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Controversial geologist to share insight into Great Barrier Reef

29 August 2016, The Cairns Post (Australia)

ONE of Australia’s most controversial geologists is in Cairns today to share insight about how climate change has affected the Great Barrier Reef.

University of Melbourne Professor Ian Plimer has been invited by the Far Northern branch of the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (AusIMM) to speak at a lecture tonight.

The Broken Hill-based geologist, who has published more than 120 scientific papers and eight books, has also been adviser to governments and corporations, and a regular broadcaster.

He stirred controversy about five years ago after he launched his book How to Get Expelled from School: A Guide to Climate Change for Pupils, Parents and Punters.

It will be Prof Plimer’s second visit to Cairns in two years.

AusIMM Far Northern branch chairman Brett Duck described Prof Plimer as Australia’s best-known geologist.

Mr Duck believed the region could benefit from some of the researcher’s studies into how the Reef has survived past climatic events.

“There’s been that many climate changes in the past, and it’s survived in the past,” he said. “The reefs will come and go. The sea level will rise and the sea level will fall.

“The reason the Reef is there is because the sea level rose 120m, only 12,000-14,000 years ago. It wouldn’t be there without sea level rise.”

The organisation has also announced five bursaries of up to $2000 for students from Far Northern high schools who plan to study mining-related subjects at university next year. The branch district extends from Croydon to Cardwell, and up to Cape York and the Torres Strait.

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Seagrass in Everglades National Park is dying. Here's what's being done to save it.

25 August 2016, CNN (USA)

Balancing on the deck of a National Park Service skiff over Florida Bay, US Interior Secretary Sally Jewell held a clump of seagrass collected from the underwater meadow below.

The plants pulled from the shallow water were brown and appeared dead -- nothing like the lush, green seagrass that has grown in the same area for years.

"This is what we get when we don't take care of Florida Bay," Jewell said.

Everglades National Park is home to the bay, which juts out from the southern tip of the Florida peninsula. Over the past year, researchers from the National Park Service, which celebrates its centennial this year, have discovered a 40,000-acre section in rapid decline, putting animal and plant life in jeopardy, and the future of the region's multi-million-dollar fishing and recreational industry at risk.

The suspected culprits for this massive die-off are many: For the past 100 years, increasing development in Florida has disrupted the balance of the Everglades through the construction of homes, industry and roadways. In 1928, Floridians built a highway called the Tamiami Trail connecting Miami with Tampa and cut directly through the Everglades. The highway was acclaimed as an achievement of human progress, but the construction came with severe consequences for the area's natural ecosystem.

"We stopped the flow of the river of grass from the Everglades headwaters down to Florida Bay," Jewell said. "That's had a lot of consequences that we really are understanding now. It's kind of embarrassing that we've allowed this to happen."

Meanwhile, rising sea levels -- which scientists attribute to climate change -- have increased the salinity in the water, further causing disruption. That, mixed with a devastating drought in recent years, has worked to create a perfect storm that's threatening one of the nation's most prized natural wonders.

Efforts to restore the balance and flow of freshwater into the Everglades are underway. As part of a years-long project coordinated by federal and state agencies, officials are working to raise sections of the Tamiami Trail to allow water to flow. In 2013, the National Park Service celebrated the completion of a mile-long stretch, and have just begun a new project to raise another 2.5 miles of the highway as part of a project funded in part by the US Department of Transportation Federal Lands Highway Program and Florida's Department of Transportation. The construction is expected to be completed by 2020.

The Interior Department said the project is "one of the largest conservation projects ever undertaken" by the National Park Service.
"We now understand how important that river of grass was," Jewell said. "It's about our natural heritage; it's about our national heritage."

