion people.

Dr Unsworth, who lectures in international wildlife biology at the University of Glamorgan, has spent 16 years studying the effects of climate change on seagrass off the coast of Queensland and two years studying its effect on the Australian state’s prized coral reef.

He said last month’s flooding in Queensland – the worst for more than half a century – would have caused untold damage to coastal ecosystems.

He said: “In Australia, December and January was particularly bad for seagrass meadows and there were huge losses of habitat. Events such as the floods in Queensland flushed a lot of carbon, organic matter and sediment out onto the coast and the effect on marine habitats is a pretty negative one, causing coral disease.

“These big storm and flood events are historical things that always occurred in Australia but now, as a result of poor catchment management, lack of regulation on rivers and poor farming practices, when you get these flood events all the soils, organic matter and carbon is being washed down into the ocean. These can have a serious effect on coral reefs and seagrass, killing off coral reef and fish populations.”

He added: “With climate change, the predictions are that large storm events will be getting more intensive and more frequent and they are going to increase in prevalence.

“If there is good forestry, farming and river management, then these large storm events possibly wouldn’t be such an issue, and in Australia they are spending billions to address this. But in developing countries in the Indo-Pacific area, which are experiencing huge changes in farming and industries, this is a very serious issue.

“These studies show that, if we fail to improve the resilience of marine ecosystems to climate change, there could be a huge impact on food security.

“If these findings from Australia are applicable to the region as a whole, then they have huge implications for many millions of people.”

Dr Unsworth is hoping to set up a research group at the University of Glamorgan to conduct research into how climate change affects seagrass in Australia and at home in Wales.

He said: “There are a lot of important habitats in the marine environment in Wales and across the UK.

“In Wales particularly there are seagrass beds in the Severn Estuary and around Milford Haven, Skomer and Anglesey.

“There are also a lot of kelp forests and flat marshes that play an important role. As the stresses on these environments increase, we need to make sure we manage them properly.

“From a Welsh perspective, the important thing we need to do is to ensure we look after these coastal environments and manage them to ensure they can deal as best as possible with the stresses from climate change.”

Source: Click Here

For more on the effects of climate on seagrass read Seagrass-Watch Issue 40 March 2010 (6.59 mb) , Seagrass-Watch Issue 39 December 2009 (12mb)
Seagrass-Watch Issue 37 June 2009 (6.0mb)



Calls grow for more dugong protection

17 February 2010, Cairns Post

THE Crocodile Hunter's father has called for greater protection of dugongs, as the Federal Government trains traditional owners to assist in the battle against illegal hunters.

Hectares of seagrass – the main food of dugongs – in the Hinchinbrook Channel near Cardwell has been left devastated in the wake of cyclone Yasi.

Bob Irwin said the damage showed how vulnerable the animals were to extinction.

“This is why I called for a temporary moratorium on the hunting of dugongs,” he said.

“It just reinforces the fact that if we don’t get our act together, we are going to lose them.’’

Mr Irwin’s comments come as a dead baby dugong, suspected to have been caught in a net, was washed ashore at Trinity Beach on Monday.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority conducted a workshop at Yarrabah earlier this week, training more than 20 traditional owners to help fight illegal activities such as dugong hunting within the Great Barrier Reef marine park.

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Yasi strips rare forests, reef

08 February 2011, The Courier Mail

WORLD Heritage rainforest and surviving populations of endangered southern cassowaries and dugong were hit hard by Cyclone Yasi, scientists warn.

Some of Queensland's top tropical experts met for the first time yesterday to assess the ecological impact of the Category 5 cyclone described as "far worse and over a far greater geographical scale" than Cyclone Larry.

Researchers are yet to obtain satellite and aerial data showing the full extent of destruction to the world's oldest continuous surviving rainforest - up to 130 million years old - from Etty Bay south to Ingham.

Huge sections of ancient rainforest trees, stripped bare by the 300km/h winds near the eye of the cyclone near Mission Beach, stand like dried stalks in the once-thick green foliage.

Virtually none of Queensland has been untouched by destructive weather in the past month.

Experts believe hundreds of kilometres of the Great Barrier Reef, too, will take up to 10 years to recover from the effects of Cyclone Yasi.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority is yet to send divers for underwater assessments. But broken coral from the fragile reef ecosystem and floating islands of seagrass torn off the shallow ocean floor are being washed ashore along the hardest hit parts of the coastline.

Professor Paul Gadek, a highly respected tropical scientist, said the coastal and mountain rainforests had been decimated in a natural cycle doubtless replayed over countless thousands of years.

"Cyclones are part of the natural order," said the James Cook University professor. "But when you see the loss of canopy, the loss of large trees, the loss of habitant and the extent of area it covers, it beggars belief as to how it can possibly recover."

He said projects comparing data obtained post-Larry will study the impact on the flora, insects, birds and mammals.

"What does happen to butterflies in a cyclone?" he said.

Wet Tropics Management Authority chief Andrew Maclean said up to $10 million of federal funding was needed, with an urgent priority on the impact on the endangered cassowaries.

"There is still a human impact - we have to be sensitive to getting roofs over the heads of affected families," said Mr Maclean.

"But the food of the cassowary has been thrown on to the forest floor and within a week will begin to rot."

The diverse rainforests around Tully and Mission Beach contain a large proportion of Australia's plant species, including 65 per cent of fern species.

They provide habitat for more than half the nation's bird species, 60 per cent of the butterflies and 36 per cent of mammals.

It is also home to the endangered southern cassowary.

GBRMPA chief Russell Reichelt said the progress the reef has made since Cyclone Larry will now be destroyed.

Mr Reichelt said the cyclone and storm surge would have smashed coral beds and moved coral boulders, sand and rubble.

He warned any loss of important sea grass beds, disturbed by the cyclone, will have a drastic impact on animals like dugongs.

