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What is monitoring


Monitoring is the repeated observation of a system, usually to detect change. Environment monitoring programs provide coastal management agencies with information and assist them to make decisions with greater confidence. Seagrasses are often at the downstream end of catchments, receiving runoff from a range of agricultural, urban and industrial land-uses. Their ecological values and location in areas likely to be developed for harbours and ports have made seagrasses a likely target for assessing environmental health and impacts on coastal systems.

Seagrass-Watch long-term monitoring started early August 1999. More than 25 countries participate in the program globally and monitoring is currently occurring at more than 300 sites and growing.

Each monitoring event usually takes about two hours over low tide to complete, once you have become familiar with the methods. How frequent you monitor is at the discretion of the participants and the capacity of individual groups. There are usually four monitoring periods per year (every 3 months) to provide an understanding of seagrass seasonality, however, at a minimum we recommend at least once a year around the same time each year.



How to start


If you are new to Seagrass-Watch and interested in taking part in the program, please read the manual first before beginning your monitoring. It is recommended that you follow the following steps:

  1. Registration:

  2. Register with Seagrass-Watch HQ (click here).

  1. Contact and Training

    As soon as we receive your registration form, we will contact you. In the mean time, we ask you to read the training manual. Please make a note of any questions regarding the survey methodology, equipment, data recording and submission or data analysis. When we contact you, we will be able to answer your questions.

    Seagrass-Watch long-term monitoring targets inshore, intertidal seagrasses, however in some cases subtidal seagrass meadows have be included. Sites are placed in representative seagrass meadows for a given location. Site selection is assisted by consultation with environment management agencies, local government, and seagrass researchers.


The monitoring strategy is a nested design and is conducted at three scales: transect (metres), sites (kilometres) and locations (10s kilometres). Long-term monitoring sites are established in a relatively homogenous section of a representative seagrass meadow. To account for spatial heterogeneity, at least two sites are selected within each location. A site is defined as a 50mx50m area.


Seagrass-Watch HQ provides training where possible to build the capacity of participants to collect information useful for the ongoing management and protection of important marine resources.

Training is aimed at participants 18 years and over and usually comprises of three components – formal lectures, field training exercise, and laboratory exercise.

Training includes hands on experience with standard methodologies used for seagrass mapping and monitoring. Participants are trained to identify local seagrass species, undertake rapid visual assessment methods (% cover), preserve seagrass samples for a herbarium, use a GPS, photograph quadrats and identify presence of dugong feeding trails or other impacts. For more information see Training

For participants 17 years of age and under please see Field days and Education, days, which are targeted at all other Seagrass-Watch participants

As part of Seagrass-Watch QAQC (Quality Assurance/Quality Control), at least 1 participant at each monitoring event must have passed a Seagrass-Watch training course or have a degree (or similar) in environmental/marine science and is able to demonstrate competency in Seagrass-Watch methods & protocols.

  1. First Monitoring:

    After you are confident with the Seagrass-Watch protocols, and a suitable site has been identified, it’s time to start your first monitoring. The datasheets can be found in the Methods section of the website. Please choose the correct sheets for your seagrass habitat. As you will see, there are “Field Guides” containing percentage cover standards, seagrass identification and examples to help you fill out the data sheets. We suggest you print a copy of each field guide, laminate it, and bring it in the field with you.

    NOTE: As site codes are unique, it is important to request a site code from Seagrass-Watch HQ before establishing a new site. This will ensure your data can be integrated into the program and to prevent confusion in future.

  1. Pre-monitoring preparation:

  2. Necessary equipment and materials

    • 3x 50 metre measuring tapes
    • 6x 50cm plastic tent pegs
    • compass
    • 1x standard (50cm x 50cm) quadrat
    • Magnifying glass
    • 3x monitoring datasheets
    • Clipboard, pencils & 30 cm ruler
    • Camera & film
    • Quadrat photo labeller
    • Percent cover standard sheet
    • Seagrass identification sheets
    • Global Positioning System (GPS)

Make a Timetable

Create a timetable of times of departure and arrival back, and what the objective of the day is and what is to be achieved on the day. Give a copy of this to all participants involved in advance so they can make their arrangements to get to the site on time. List on this timetable what the participants need to bring.


Tide Heights

To help plan your Seagrass-Watch monitoring in Australia and the Pacific Islands, be sure to check the tides at the following website:


To help plan your Seagrass-Watch monitoring for all other locations, you can download the free shareware program WXTide32 (Version 4.6 2006/06/30). The tide prediction algorithm used in this program was developed with United States Government funding, so no proprietary rights are attached to it. If you would like a copy of the program, visit website: and follow the links.


Once you have established dates and suitable tide heights for monitoring, submit these in the format below to Seagrass-Watch HQ for publication on the web sampling page.


Site Code :(Day/Month/Date): Tide Time/Tide height see example below:

eg: YP2: Sat Jan 20th: Low tide at 1617 1.0m



On-ground monitoring in some locations may require permits (e.g., Marine Parks). For a permit to be issued, there is often a fee required. You will need to check with local authorities (Parks and Wildlife) and Seagrass-Watch HQ before conducting any monitoring program in marine waters.