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Seagrass restoration threatened by fungi

23 August 2016, Science Daily


Seagrass (Z. marina) on the North Sea island of Sylt. Photo Credit: Laura Govers

Dutch biologists have discovered that seagrass seed is killed by waterborne fungi that are related to the well-known potato blight. These fungi, which have not previously been found in seawater, hinder seed germination and thus prevent the restoration of seagrass. The biologists, including Laura Govers of Radboud University, published their results in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

The seawater fungi that are to blame (Phytophthora gemini and Halo Phytophthora sp. Zostera) have been identified as members of the large Phytophthora family, which also includes the fungus that causes potato blight. Fungi in this family cause severe damage in agriculture and horticulture, affecting potatoes, grapes and oak trees in California and eucalyptus trees in Australia. The findings in the above article came to light during seagrass restoration trials in the Wadden Sea and the Grevelingen area, but the fungi turned out to be present at many other locations in Europe and America. The widespread presence of these pathogens therefore threatens the global recovery of seagrass. This problem deserves attention because these coastal ecosystems are just as important as coral reefs: they provide breeding grounds for various species, increase biodiversity, and contribute to coastal protection by damping the force of waves.

Nearly all seagrass seed is infected This investigation was prompted by disappointing germination of sea grass seed that was collected for the restoration project on the North Sea island of Sylt. Nearly all this seed was found to be infected with Phytophthora. Lead researcher Laura Govers, who works at Radboud University and the University of Groningen, tested the germination of the infected seed. "This proved to be six times less likely to germinate than non-infected seed. Only three to four percent of all infected seeds germinated."

Copper treatment In recent decades, many fields of seagrass have deteriorated worldwide. In the Netherlands, the vast seagrass beds that were originally present in the Wadden Sea disappeared after 1930 and never recovered. These fields were important breeding grounds for fish such as herring, and they contributed to the high biodiversity of the area. They also made the water clearer and contributed to coastal protection by damping the force of the waves. That's why biologists are investigating whether seagrass restoration in the Dutch Wadden Sea is possible. One way to improve the chances for seagrass restoration is by treating the seeds during storage with a copper solution. This method has been used in farming since the 19th century to combat Phytophthora infection and appears to be promising for seagrass seed.

The research project is the result of a collaboration between Radboud University, the University of Groningen, NIOZ Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, the Fieldwork Company and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, and was funded by Natuurmonumenten, Rijkswaterstaat (Department of Public Works) and the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA).

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Laurence Reisman: Loving manatees give show despite shaky conditions

18 August 2016, TCPalm (USA)

Call me naive, but when I came across eight to 10 manatees in the Indian River Lagoon — including two calves — a couple of weeks ago, I was surprised.

I'd seen manatees before at Round Island Park on Orchid Island, just north of the St. Lucie County line. In almost 32 years living here, I'd never seen more than three or four together.

What surprised me most was these manatees seemed to be thriving in a cove in water far more brown than blue, water I'd never wade in.

I saw the manatees amid reports at least nine manatees had died since May, mostly closer to Melbourne. They are among more than 100 found dead since 2012. Also, a manatee calf was found dead in Stuart, shortly before large amounts of blue-green algae polluted the water there.

Perhaps, I thought, Round Island was a haven for manatees fleeing toxic conditions to the north and south. Round Island is close enough to get relief from water flowing in and out of the ocean via the nearby Fort Pierce Inlet.

Turns out I might have been partly right.

"Eight is a slow day this time of year," said Steve Cox, who is a volunteer manatee spotter at Round Island for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. He also runs Adventure Kayaking & Paddleboard Tours.

Seeing six or seven manatees near Round Island is normal before April or May when the marine mammals start mating, said Cox, who has been touring in the area for about 20 years. This time of year, there are days when 20 are visible. I saw two splashing around — Cox said they might have been courting. Others were swimming and four (two adults and two calves) were relaxing by a boardwalk.

The calves might have been rare twins, Cox said. The only way to identify most of the manatees, he said, is from scars or cuts from boat propellers. The good news: I saw only one motorized boat return to shore and it left no wake.

The relative lack of motor boats and the relative shelter of Round Island coves are attractive to manatees, Cox said.

"Imagine being a single mom with a calf out in the wild," he said, noting safety and food is a priority.

What's more, he said, the area — even on the west side of the lagoon — is home to some of the best sea grass beds in 20 to 30 miles. And manatees love their sea grass.

Unfortunately, algae blooms starting in about 2012 killed sea grass in large portions of the lagoon, particularly north of the Sebastian Inlet. Thus, manatees have been eating stringy seaweed and other greens instead of sea grass.