Hinchinbrook Island, off Cardwell, has one of Australia's biggest known populations of dugong.

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Yearly monster cyclones to harm reef

06 February 2011, Ninemsn

If high intensity cyclones batter Queensland annually, coral regrowth on some areas of the Great Barrier Reef may be stunted, marine experts warn.

Marine authorities will begin assessing the reef in coming weeks and expect varying degrees of intense and light localised patches of damage from Cyclone Yasi, which almost demolished Mission Beach last week.

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority spokesman Russell Reichelt said on Sunday the reef could cope with one high intensity category five cyclone about every 10 years.

"If we have one of these every summer the reef won't have time to keep continuing to recover like it normally does," he told AAP.

"We will start to see more of the rapid-growing corals ... the slower growing ones could become less common.

"It's like if you mow your lawn frequently you end up with the fastest growing grass."

"The Barrier Reef is used to medium intensity cyclones regularly but the upsurge in high intensity ones is a new thing."

The Great Barrier Reef has weathered three high intensity category five since 2006 - Cyclones Larry, Hamish (2009) and Yasi.

Yasi had a similar track to Cyclone Larry which hit Innisfail in 2006, while Hamish tracked south along the reef for about 1000 kilometres.

He said he expected the reef damage from Yasi to be greater than Larry.

"During Larry the damage was statistically light because of previous damage by the coral eating crown of thorn starfish," he said.

The reef is 2000 kilometres wide and the area damaged by Yasi could be about 50 square kilometres, he said.

"You might have no damage in some places and plenty of scouring in others.

"Where the reef is scoured, and sand and coral is forced away from the wave action, there's a lot of animals and plants, like the Finding Nemo (clown)fish in the sea anemones.

"The reef can cope with that and we expect it to recover over several years."

Queensland Environment Minister Kate Jones said another risk was runoff from sediment and other toxins and nutrients ending up in the Great Barrier Reef.

Australian Institute of Marine Science told AAP if the frequency of high intensity cyclones increased the health of the reef could suffer.

"If the frequency really went up, we would expect coral cover to go down," he said.

"We would expect the fragile coral forms to be seriously affected and ... an impact on the slow-growing massive corals.

"Too much disturbance is certainly not good."

Mr Reichelt said marine authorities were also concerned about the cyclone's impact on dugong hot spots off the hard-hit Cassowary Coast, between Dunk and Hinchinbrook Island.

"The dugongs were likely to escape into deeper water," he said.

"But this may disrupt their food supplies ... it won't kill them off but they may have to migrate to areas with undisturbed sea grass."

Source: Click Here

For more on the effects of cyclones on seagrass download Seagrass-Watch Issue 40 March 2010 (6.59 mb)


Yasi does 10yrs damage to Barrier Reef

05 February 2011, ABC News online

Yasi tracking map. Image BOM

Authorities say hundreds of kilometres of the Great Barrier Reef hit by Cyclone Yasi will take up to 10 years to recover.

It is still too early for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to send divers out to do a full assessment, but coral from the reef has been washing up on nearby shores.

The damage is expected to be similar to that of Cyclone Larry five years ago.

The authority's chief executive, Russell Reichelt, says all the progress the reef has made since then will now be destroyed.

"We can expect to see smashed coral beds, movements of coral boulders, sand and rubble moved around," he said.

"If there's any sand islands there and importantly sea grass beds, when they get disturbed - which they do by cyclones - then animals like dugong get affected."

Mr Reichelt says cyclones are not as damaging to reefs as the effects of climate change.

But he says Yasi will have still caused major destruction.

"Coral will begin regenerating immediately and be visibly restored in five to 10 years, but it changes the shape of the reef for very long periods - islands can be formed, boulders can be thrown up," he said.

Source: Click Here



January 2011




Fake seagrass could help boost fish numbers

30 January 2011, NZ Herald

Scientists are using fake grass mats under the sea to prove how New Zealand's fish stocks can be boosted.

The plastic mats are being used at Coromandel by NIWA scientists to test how seagrass attracts fish such as juvenile snapper and trevally.

A large amount of New Zealand's seagrass has been lost from sediment from land development washing into harbours. Seagrass at Whangarei Harbour has gone from 14 sq km in the 1960s to virtually none, while Tauranga Harbour lost 90 per cent of its seagrass between 1959 and 1966.

There has been a resurgence in the greater Auckland region, with seagrass expanding in the lower Kaipara, at Snells Beach and St Heliers.

NIWA fisheries ecologist Dr Mark Morrison said scientists had created artificial beds at Whangapoua Estuary. The "plants" were made from plastic fronds 5cm to 30cm long and tied to wire frames to form an artificial mat.

"We made them with tantalising long blades of artificial grass, the things fish really go for," Dr Morrison said.

Fish numbers reached their highest towards the highest seagrass densities. This summer fish are being tagged to track their survival and growth rates.

"What we found, initially, is that fish are really looking for shelter and seagrasses provide good protection to fish."

New Zealand Recreational Fishing Council president Geoff Rowling said the research and steps to enlarge seagrass areas was vital.

Council vice president Sheryl Hart said fishermen needed to get smart, but it was ultimately up to local body authorities to stop agricultural run-off and sediment run-off from development - the best way to encourage regrowth.


Source: Click Here



Scientists assess flood impact to Moreton Bay

27 January 2011, Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Dugongs feeding on seagrass. Image ABC


TRACY BOWDEN, PRESENTER: While the massive clean-up is well underway in Queensland, the full environmental impact of the floods is still being assessed.

The enormous amount of water that flowed down the Brisbane River two weeks ago brought with it thousands of tonnes of silt, which is now settling in Moreton Bay, and that silt is laced with all the pollutants of agricultural and urban development.

Scientists are now trying to determine how this will affect the Moreton Bay Marine Park and its vulnerable populations of dugongs and sea turtles.