Marine Plants are protected in Queensland, Australia. Collection of marine plants for educational, research or monitoring purposes is permitted in accordance with code MP05 of the Fisheries Act and Integrated Planning Act.

(DOWNLOAD: MP05_research.pdf)

Seagrass-Watch participants in Queensland are instructed to adhere to Self-assessable code MP05, by notifying at least 5 working days before monitoring commences (see section 5.6 and Schedule 2) and to display appropriate signage (see section 5.7).

NB: In Queensland, registered Seagrass-Watch participants are covered under Seagrass-Watch HQ's Marine Plant and Marine Park permits (i.e. no fee required). A requirement of the permit is to notify Seagrass-Watch HQ of sampling dates so that the appropriate authorities are informed. Sampling dates are also posted on the Seagrass-Watch website. If you are unsure if you are covered, check with Seagrass-Watch HQ.

  1. Safety:

    Please read the following safety section before you begin any fieldwork.

    • Have a Contact Person:Arrange to have a reliable contact person to raise the alert if you and the team are not back at a specified or reasonable time.
    • Assess the risks before monitoring - check weather, tides, time of day, etc.
    • Use your instincts - if you do not feel safe then abandon sampling.
    • Do not put yourself or others at risk.
    • Wear appropriate clothing and footwear.
    • Be sun-smart.
    • Adult supervision is required if children (<16 yrs) are involved
    • Be aware of dangerous marine animals.
    • Have a first aid kit on site or nearby
    • Take a mobile phone or marine radio

    To download the Seagrass-Watch risk assessment form Click Here.

    For more detailed information please contact Seagrass-Watch HQ

  1. Field Monitoring:

    Seagrass-Watch has several monitoring strategies depending on the type and location of seagrass meadows. Below we describe the most commonly used method, however if you do not think the method is suitable for your seagrass meadows (for example, the seagrass meadow is subtidal or not of a size able to contain a 50m by 50m site), alternative strategies are available in the Seagrass-Watch manual or contact Seagrass-Watch HQ for advice.

    At each site, three parallel 50 m transects (each 25 m apart) are established, but generally only the middle transect is permanently marked. The location of sites is determined by GPS. The seagrass habitats along each transect are sampled by visual observation. At each transect, eleven quadrats are sampled (1 quadrat every 5 m), every sampling event. At least 27% of quadrats sampled are photographed to ensure standardisation/calibration of observers and to provide a permanent record.


Within the 50m by 50m site, lay out and peg down the three 50 transects parallel to each other, 25m apart and perpendicular to shore (see site layout). Within each of the quadrats placed for sampling, complete the following steps:

  • Step 1. Take a Photograph of the quadrat

Photographs are taken at the every quadrat (0m-50m) along each transect, or at quadrats of particular interest (if you have a digital camera, you can photograph every quadrat if you wish). 

First place the photo quadrat labeller beside the quadrat with the correct code on it.

Take the photograph from an angle as vertical as possible, which includes the entire quadrat frame, quadrat label and tape measure. Try to avoid having any shadows or patches of reflection off any water in the field of view. Tick the photo taken box on the datasheet for that quadrat. Please note: Camera should be set at the highest quality.

  • Step 2. Describe sediment composition

To assess the sediment, dig your fingers into the top centimetre of the substrate and feel the texture.

Describe the sediment, by noting the grain size in order of dominance (e.g., Sand, Fine sand, Fine sand/Mud).

  • Step 3. Describe other features and ID/count of macrofauna

Note and count any other features which may be of interest (eg. number of shellfish, sea cucumbers, sea urchins, evidence of turtle feeding), within the comments column.

Count or estimate as best you can. Please do not use > or < symbols.

If more than 50% of the quadrat is covered by water, measure and record the water depth in cm.

  • Step 4. Estimate seagrass percent cover

Looking down on the quadrat from above, estimate the total percentage of the seabed (substrate) within the quadrat covered by seagrass. – use the percent cover photo standards as a guide.

When estimating cover, estimate the footprint/shadow provided by the seagrass shoots

Always use the percent cover photo standards (calibration sheets) as your guide

Estimate cover as accurate as possible, e.g. 27%, 61%

  • Step 5. Estimate seagrass species composition

Identify the species of seagrass within the quadrat and determine the percent contribution of each species to the cover.

Use seagrass species identification keys provided.

Use more than 1 feature to identify the species

Total composition must equal 100%

  • Step 6. Measure canopy height

Measure canopy height of the dominant strap leaved species ignoring the tallest 20% of leaves.

Measure from the sediment to the leaf tip of at least 3 mature leaf blades (strap leaved species).

Write the 3 measures on the datasheet.

  • Step 7. Estimate algae percent cover

Estimate % cover of algae in the quadrat.

Algae are seaweeds that are not attached to seagrass but may cover or overlie the seagrass blades.