"It appears that the nutritional value itself may not be a problem," Dr. Martine de Wit, a biologist with St. Petersburg's Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, told The Associated Press. "The suspicion is that there is a different composition of the diet that makes the animal susceptible to complications."

I asked her about issues manatees might face from the Treasure Coast's bout of blue-green and brown algae this summer. She said she hadn't seen any problems so far. The key, de Wit said, is how the sea grass holds up. Any potential problems would come months later if manatees are affected by a change in diet.

Cox said a cold spell in 2010 was the beginning of problems with sea grass. That, along with Vero Beach shutting down its power plant — which kept water warm near the plant — led to fewer manatees in the region.

I was wowed by the manatees and the way they treated their loved ones. People watched the manatees closely, but left them alone.

But without protecting our lagoon and its sea grass from boats, fertilizer, fecal matter and other pollutants, manatees won't stand a chance.

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Effects of rising ocean acidification on fisheries in spotlight

18 August 2016, (New Zealand)

A reef fish that can't find its way home and whose erratic behaviour constantly puts it in danger might make a nice premise for a children's movie, but oceans filled with Dory's could spell disaster for their survival.

Higher atmospheric carbon dioxide levels means more is being absorbed in seawater, with some young fish's nervous systems being affected.

Not with standing the wonderful diversity of marine wildlife around our shores, with 130 species commercially fished in New Zealand and worth $1.2 billion annually, finding out what's in store for them in a warming world is important.

If snapper and others start showing Dory traits fishery's could be affected.

With a budget of nearly $5 million over 4 years researchers at Niwa, Cawthron Institute in Nelson, University of Auckland, and Otago University under the Carim (Coastal Acidification: Rate, Impact and Management) programme will be looking at affects on phytoplankton, aquaculture species paua and greenshell mussels, and young snapper.

They'll also incorporate data from long term monitoring already going on at 14 diverse sites around the coastline – part of the New Zealand Ocean Acidification Observing Network (NZOA-ON) to develop models, and hopefully come up with some solutions.

How rising ocean acidification might effect fish wasn't really considered until five years ago, says programme leader Dr Cliff Law - ocean biogeochemistry expert at the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research(NIWA).

But research on Australian reef fish showed the larvae of some fish species are affected by low pH. They can lose their sense of direction, be more reckless and lose their sense of risk aversion around predators, programme leader and ocean biogeochemistry expert at the NIWA Dr Cliff Law says.

Larval shellfish face difficulties growing their shells, and new research shows mussels may also have problems attaching to rocks.

After oyster hatcheries started failing on the Oregon shoreline on the United States west coast 15 years ago, low pH in ocean waters was found to be the culprit.

Cyclic upwelling was bringing nutrients from deep in the ocean to the coast upsetting pH levels in the water. This water was then being pumped into the hatcheries and killing the young shellfish.

Many hatcheries have moved to Hawaii, away from the upwelling. The ones remaining have learnt how to mitigate the worst of the effects and remain viable.

"It would be irresponsible to say New Zealand and shellfish farming won't be affected by climate change," says green mussel expert Norman Ragg with Cawthron Institute in Nelson, "but we are in a strong position."

The experience of the US farmers gives us an extraordinary opportunity to learn and tweak our own commercial operations well ahead of time, he says.

Keeping larvae longer before establishing them in seawater farms, altering the pH of sea water used in the hatchery, and finding and breeding from families of shellfish more resistant to low pH are just some of the options.

"We won't be seeing the levels of acidification they're dealing with for over a hundred years," he says.

But one part of our coastline is close to that now.

Ocean pH is currently 8.1 down from 8.2 in pre-industrial days. But coastal waters, where most of our aquaculture goes on, gets a double whammy with nutrient runoff from the land dropping it further.

About 20 percent of the countries Greenshell mussels and Pacific oysters is produced in the Firth of Thames, in the southern Hauraki gulf, with significant expansion planned.