Peter McCutcheon reports.

PETER MCCUTCHEON, REPORTER: The floodwaters may have receded, but Brisbane's Moreton Bay is still in shock. Environmental scientist Andrew Moss knows there's trouble lurking beneath the surface. He's not sure exactly how much trouble, but he's trying to find out.

ANDREW MOSS, PRINCIPAL SCIENTIST, QLD ENVIRONMENT DEPT: Well, the data obviously suggests there's a lot of dirt out in the bay, we're starting to see little starts of algal growth in the bay.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: That algal bloom is expected to peak in coming weeks, turning the water here a distinctive green, but that's only part of the problem, with a potentially toxic cocktail of silt and pollutants flowing into the Moreton Bay Marine Park.

MILES YEATES, MARINE PARK MANAGER: Yeah, it's definitely going to have an impact on the park, and it's been 37 years since the last major flood, so it's a very rare event.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: Early last week, the plume of silt coming out of the Brisbane River was clearly visible.

ANDREW MOSS: Obviously there's been a huge mass of fresh water and silt and various contaminants come in to the bay, so we'll be looking at the effects of those over the next few weeks, because they don't all happen straight away.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: The silt has mostly travelled to the northern and western part of the bay, but some of this has shifted south and east to the bay's more environmentally sensitive areas. Where the silt eventually ends up depends on tidal movements and the wind direction over the next few weeks.

BILL DENNISON, UNI. OF MARYLAND: That sediment that's now in Moreton Bay is laced with the toxicants and the fertiliser that should be on the crops, growing the crops in the Lockyer, and now it's a pollutant because it's a problem.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: Professor Bill Dennison is a former Brisbane resident and international expert on sea grasses who has written several books on Moreton Bay. He says the plume of silt poses a threat to sea grasses that are the main source of food for the bay's turtles and dugongs.

BILL DENNISON: Moreton Bay is really globally unique. It's the only place on the planet where you can be in a healthy dugong turtle population and see a major city skyline.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: Park rangers are looking under the surface of the bay with the help of underwater cameras to document exactly how the silt is affecting sensitive sea grasses. This is where the top soil from the devastated Lockyer Valley is ending up: a murky cloud, slowly making its way to the bottom of the bay.

PAUL GREENFIELD, SE QLD HEALTHY WATERWAYS PARTNERSHIP: Gradually it will settle, and therein lies the problem. Firstly, it impedes light, so light won't reach the bottom parts of the bay, and those things that require light, like sea grass, will be badly affected.

MILES YEATES: Some of our there threatened species that are so used to living here in Moreton Bay, with the lush sea grass pasture, may not find it's like that for the next few months.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: Researchers also want to determine how many heavy metals, pesticides and contaminants from sewerage overflow have made their way out to sea. The chair of a scientific panel advising the Queensland Government on waterways says this information is vital.

PAUL GREENFIELD: That in fact is the most immediate problem, because that will impact our ability to eat seafood from the bay, it will impact on livelihoods and it will impact on the recreational value of the bay going forward. So there are surveys being done at the moment to determine how significant that is.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: In the longer term, the flood and its effect on Moreton Bay raises questions about future development along key waterways.

BILL DENNISON: I think of it kind of like a bit of a heart attack, you know. Here we have this great artery running through this vibrant city, this fantastic Brisbane River that has been embraced by the city, and all of a sudden we had this major event. So we have to do something - we have to listen to what that tells us. We need to think of the river not as a pipe, but as a living being. And just as the blood coursing through our body, we need to look after it.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: Moreton Bay has been hit by big floods many times before, but this is the first time it's experienced a massive inflow in the 21st Century, with all the accompanying pollutants of modern life.

MILES YEATES: There is a human dimension to this in that a lot of the contaminants coming down the river are sourced from sewerage treatment plants from sediment from agricultural areas. They contain chemicals that you wouldn't normally find in the bay.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: Scientists are cautiously optimistic the bay is resilient enough to cope with the shock, but the disaster of two weeks ago is still being played out.

BILL DENNISON: We're not out of the woods yet. We still are in the middle of the cyclone season. We have cyclones forming out there in the Pacific Ocean. So, we've got a very watchful brief and particularly in the next two weeks; that's the most vulnerable period.

TRACY BOWDEN: Peter McCutcheon reporting there.


DOWNLOAD ABC VODCAST Scientists assess flood impact to Moreton Bay [mp4] [wmv] (27/01/2011)

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Australia floods: Great Barrier Reef damage could last years

27 January 2011 Channel 4 News

As parts of Australia experience more flooding, one scientist writes for Channel 4 News about the impact on the Great Barrier Reef. Dr Britta Schaffelke says the damage could last several years.

The flooding of major Queensland rivers is a major concern for the marine environment.

The flood waters bring immense amounts of freshwater into the coastal marine environment, which can kill marine life such as corals and seagrasses.

Other materials contained in the floodwaters such as silt, nutrient and pollutants, such as pesticides (mostly from eroded soils), can have negative effects on the marine environment, which are likely to last for months to years and can impede the recovery of organisms.

In some areas, especially in Moreton Bay adjacent to Brisbane, there will be also an issue with pollution from oil, sewage and debris.

For the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) we are, at this stage, mostly concerned about the inshore coral reefs (20-30 km from the coast), and mainly the reefs in Keppel Bay, close to the city of Rockhampton which have experienced major flooding from the Fitzroy River, which drains into Keppel Bay.

The weather, especially the wind direction and strength, over the next days and weeks will determine whether the flood water "plume", which is currently constrained to Keppel Bay and is travelling along the coast in a northward direction, will reach the reefs further offshore. This is what happened during the 1991 flood of the Fitzroy River.

Currently the offshore reefs - most of the Great Barrier reefs - are at this stage unaffected.