Malcroalgae percentage cover is independent of seagrass cover, for example, you can have 100% seagrass and 100% algae (drift).

Use “Algal percentage cover photo guide”.

  • Step 8. Estimate epiphyte percent cover

Epiphytes are algae attached to seagrass blades and often give the blade a furry appearance.

First estimate how much of the blade surface is covered, and then how many of the blades in the quadat are covered (e.g., if 20% of the blades are each 50% covered by epiphytes, then quadrat epiphyte cover is 10%).

Do not include epifauna with epiphytes. Epifauna are sessile animals attached to seagrass blades – please record % cover of epifauna in the comments or an unused/blank column – do not add to epiphyte cover.

Use the epiphyte matrix to help you in the field. (DOWNLOAD: Epiphyte_matrix.pdf)

  • Step 9. Take a voucher seagrass specimen if required for identification

Vocuher specimens are only required if: establishing monitoring in a new region; a new seagrass species is present; or if you are unsure of the seagrass identification.

Seagrass samples should be placed inside a labelled plastic bag with seawater and a waterproof label.

Select a representative specimen of the species and ensure that you have all the plant part including the rhizomes and roots.

Collect plants with fruits and flowers structures if possible.

  • Step 10. Move to next quadart

Repeat steps 1 to 8 for the remaining 32 quadrats


Example of completed Seagrass-Watch datasheet


  1. Completion of monitoring:

    • Step 1. Check data sheets are filled in fully.

    Ensure the full names of all observers (last name and first name), the date and site/quadrat details are clearly recorded on the datasheet.  Also record the number of other observers assisting.

    Also record the GPS positions of the end of each transect.

    • Step 2. Remove equipment from site

    Remove all non-permanent pegs and roll up the tape measures. If the tape measures are covered in sand or mud, roll them back up in water.

    • Step 3. Wash & pack gear

    Rinse all tapes, pegs and quadrats with freshwater and let them dry.

    Review supplies for next quarterly sampling and request new materials

Store gear for next quarterly sampling

  • Step 4. Press any voucher seagrass specimens if collected

The voucher specimen should be pressed as soon as possible after collection. Do not refrigerate longer than 2 days.

Allow to dry in a dry/warm/dark place for a minimum of two weeks. For best results, replace the newspaper after 2-3 days.

For more detail on voucher specimens: Click Here


  1. Data Submission:

    After you finish your Seagrass-Watch survey, please submit the data via email to (See Data entry section -Click here).

    Mail all original datasheets, photos and herbarium sheets to:


Seagrass-Watch HQ
Building E2 Room 203K (Sir Robert Norman Building)
James Cook University, Cairns Campus
McGregor Road, Smithfield

For data submission checklist: Click Here

  1. Data analysis & report card:

    All data interpretation and reporting is conducted by Seagrass-Watch HQ. A qualitative rating system has been developed to assess the status of each locality and region. The rating system is based on scores in a number of categories. To view the rating system, Click Here.

Thank you and we hope you have a wonderful experience with your first Seagrass-Watch! Please do not hesitate to contact us at or (+61) 7 40 4232 2012 with any questions or comments.



Monitoring Sea Temperature


In late 2003, Seagrass-Watch introduced a temperature monitoring component at seagrass monitoring sites that are regularly visited in Queensland (Australia), using discrete iBtag temperature loggers.

Water temperature has a strong influence on plant metabolism and photosynthesis, as well as the associated plant and animal population in seagrass meadows. In many cases, the distribution of seagrass is limited by the maximum temperature the plants can withstand. It is therefore important to determine the temperature range of the seagrass meadows being monitored.

General procedure


Step 1. Contact Seagrass-Watch HQ. If you have registered with Seagrass-Watch, and established a site to be regularly monitored, iBtag loggers can be sent to you for deployment

Step 2. iBtag temperature loggers are placed at the permanent marker at each Seagrass-Watch site for three months.

Step 3. The iBtag temperature loggers are attached to the permanent station marker using cable ties, above the sediment-water interface. This location insures that the sensors are not exposed to air unless the seagrass meadow is completely drained and places them out of sight of curious people.

Step 4. Record the logger number, date and time deployed on your Seagrass-Watch datasheet.

Step 5. At each monitoring event (every 3 months) the iBtag temperature loggers are removed and replaced with a fresh logger (these will be dispatched close to the next quarterly monitoring visit).

Step 6. After collection, record the logger number, date and time on the datasheet and place the iBtag temperature logger in a mailing envelope and send to Seagrass-Watch HQ for downloading and re-calibration:

Seagrass-Watch HQ
Building E2 Room 203K (Sir Robert Norman Building)
James Cook University, Cairns Campus
McGregor Road, Smithfield

Please do not hesitate to contact us at or please see contacts page for more information


Copyright © 2006-2019 Seagrass-Watch HQ. 228pp. Disclaimer: The views expressed on this site are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the program's supporters.
Seagrass-Watch HQ
Address: Northern Fisheries Centre
PO Box 5396
Cairns Qld 4870
Phone: [07] 40 350 100