Having studied the Firth for the last 30 years principal scientist for marine ecology at Niwa, John Veldis is now seeing pH levels lower than 7.9 in Autumn, not expected in the open ocean until 2100. US west coast water reaches 7.6 pH levels.

Nitrogen in the Firth already causes algae blooms in Autumn. Bacteria, breaking them down as they die, release carbon dioxide and sucking oxygen out of surrounding seawater killing other marine life.

Most of the nitrogen coming off the land is from agriculture on the Hauraki plains.

A marine spatial plan has been developed for the Gulf, the first of its kind in New Zealand, and is due to be released by the end of the year. Though it won't be legally binding gulf stakeholders hope local authorities will implement it.

Aimed at halting the environmental decline of the gulf, there has been speculation over how effective the plan will be with strong commercial interests involved in its development.

Holding agricultural nutrient run off to current levels is likely to be recommended Whitianga farmer and Stakeholder Working Group member Dirk Sieling says.

Proposals to manage runoff must be based on sound science and would likely recommend fencing off streams, wetland restoration/development and possible engineering, Sieling says, with much more research needed.

Having previously been reported as saying nitrification isn't currently a problem in the Gulf though could be in the future, Sieling insists he was misquoted.

Carim modelling should show acidification conditions in the Firth by the end of the century, including from various nutrient levels.

Important aquaculture and fishery sites of the Firth of Thames, Nelson Bays and the East Otago Taiapure at Karitane north of Dunedin are the main focus for Carim research.

A marine reserve site isn't part of the national network but Law concedes there is merit in including one in the future, to see how ecosystems without fishing pressures cope.

In the US oyster farmers, scientists, local government, and local communities all got involved in tackling the acidification problem.

"There is state-wide action along the western seaboard to control carbon dioxide (CO2) in the local water, including controlling industry in the area, controlling runoff and nutrients going into the coastal water, planting up algal beds and sea grass beds to take out CO2 from the water," Law says.

Encouraging the use of marine reserves is also a part of their management plans.

Just as on land, increased CO2 sees marine plants grow more. They suck CO2 from the sea water as they grow sequestering carbon and lowering acidity in surrounding water making life easier for fish and shellfish living there.

The US seagrass beds had been decimated from development, pollution and disease, and kelp forests have only recently been looked at as a tool.

Huge seagrass meadows that once flourished in the Kaipara Harbour have largely been smothered by sediment coming off rural and forestry land. The small remaining patches support virtually the entire west coast snapper fishery.

Kelp, also big consumers of CO2 in the Hauraki Gulf, has been heavily grazed by kina - no longer kept in check by large snapper as a result of fishing.

Restoring shellfish beds using old shells as a base is also seeing carbonate from the old shells reducing acid levels in surrounding water.

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Canegrowers' concern about new Reef run-off regulation

14 August 2016, The Cairns Post (Australia)

CANE growers have warned too much State regulation of their activities to improve water quality may produce the opposite effect for the Great Barrier Reef.

The Palaszczuk Government has announced it will pursue “targeted regulatory approaches” including mandating the provision of farm level yield and nutrient data, and farm-based caps to reduce run-off within the Reef catchment.

The government will spend $90 million over four years to implement 10 recommendations made by the Great Barrier Reef Water Science Taskforce.

A key finding of the government’s report says it will cost an estimated $8.2 billion to slash sediment and fertiliser run-off to the Reef by 2025.

Canegrowers Queensland chairman Paul Schembri said the agricultural body supported a majority of the recommendation, but was concerned about further regulations upon the industry.

“Our view, very strongly, is that regulations will not get the job done,” he said.

“What we do believe is regulations create a level of bitterness between farmers and government and it drives farmers to minimum standards of compliance.

“I believe it foregoes greater opportunities between government and landholders to get a greater environmental dividend.”

Mr Schembri said any funding to be spent on compliance would be better spent on assisting cane growers to invest in technology to improve their farming practices.

“The debate seems to be whether you need $8 billion or $4 billion … to ensure the sustainability of the Reef,” he said. “I think the debate needs to be, how we use precious funding to get the best result.”

Great Barrier Reef Minister Steven Miles said some aspects of the report’s recommendations, such as regulatory reforms, would require further consultation to develop the most effective approach.