Because the freshwater floats on top of the seawater, we are mainly concerned about the corals and other organisms in shallow water close to the coast. The combination of low salinity and high turbidity (which shades out the light for the marine life) will most likely be a lethal combination for the reefs and seagrass meadows inundated by the plume.

Corals respond to freshwater influence with coral bleaching (a loss of the symbiotic algae, similar to what has been observed in extremely hot summers in the past); they may die or recover depending on how badly affected they were.

I have had a number of reports of bleached corals from inshore reefs in the last few days, from Keppel Bay but also further north in the inshore GBR.

This shows that while the most extreme flood is in the southern GBR, the floodwaters of this major and several other minor floods have already widely dispersed along the coast . Current hot weather is exacerbating the situation.

Depending on the scale of damage we expect the recovery of the reefs to take several years.

A concerted effort of several science agencies and state departments is underway to measure the water quality in the affected coastal and offshore areas and, as soon as possible, also to assess the damage to the marine environment, once the situation has improved and divers can be sent into the water.

The recovery of reefs and seagrass meadows will be followed up by existing long-term monitoring programmes.

The wet season is just starting in North Queensland and this summer is predicted to be a wet one due to the La Nina climate pattern. There are likely to be more heavy rainfall and more flooding along the GBR coast, potentially further affecting the GBR lagoon and the reef over the next two months.


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Toxic soup washed into Bay

27 January 2011, Courier Mail

A TOXIC cocktail spreading across Moreton Bay is threatening the local seafood industry and causing extensive damage to the rich marine environment that could take up to two years to repair.

Ulcerated fish with acid sulphate burns are being caught as far away as the Jumpinpin Bar between North and South Stradbroke islands after trying to escape the pesticide and heavy metal-saturated blanket of sediment that is the Brisbane River's flood plume.

University of Queensland estuarine biology expert, Associate Professor Greg Skilleter, said it could take "18 months to two years" for the bay to recover, based on studies of cyclone after-effects.

"Because of the massive amount of rainfall, it's not just water flushing down the river itself. All the stormwater which has gone through the industrial and urban areas carries a lot of lead, zinc and hydrocarbons," he said.

"And if you start to get a lot of scouring of the riverbed, exposing acid sulphate soils, that too washes into the bay."

The Queensland Seafood Industry Association warned the contamination could destroy livelihoods and impact on local seafood supplies.

President Michael Gardner said although some trawler crews and commercial fishers had been able to continue operating despite a voluntary ban on fishing across silted-up sections of the bay, smaller operators who relied on prawn stocks in the lower reaches of the river were doing it tough.

"They will be the ones that suffer the most and it's a pretty severe impact," he said.

"The prawns are going to take a while to recover in the Brisbane River and everything has an impact the biggest impact is on the individuals who rely on it for a living."

Mr Gardner said a "large proportion" of locally consumed prawn and crab stocks came from the fishing ground but it was yet to have an impact on prices.

The manager of UQ's Moreton Bay Research Station at Dunwich, Dr Kathy Townsend, said Moreton Bay was conditioned to recover from major freshwater inflows but much would depend on whether more deluges would follow.

Moreton Bay dugongs depend on seagrass beds around the southern Moreton Island area, extending into the 300 islands area of the southern bay.

"There are many hundreds of different species of fish and uncountable numbers of invertebrates, a lot of which have not been named yet," she said.

"The biggest concern is how the flood plume will impact on the bottom of the food chain."

Dr Townsend said flooding had already eroded huge swathes of mangroves.

Climate Change and Sustainability Minister Kate Jones said "flood plumes will affect seagrass beds, corals, and other sensitive marine habitats including important wetlands and marine parks with high conservation values".


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Muddy water affecting Dugongs

25 January 2011,  The Gympie Times

PLUMES of fresh water and silty river nutrients, such as we now see in northern parts of the Great Sandy Straits, are a necessary process, like it or not.

Environmental spokesperson Joe McLeod says there is little we can do to prevent that muddy water from cutting sunlight to the sea grass beds, which provide vital pasture for the Straits’ endangered dugong population.

“There is potential for sea grass collapses from Hervey Bay south,” he said.

But the same sediment and fresh water flushing is a necessary process for other life forms, including the scallop, fish and prawn fisheries.

“Within 18 months there should be valuable scallop fishing off Bundaberg again.

“There is short-term pain, but overall the flushing from the Burnett and Mary Rivers should have a beneficial effect on marine productivity for five to 10 years,” he said.

“I’m anticipating a sea grass decline, which may impact on marine species and may penetrate the Great Sandy Straits.

“But we’ve been long overdue. It’s a cyclical event, which traditionally begins with the storm season after February 1.”

And, he says, we should not think the plumes and the floods are necessarily over.

“We’re due for a cyclone this year (and) there hasn’t been a major cyclone down this way for 20 years. All the dams are full and historically we’ve had successive floods. In 1992, we had two in just over two weeks.

“The Burnett River has about 34 major storage dams and still manages to have a peak that flooded Bundaberg.

“But I don’t see it as all doom and gloom for the fishery,” he said.


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Reefs reeling from Queensland floods

21 January 2011, ABC Science Online

Silt and mud from the floods that swept through Brisbane and Ipswich spreads out over Moreton Bay (ABC News: Sarah Clarke)

Researchers say the recent Queensland floods are carrying tonnes of fresh water, nutrients and pesticides to the ocean, placing enormous stress on the Great Barrier Reef.

For the past five weeks, plumes of silt-laden fresh water have been flowing onto reefs off the Queensland coast.

The impact is so massive it can be seen in NASA satellite photographs.

Researchers list the Keppel Islands near Rockhampton, Moreton Bay and Fraser Island, north of Brisbane, as being most at risk.

Dr Alison Jones, from Central Queensland University in Rockhampton, has seen first-hand the impact of the floods on corals in Keppel Bay.

"You can't see anything at all from above," she said.

"As you take the camera down, it's looks like a big brown soupy mess.

"Deeper down the water is a bit clearer and you can see bleached white [coral] colonies appearing out of the gloom."

Dr Jones checked five islands and found stressed coral around all of them.

"Halfway Island was much worse than North Keppel. It was just dead coral, killed by the fresh water," she said.

"There wasn't really a single thing alive.

"There also seems to be some temperature bleaching, believe it or not, from the ocean being warm, which is completely unrelated to the flooding."

Dr Britta Shaffelke, a researcher at the Australian Institute of Marine Science, says wind direction over the next few days will be crucial in determining the extent of the damage.

"At the moment the mud plume [from the Fitzroy River] is confined to the Keppel Bay area," she said.

"However if the wind turns around from the south east to the north, the plume might reach much further to the outer reefs such as Heron Island."

Floods damage corals in a number of ways.

Corals cannot survive in freshwater because their physiology is adapted to salt water.

Silt is also clouding the water and blocking out sunlight, stopping corals from photosynthesising and feeding themselves.

Nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous can kick start toxic algal blooms, which strip oxygen from the water and at the same time, provide food for the larvale of crown of thorns starfish.

Pesticides carried in floodwater call also kill corals.

Researchers are most concerned about the impact of the sediments.

"What has changed is that the load of sediment in the rivers has increased 4- to 10-fold since pre-European times," said AIMS scientist Dr Katharina Fabricius.

"Reefs exposed to high levels of nutrients and sediments have up to five-fold higher cover of seaweeds (which can smother corals) and half the biodiversity of species of coral - these are the long term effects of these floods," she says.

Dugongs at risk

Meanwhile, further south in Moreton Bay, experts are worried about the long-term impact on dugongs. In 1996, a flood left many dugongs starving, as sediment and nutrients overwhelmed and killed the seagrass beds in the area.

"For Morteton bay, the flooding event last week was significantly bigger for sediment deposition and fresh water than the flood of 1996," says Dr Eva Abal, chief scientific officer at the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.

"My expectation about the impact on the bay is that we will experience some seagrass loss, but it also depends on how quickly water clears up."

Shaffelke also points out that there are unusually vast amounts of turbid freshwater off the coast of Brisbane.

"That hasn't happened for many, many decades in the Brisbane area, so many plants and animals will imediately die or be very stressed," she says. "I expect there to be quite serious impacts as well."

"In relation to the floods in Rockhampton … that is certainly not typical or happens very often. For both humans and the enviroment this is an extraordinary event.

"For the marine environment, the events are still unfolding. The highest rainfall is actually in February, so we are certainly not at the end of this season."


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Robot surveys ocean’s health

21 January 2011, Science alert

A $200,000 CSIRO coastal glider is bound for Queensland to be deployed in Moreton Bay to investigate the impact of the recent flooding on marine ecosystems.  Dr Andy Steven from CSIRO's Wealth from Oceans Flagship says the glider’s deployment is part of a research program to monitor the extent of the flood plume into Moreton Bay and assess its effects.

“This disastrous flood also provides us with a rare opportunity to understand how our marine ecosystems respond to massive inputs of fresh water and sediments,” Dr Steven says.

“The glider will generate three-dimensional maps illustrating the impact of the flooding on the marine waters receiving the flow of the Brisbane River.”

CSIRO biological oceanographer Dr Peter Thompson says there are only two of the robotic monitors in the world with this array of sensors.

“With these we can obtain a view inside the cloud of mud and debris dispersing through Moreton Bay,” Dr Thompson says.

“This will help us build better models to predict how the system is being affected now and how it will be affected in future.”

Dr Steven says the data obtained during the daily glider surveys will be used together with satellite images and other data.

“Satellite images can clearly show the surface patterns of cloudy water (turbidity) and nutrients, but a companion instrument – the glider – is required to provide a sub-surface view,” he says.

In collaboration with the Queensland Department of Environment and Resource Management, the Healthy Waterways Partnership and universities, CSIRO started deploying research teams into the bay yesterday to collect water samples to complement the glider data, satellite images and existing monitoring activities.

“We’re also aiming to establish continuous moorings at key locations to provide ongoing measurements of the bay’s health,” Dr Steven says.

“This information will help us understand the dynamics of the flood plume and its likely effects on seagrass, fish, dugong, turtles, coral and other marine flora and fauna. It will also give an idea of the bay’s resilience after this extreme event.”

CSIRO and its partners are planning to conduct a parallel research program in the Fitzroy River-Keppel Bay region using a similar glider.

Dr Thompson says the assessment will be the first major survey by the glider, purpose-built for use in Australian waters.

“We have done routine trials in Tasmanian inshore waters but the Queensland projects are really what they have been designed for – a complete shallow-water assessment during a significant marine event,” he says.

Their sensors will measure light, oxygen, temperature, salinity, nutrients, organic matter and phytoplankton.

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Anxious wait for Moreton Bay

21 January 2011, Brisbane Times

Queensland environmentalists are anxiously waiting to see how much of Moreton Bay's "unique playground" will be destroyed by the unprecedented pollution that is still gushing down the Brisbane River.

Experts say turtles, dugongs and various fish species are certain to die as toxins kill their main food source, sea grass.

But just how many don't survive will depend on how quickly the bay can recover.

The bay is also likely to turn green as algal blooms develop, but the extent of algae damage will depend on how long it lingers.

On Wednesday, an team of marine scientists began the meticulous task of monitoring and assessing exactly what effect last week's floods are having on the bay and what the long-term damage may be.

The CSIRO's Andy Steven said the flood had given researchers a rare opportunity to understand how marine ecosystems respond to massive inputs of freshwater and sediments.