“Others, such as the governance reforms, will require working collaboratively with the Australian Government,” he said.

WWF Australia spokesman Sean Hoobin said investing $8.2 billion to dramatically reduce pollution flowing to the natural wonder should be an urgent, national priority. He said Australia has a target of reducing nitrogen or fertiliser pollution by up to 80 per cent.

“The spending recommended in the costings report does not achieve the nitrogen target – that shortfall must be addressed,” he said. “Most of the multi-billion dollar investment is to repair erosion hot-spots caused by unsustainable tree clearing and grazing.”

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Negril hoteliers urged not to remove seagrass meadows

12 August 2016, Jamaica Gleaner (Jamaica)

Some residents of Negril say many owners of hotels on the Norman Manley Boulevard, in the resort town, have contributed to the degradation of the beach by removing coastline vegetation, including seagrass meadows, making the areas vulnerable to erosion.

The comments came on Wednesday during a symposium staged by the Negril Chamber of Commerce at the Swept Away hotel in Negril, titled 'Building with Nature - Environmentally Sound Solutions to Beach Erosion', after CEO of the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET), Diana McCaulay, who was chairing the proceedings, issued a caution to offenders.

"The hotels who are removing the seagrass, tap it! Tap tek out di seagrass! Tap! Is not nasty, mucky tings. (It) is what give you beach," McCaulay stated.

Dalton Hill, operator of the Lighthouse Inn on Negril's West End, who identified himself as a born 'Negrilier', said he has observed over the decades a wanton disregard for the very important marine plant life by some hoteliers on the beach strip.

"It seems to me that for the last 40 years, it has been a free-for-all in this town. People do what they want to do, and if anybody says anything, it is a problem," he said.

"The seagrass that these hoteliers are removing is the biggest problem. They have to stop it. Hundreds of thousands of tonnes are being put across the street on a yearly basis, and if only they would understand that this is what the beach is all about. Because the grass deposits the sand when it comes in and the sea takes it back. All we have to do is learn not to interfere with nature an' nature will take care of itself," Hill argued.


Pauline Pringle, another resident who said she was in her 70s, also attributed the erosion to the actions of hoteliers who remove naturally occurring plants for aesthetic reasons.

"The problem is that the hoteliers on the beach removed what we know as the 'coco plum walk' and those roots that were holding the sand together when we had rough seas. When you remove these from the beach and put [up] those umbrellas - pretty, lovely umbrellas - the sea just tears it (sand) and moves it," Pringle said.

"You are the ones who create the problem. Now [that] we are looking at solutions, we ask if you can find something else to plant, since you don't like the coco plums. Find something else to plant along the beach so that the sea won't tear away the sand," she added.

The Negril beach has been declared an erosion hotspot from as far back as 1999. A one-year study of the problem by the University of the West Indies between 1999 and 2000 had also concluded that the northern section of the Long Bay Beach had been experiencing shoreline erosion. It recommended that feasibility studies be undertaken to develop other alternatives to protecting the shoreline, including, among other things, the cultivation of seagrass meadows.

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Fixing water quality for Great Barrier Reef will cost $8.2bn, report finds

12 August 2016, The Guardian (Australia)

A satellite view of tidal channels cut through the Great Barrier Reef. Dredging for shipping, agricultural run-off and urban stormwater all contribute to poor water quality that can damage coral. Photo Credit: Planet

Attempting to fix the water qualityfor the Great Barrier Reef will cost $8.2bn in the next decade but even then some of the targets will be impossible to meet, according to a landmark report commissioned by the Queensland government.

The targets are part of the federal government’s Reef 2050 Plan, the implementation of which is required by Unesco in order for the reef to avoid being included on the world heritage in danger list. Currently, state and federal governments are spending less than a tenth of what the report finds is required.
Great Barrier Reef bleaching made 175 times likelier by human-caused climate change, say scientists
Read more

The conclusions are part of the government’s final Water Science Taskforce report, and associated costings study. It only addresses water quality issues and not warming, which was responsible for killing almost a quarter of the coral on the Great Barrier Reef this year. Improving water quality is expected to give the coral a better chance of recovering from bleaching.