Dr Steven said a torpedo-like ocean glider, packed with sensors, would play a key role in helping to determine how the floods have affected marine ecosystems in Moreton Bay by monitoring the extent of the flood plume and assessing its impacts on marine life.

Experts have agreed that although the recent floods did not peak as high as in 1974, additional development since then meant it would cause greater damage to waterways.

Queensland Conservation Council executive director Toby Hutcheon said a clear picture would not be known until the contaminated sediment washing into the bay settled. That could take weeks or months.

Mr Hutcheon said the worst-case scenario would see the loss of the entire dugong and turtle populations.

The World Wildlife Fund has also has expressed concerns over the likelihood of dugong deaths.

"This is new to everyone," Mr Hutcheon said.

"We don't know anything about the [impact on the] wildlife ... it could be very serious.

"We need to be concerned. We're at the point now that, because the [Department of Environment and Resource Management] and the government have been focused on the clean-up, we haven't had an opportunity to assess some of the threats and damages yet so we don't know how serious it will be."

SEQ Healthy Waterways Partnership scientific program director Eva Abal said there would be impacts for all of the catchments in the flood path, including Oxley Creek, the Bremer River and Brisbane River.

Dr Abal said invertebrates that lived on the sediment would be scarred after being dragged along in the current.

The extent of the damage would depend on how much of the gunk that ended up in the waterways flowed out to Moreton Bay.

"[The suburban catchments] are acting as a drain, they're draining all this out into Moreton Bay," Dr Abal said.

"[The impact] will still be fairly significant in terms of water quality and whatever biodiversity they had."

Mr Hutcheon said there would also be issues with creek bed erosion due to the sudden surge of water.

He said the first priority was to clean-up the waterways, then assess the damage and determine how to recover from the natural disaster and ensure the ecosystem is better protected if there was another major flood.

"It's very important we don't just rebuild and do what we had in the past because with the climate changing it's very likely this sort of event can happen again," Mr Hutcheon said.

"[We need to] make sure that nature and biodiversity is more resilient."

Dr Abal said waiting to learn the cost of the floods was a nail-biting prospect.

"I'm very anxious because I love the bay but at the same time ... [I'm] hopeful parts of or all of the bay is resilient," she said.

"It's the only place in the world where you can stand on the bay adjacent to Moreton Island and look straight ahead and you see the city skyline but at the same time we have this very healthy population of dugong and turtles swimming around.

"It's a very unique playground ... [that will be] diminished. It's about how Moreton Bay is able to recover, we don't know because we've never had any event like this."


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Flood run-off will kill dugongs: experts

20 January 2011, Ninemsn

Environmental experts warn dugongs will be Queensland's next flood victims as plumes of contaminated sediment pour into the ocean.

Floodwaters carrying silt and pollutants from southeast and central Queensland are expected largely to settle on inshore seagrass beds where dugongs feed.

WWF says the sediment will starve the seagrass of much-needed sunlight, resulting in a massive dieback with disastrous consequences for dugongs, a species listed as vulnerable to extinction.

"Dugongs' favourite habitats are inshore seagrass beds," WWF spokeswoman Lydia Gibson said.

"Unfortunately these are the areas most likely to be affected by a massive dump of sediment, topsoil, rubbish and debris, not to mention toxic industrial and agricultural run-off.

"(Judging) from previous flood events we can expect to see increased deaths in a few months' time from starvation and sickness and population numbers declining due to impaired reproduction."

Ms Gibson said increased habitat protection was urgently needed to give dugongs a fighting chance to recover not only from the floods but future natural disasters and human impacts.

The state's environment minister Kate Jones announced on Wednesday that scientists were assessing the impact flood plumes would have on marine life.

"We know that the flood plumes will affect seagrass beds, corals, and other sensitive marine habitats including important wetlands and marine parks with high conservation values," Ms Jones said.

"The widespread nature of the plume right along the coast will also limit the ability of species such as dugong and marine turtles to find alternative food and could cause malnutrition and death."

CSIRO scientists will use a torpedo-like ocean glider, packed with sensors, to determine the impact the floods are having on ecosystems in the waters of Moreton Bay, off Brisbane.

The robotic glider will monitor the extent of the flood plume and assess the damage on marine life.

Bob Irwin, renowned environment advocate and father of the late crocodile hunter, Steve Irwin, said urgent action was need to save dugong habitat.

He said more Australians needed to back campaigns to stop the destruction of dugong habitat such as proposed marina developments adjacent to the World Heritage-listed Fraser Island at Tin Can Bay, north of Brisbane.

"This is not a local issue. The area provides habitat for species that are threatened all over the world - and we need to make a stand and save some critical habitat for them," he said.

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Marine crisis emerges in Brisbane flood

18 January 2011, The Daily Telegraph

SCIENTISTS and conservationists fear a major marine crisis is emerging, with Brisbane's muddy flood waters potentially crippling Moreton Bay's flagship dugong and sea turtle herds.

With the Brisbane River running at a peak of 13,000 cu m per second, a huge plume of turbid water has spread across the bay and is expected to cause enormous damage to seagrass beds upon which many inshore marine species depend.

Thousands of tonnes of flood debris also line the mouth of the Brisbane River and its surrounds.

Queensland Conservation Council chairman Simon Baltais yesterday described the bay as looking like a war zone.

Conservation groups, Keep Australia Beautiful, the Australian Marine Conservation Society, coast guard and fishing organisations plan a massive river and bay clean-up.

Bond University Emeritus Professor Tor Hundloe said while farmland profited by the rich silt deposited by floods, marine areas generally suffered.

Professor Hundloe, who also is the KAB chairman, said an inspection was needed first to prioritise problem areas.

"It will take a major coordinated effort but everyone's willing to chip in," Professor Hundloe said. "I've been in contact with the premier's office and I've got Bond uni students, who are more than happy to duck my lectures, to help out."

Mr Baltais said that under normal conditions, wildlife had evolved to recover from such large-scale natural events.

"But they are already stressed from pollution and over-development," Mr Baltais said.

Although seagrass beds upon which dugong graze nearest the mainland will be damaged, reports from Moreton Island's Tangalooma Resort director Trevor Hassard were that the eastern side of the bay remained relatively clear, with a strong wind blowing much of the polluted water back towards the mainland.

In 1992 a major Mary River flood hit Hervey Bay. Of the bay's 1800-strong dugong herd - the largest in Australia - it was thought just 200 survived.

Most of the bay's seagrass was denuded, especially in depths of 10m or more, as turbid water and silt reduced light to such an extent, the grass died.

Mr Baltais said no timeframe had been set for a clean-up.

"We're in the hands of the recovery taskforce," Mr Baltais said. "From my army days, I know that you can't jump the gun in a situation like this. We don't want to compromise activities and plans that are already being put in place. The Government's doing a magnificent job."

Mr Baltais said until a huge array of material such as sunken and submerged boats, refuse and construction material was removed, the bay would remain dangerous for boats.

"No other city in Australia has a bay at its doorstep like this," Professor Hundloe said. "We've got to do something about this major environmental disaster."


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Floods threaten Great Barrier Reef, La Niña to blame

12 January 2011, CNN International

Floods have devastated the landscape of the state of Queensland, Australia, but they also present a high risk to the Great Barrier Reef.

Stretching over 2,300 kilometers (1,430 miles) along the northeast coast of Australia, large parts of the southern Great Barrier Reef are "flooded" with fresh water.

Currently the biggest plumes of fresh water reach about 200 kilometers (124 miles) north from the mouths of the Fitzroy and Burnett Rivers, and stretch around 70 kilometers (43 miles) off the coast.

"These are extraordinary events. The whole of the inner-shore reef lagoon filled with river water," says Jon Brodie, Principle Researcher for the James Cook University's Australian Center for Tropical Freshwater Research.

Brodie and his team regularly monitor the reefs and are immersed in studying the impact of the flood waters.

Brodie describes the threat to many coral reefs closest to the flooding rivers as "quite high" but expects the flood waters to affect in some way the reefs stretching from Frazer Island, 200 kilometers (124 miles) north of Brisbane, all the way to Cairns, 1,500 kilometers (930 miles) away.

The prevailing tides and south easterly winds mean the flood waters will probably continue to head north.

"It's quite remarkable to see. If you were to snorkel where the flood water meets the seawater and look to one side, the sea water will be clear with visibility to 50 meters while the other side is fresh, dirty brown water where visibility is down to one meter," says Brodie.

The mix of nutrients, sediment and pesticides from agricultural run-off, plus currently unknown amounts of trace metals from flooded mines, will likely have an immediately devastating impact on corals and sea grasses, says Brodie.

Salinity could go down to ten parts per thousand or less and remain like that for weeks; "nothing can live in those conditions," says Brodie.

The immediate death of corals and sea grass is expected, which could then have a devastating affect on other marine creatures like dugongs that feed on sea grass.

When the Fitzroy River (that flooded Rockhampton before Christmas) suffered severe flooding in 1991, the corals and sea grasses around the Keppel Islands suffered 100 percent coral mortality.

Bigger fishes can swim away from the deluge of fresh water, but smaller coral reef fish may suffer the same fate as the corals they live around, says Brodie.

While corals can recover from "bleaching" (when coral organisms die leaving what looks like a white skeletal structure), it's a slow process.

Some recovery around the Keppel Islands was seen after 10 years, while other coral species and marine organisms were still recovering until the latest floods. Other marine species can actually benefit from floods.

"Some fish species thrive in the current flood plume conditions which can enhance productivity for some popular inshore species," Andrew Skeat, General Manager of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority said in a press statement.

Other unwanted long term effects can be algae blooms which can upset the reef ecosystems.

"It will take some time before the impacts of these flood plumes on the marine ecosystem and on the industries that use these areas are known," said Skeat.

Climate scientists have blamed the excessive rainfall the region has seen in the last month on the latest La Niña weather event.

La Niña refers to the cooling of the central and eastern Pacific that drives wetter conditions in eastern Australia.

Brodie agrees with the cause of the heavy rain: "It was predicted. It certainly fits the pattern of severe weather events from climate change modeling."

Queensland suffered its wettest ever December, according to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, during what it describes as a "very strong" La Niña event in the Pacific Ocean. In June 2010 the bureau stated that La Niña was likely to have an affect on Australia by the end of that year.

A previous La Niña event happened in 1974 when a record flood of the Brisbane River killed 14 people.

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Minor area feels harm

12 January 2011, The morning bulletin

THE floodwaters flowing from the Fitzroy River are currently affecting only a small area of the reef compared to the size of the Great Barrier Reef as a whole, says Mary Carroll.

The chief executive of Capricorn Tourism and Economic Development yesterday said the coral reefs around the Keppel Islands had experienced freshwater outflows from the Fitzroy River numerous times.

She said a team from James Cook University’s Australian Centre for Tropical Freshwater Research was performing a water quality monitoring program in the Fitzroy and Burnett river regions as part of the $10.5 million Reef Rescue Marine Monitoring Program.

The team assesses levels of nutrients, sediments, pesticides and salinity as well as overall coral health and seagrass beds.

“The current flood plume situation will continue to be monitored as part of this,” Ms Carroll said.

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority general manager marine park management Andrew Skeat said that while freshwater influxes could be harmful to corals, seagrasses and other marine habitats, some fish species thrived in the current conditions.

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Great Barrier Reef among the Australian flood victims

07 January 2011,

  This satellite view from 4th January shows sediment from the Burdekin River flowing into the sea and towards part of the Great Barrier Reef.