The final costings amount to about half that of a draft version of the report leaked to the ABC, but are roughly in line with independent analysis published in a scientific journal in May.

The costing report notes that “policy solution sets to meet the regional Reef 2050 Plan targets for the GBR requires a significant increase in investment from current levels”.

The report notes that farms are the major source of pollution for the Great Barrier Reef, and identifies seven policy “solution sets”, including improving management practices for cane farmers and graziers; remediating gullies; completely shifting the land use for some areas; and improving urban stormwater management.

It found that the currently available policy solutions, even with the suggested level of investment, will not be able to meet all the targets because they “cannot be applied widely enough, or they simply cannot address the scale of load reductions”. As a result, new policy actions will need to be considered, it said.
The Great Barrier Reef: a catastrophe laid bare
Read more

The report notes that farms in the relevant areas employ about 35,000 people and contribute $3.7bn to the economy each year. Meanwhile, industries relying on the Great Barrier Reef employ twice than number of people and contribute about $6bn to the economy each year.

It makes 10 broad policy recommendations, all of which the Queensland government either agreed to, or agreed to “in principle”.

Queensland environment minister, Steven Miles, said: “The recommendations set the stage for a bold new era of reform in water quality improvement and that is what we will deliver.”

“We have agreed, or agreed in principle, to also review the reef water quality targets, better communicate how everyone can improve reef water quality, use incentives to drive water quality improvements, pursue targeted regulatory approaches, develop a strategic investment plan, and simplify and strengthen governance arrangements.”

Miles said some of the recommendations will require further consultation or collaboration with the federal government.

The report was welcomed by WWF spokesman Sean Hoobin.

““We congratulate the Queensland Government for commissioning this historic report. It’s the most detailed and comprehensive assessment ever undertaken of what it will cost to save the Reef,” Hoobin said.

“This report confirms that the money committed so far by Australia falls far short of what’s required,” he said.

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Reef tips: Seagrasses in the CNMI

12 August 2016, Marianas Variety (Marianas)

In the CNMI ( Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands ), there are marine flowering plants that are commonly mistaken for seaweeds, or algae, but what they are, in fact, are seagrasses.

There are three seagrass species present in the CNMI; the large-sized Enhalus acoroides, the medium-sized Halodule uninervis, and the small-sized Halophila minor.

Enhalus acoroides

Like terrestrial plants, seagrasses require sunlight, nutrients, and carbon dioxide, but unlike terrestrial plants, seagrasses are able to survive in saline (salty) waters. Currently, there are extensive meadows of H. uninervis and E. acoroides with sparse patches of H. minor scattered throughout the lagoon.

Role in the marine ecosystem

Ecologically, seagrass beds provide foraging habitat, refuge, and nursery grounds for many juvenile fish and other marine organisms that will later residein the outer reefs as they mature. This connectivity from seagrass habitat to a reef habitat is important for the ecosystem to function efficiently. Studies have shown that reefs have smaller fish population size when the adjacent seagrass habitats are not healthy.

Seagrasses also reduce water movement, allowing sediments to settle out of the water column before they reach offshore coral reefs where they may smother the corals.

This function also reduces beach erosion. Finally, seagrasses buffer outer reef habitats from nutrients and chemicals that drain into the marine environment from land. They do this by trapping polluted sediments and absorbing nutrients into their tissues. Once removed, these nutrients can then be released slowly through a process of decomposition and consumption, transforming pulsed releases of nutrients from watersheds, to more steady and continuous releases that are beneficial to seagrass habitat and the ecosystem as a whole. When considering the collective role that seagrass habitats play in governing physical, chemical, and ecological processes that together provide essential ecosystem services, it becomes obvious that attention and care should be given to our seagrass habitats.