Armed with water samples and historical flood data, Australian researchers are warning that the massive flooding in Queensland State is also impacting a neighbor: the Great Barrier Reef.

Already a huge pile of sediment has been dumped by the Burdekin River into waters at the southern end of the massive reef.

Besides top soil, that sediment contains pesticides and fertilizers. The combined effect of all that outflow could be dead coral.

"Our work has shown that high levels of nutrients and sediments can reduce coral diversity and increase the cover of seaweeds on inshore reefs," Katharina Fabricius, a researcher at the Australian Institute of Marine Science, told

While the flooding across Queensland is the worst in 50 years due to multiple rivers overflowing and some 40 communities swamped, the specific flooding along the Burdekin is not even the worst there in recent years. "The two floods in 2009 and 2008 were among the largest ones on record," Fabricius said.

A team from the institute will be going out to part of the reef next week to check for impacts, she added, noting that the river on average carries more than three million tons of sediments into the reef every year — much of it soil eroded by cattle grazing along the river.

A NASA satellite image of the area on Jan. 4 "shows nicely how the sediment drops out — to be resuspended again on windy days, reducing water clarity — and how the nutrients are leading to algae blooms (water changes from brown to green)," Fabricius said.

Moreover, previous large floods along the Burdekin, one of several rivers that have flooded in Queensland, have led to outbreaks of a starfish that can overtake reefs.

"The timing and location of the three observed outbreaks of crown-of thorns starfish in the past have all coincided with the the times and place where the three largest Burdekin floods on record have impinged on the reef," Fabricius earlier told The Australian newspaper. "These outbreaks of coral-eating starfish are still the greatest source of coral mortality on the Great Barrier Reef."

The sediment can also affect seagrass beds, causing some marine life to starve, and can trigger stress events that can lead to coral die-offs.

"You get very stressed corals, you get stressed sea grass," Michelle Devlin, a researcher at James Cook University in northern Queensland, told the news agency AFP.

"So let's just say that a big cyclone came along, knocked them all out. They might not recover so well because they are already very stressed," said Devlin, who has been taking samples of the river and tracking the plume.

She described the mix of water, nutrient-heavy soil and pesticide run-off as a harmful "cocktail" for the corals.

"There is just going to be this cocktail of water containing a lot of things that they (the corals) wouldn't necessarily have seen before. It is fresh, warm water and that will stress corals out as well."

While most rivers are receding, the dirty water will pour into the reef for weeks, enabling the plume to extend for hundreds of miles, she said.

The plume is already at the Keppel islands north of Rockhampton, Devlin said. "I think the Keppel reefs... they will have quite high mortality," she said.

Adding insult to injury, those islands last year were the scene of where a ship struck a reef, causing a small oil spill and damaging some coral.

Delvin said it was too early to know what impact the flooding would have overall on the 12,600-mile-long Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

"This is a really massive event," Devlin said. "It has the potential to shift the food web, it has the potential to shift how the reef operates."

Like many other reefs around the world, the Great Barrier Reef has had pressure from run-off, sewage and more recently warming seas tied to climate change.

The Great Barrier Reef saw severe bleaching in 1998 and 2002 — the two hottest summers on record there.

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Great Barrier reef under threat from floods

06 January 2011, AFP

SYDNEY — Australia's spectacular Great Barrier Reef is under threat from massive floods swamping the country's northeast which are pouring harmful debris and sediment into the sea, an expert said Wednesday.

The full impact of the floods, which are rushing huge volumes of water into the pristine surrounds of the world's largest coral reef, is not yet known, but the influx will stress the colourful corals, said Michelle Devlin.

"This does impact on the reef. It just impacts on the reef's resilience so you get very stressed corals, you get stressed sea grass," Devlin, a researcher at James Cook University in northern Queensland, told AFP.

"So let's just say that a big cyclone came along, knocked them all out. They might not recover so well because they are already very stressed."

Devlin said while the rivers have always poured into the reef, the floods were no longer bringing just rainwater but also sediment, nutrients and pesticides.

"Top soil will run straight off into the water and that will come straight out into the Great Barrier Reef," said the researcher, who chased the flood plumes by boat to take samples and track the extent of the damage.

"There's a lot of water around and already it would be influencing the reef," she said, describing the mixture of fresh, warm water, nutrient-heavy soil and pesticide run-offs as a harmful "cocktail" for the corals.

"There is just going to be this cocktail of water containing a lot of things that they (the corals) wouldn't necessarily have seen before. It is fresh, warm water and that will stress corals out as well."

Devlin said flood plumes were visible near the coastal city of Rockhampton, where floods have virtually cut off the town of 75,000, and already stretched to up to 40 kilometres (25 miles) offshore.

As more floodwaters brought by weeks of torrential rains make their way to the coast, the dirty river water will pour into the reef for weeks, enabling the plume to extend for hundreds of kilometres, she said.

And although the worst of the flooding is at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, experts expect the floodwaters to drift towards the Whitsunday Islands, a tourist hotspot at centre of the colourful attraction.

Already the plume is at the scenic Keppel islands north of Rockhampton and Devlin said these would likely bear the brunt of the flood impact.

"I think the Keppels reefs... they will have quite high mortality," she said.

Delvin said the floods were some of the biggest in decades and it was too early to know what impact they would have overall on the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, which stretches some 2,300 kilometres up the northeast coast.

But she said it was possible that sea grass beds -  a key feeding ground for marine creatures such as dugongs - could be wiped out in some areas while the additional nutrients in the water could allow the crown of thorns starfish - a pest on the reef -- to flourish.

"This is a really massive event," Devlin said. "It has the potential to shift the food web, it has the potential to shift how the reef operates."

"But it is a really robust ecosystem," she said of the reef which teems with marine life and boasts hundreds of coral species.

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