Threats to seagrass communities

One of the major threats to seagrass communities is macroalgae (seaweed), which will compete with the seagrasses for sunlight. Macroalgae thrive in nutrient rich waters that are introduced by surface runoff and groundwater. Macroalgae are able to process the nutrients quicker and therefore able to grow quicker than seagrasses. Smaller seagrasses like H. uninervis and H. minor are most susceptibleto this rapid growth of macroalgae. As the macroalgae over grow the seagrass, they block the sunlight needed to photosynthesize. With continuous input of excess nutrients, the habitat will change from a seagrass dominated habitat to a macroalgae dominated habitat that is not ecologically beneficial or aesthetically pleasing to the CNMI’s residents and visitors.

Other threats to seagrass habitats are propeller scars and improper anchoring. Both of these threats will physically damage or remove the seagrass. When boaters navigate through shallow waters, they sometimes do not realize how shallow the area is and fail to raise the boat engine. This results in the propeller tilling the habitat. Some boaters will not have the right equipment to properly anchor resulting in the use of a heavy object. As the current increases, the boat will drag the “anchor” making contact with the seagrass and eventually uproot or smother the seagrass.

What can we do to help protect our seagrass habitats?

  • Properly use chemical fertilizers as rain will transport excess nutrients into the nearshore waters.
  • Do not burn. Clearing of land may increase the surface runoff of nutrients and sediments.
  • Boat responsibly. Propellers and anchoring can damage seagrass habitats by removing or smothering the plants.

More information: Click Here




Sabah Wildlife Dept awaiting green light to pursue turtle eggs case against minister

10 August 2016, New Straits Times Online (Malaysia)

The Sabah Wildlife Department is awaiting the green light from the deputy public prosecutor to pursue a case involving a Federal Minister who allegedly consumed turtle eggs in Sandakan last year. Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun said the case report has been forwarded to the DPP.

“I am sure everyone knows who we are referring to. There must be permission and approval from the DPP (before the department can proceed further).

“I am here to remind everyone that we have not been keeping quiet. We meant what we said,” he said at the state assembly sitting, when tabling a bill to amend the Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997.

The bill seeks to impose higher minimum and maximum penalties to deter individuals from hunting and possessing fully protected animals and plants as well as to include two new wildlife species as fully protected under the enactment.

Among the proposed amendments are to impose mandatory fine and jail penalties under Section 25 of the Enactment for hunting protected animals; Section 41 for possessing protected animals and animal parts; Section 53 for smuggling protected animals; Section 62 for possessing protected plants; Section 63 for smuggling protected plants; and Section 87 for collecting or possessing turtle eggs within traditional egg collection grounds.

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Bay fishing suffers as ecosystem struggles

10 August 2016, (USA)

A recent chart from Everglades National Park shows the extent of turtle grass die-off near Flamingo. South Florida Natural Resource Center National Park Service

Waters in northern Florida Bay suffering from a massive seagrass die-off still produce fish, guides say — just not as many.

“The fishing is still poor, as poor as I’ve ever experienced in Florida Bay,” said Peter Frezza, an Upper Keys biologist and bay guide.

“That may not be because of the die-off but it’s certainly not helping the fishing situation,” Frezza said Tuesday. “Fish like redfish and sea trout that used to forage in the dense seagrass beds have changed their behavior.”

Frezza said he has not seen an expansion of the damaged seagrass beds, an area to cover estimated 40,000 to 50,000 acres. “In some places, the water clarity actually looks pretty good,” he added.

Steve Friedman, an Islamorada guide, said he “just pulled a nice redfish out of the water” on a Tuesday trip into the bay.

“But fishing has been very tough,” Friedman said. Fish that are apparently avoiding areas with poor water quality “are getting concentrated, and then getting beat up on.”

“There are areas where the water is cloudy and smelly, and they don’t want to be around that,” Friedman said.

Marine scientists have feared the seagrass die-off could lead to another expansive algae bloom like the 1987-92 bloom that killed sponges, sea life and fish. It took decades for the ecosystem to show significant improvement.

“After a seagrass die-off event of this magnitude, the large quantity of dead seagrass and an extensive decaying root system will release nutrients into the water column,” says a May report from the South Florida Natural Resources Center of the National Park Service. “The added nutrients may initiate an algal bloom at some time in the future.”

So far in this hot summer, no large-scale algal blooms have been reported.

“That it hasn’t happened yet does not mean it’s not going to happen,” said Stephen Davis, a wetlands ecologist with the Everglades Foundation.

“We are still seeing events related to the die-off play out,” Davis said, “and these type of events play out slowly.”

“Much of the plant matter for seagrasses is below ground and that takes a while to break down,” he said. “When that happens, conditions in the mud worsen and more nutrients are released into the water.”

Some areas in Florida Bay waters at the First National Bank flat and Whipray Basin have “seen evidence of an expansion” of the seagrass die-off, he said.

“It’s not entirely gloom and doom,” Davis said. “We’re hearing about some areas that have resprouting [of seagrass]. But no one should be using these very localized incidents to start spreading false hope.”

A summer drought in 2015 started the seagrass die-off when Florida Bay waters became highly salty. Efforts are under way to partially restore the historical freshwater flow through the Everglades that kept the bay brackish, but that project may take decades and cost billions.

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Townsville research centre to protect reef turtles

10 August 2016, Brisbane Times (Australia)

A turtle health research centre will officially open in Townsville, five years after a cyclone caused many to starve to death and left researchers puzzled by their demise.

The centre is undertaking groundbreaking research to help protect the Great Barrier Reef's endangered turtles.

The species' immune system is the primary focus, while their vision and memory is also being put under the microscope.

Researchers realised how little they knew about turtle health following Cyclone Yasi in 2011.

The category five cyclone left scores of turtles stranded, with many starving to death.

James Cook University Associate Professor Ellen Ariel said her research team was only able to save half of the 30 turtles it took in.

"They were skinny, they started eating and they died," she told AAP.

"We saved about half but were left with a lot of questions. Why did they die, what did we do wrong and what we should be doing?"

Researchers began to investigate and Assoc Prof Ariel said it soon became apparent a centre was needed to allow them to examine turtle health over a period of time.

In February this year, the centre started its research with 40 green turtle hatchlings.

The turtles are housed in tanks, taken out most days to bask in the sun for some vitamin D, and are fed a diet of fish, squid and vegetables.

Assoc Prof Ariel said it was important the turtles were kept healthy so researchers could properly examine their immune system.

Researchers have also been studying whether turtles have colour vision, how they learn, and their memory, she said.

Scientists and indigenous leaders will be among those at the centre's official opening on Wednesday.

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Traditional owners slam hunting moratorium plan

10 Aguust 2016, The Cairns Post (Australia)

A RESPECTED Aurukun elder has blasted the Federal Government for wanting to place a moratorium on the traditional hunting of dugongs and turtles.

The Cairns Post reported this week the Coalition Government was drafting legislation to potentially take the traditional food source off the table and that Leichhardt MP Warren Entsch wanted a blanket moratorium on hunting the species.

But Aurukun elder Ron Yunkaporta said the government had no right to tell him and his family how to live on their land.

He said his family members had caught dugong as recently as Monday night using a “harpoon made out of wood”.

“I do hunting the traditional way; I make my own spear, my own nula nula, my own woomera, you name it, I can make it,” he said.

“We are hunting on our own traditional land and for the government to come in and put in more legislation, that’s not on.”

Further north on Cape York, Mapoon Mayor Aileen Addo also denounced the government’s plan and said she saw nothing wrong with people using modern technology to assist with hunting.

“We have a dugong and turtle management plan and it seems to be working pretty well,” she said.

“Mapoon has moved with the rest of the world ... of course people will use whatever equipment.

“That doesn’t mean you’ll get a lot of turtle. A lot of boys go whole weeks and they don’t get anything. They’re not being slaughtered every day.”

Cr Addo said instead of blaming indigenous communities, conservationists should focus on the damage caused by prawn trawlers and ghost nets, and said indigenous rangers across the Western Cape were heavily involved in protecting turtle nests from predators.

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Calls to save Oman's Masirah Island from an environmental nightmare

08 August 2016, Times of Oman (Oman)

More plastic bottles are washing ashore on the Masirah Island as environmentalists are pleading with volunteers to save the turtle nesting beaches from a “catastrophe.”

Thousands of loggerhead and green turtles are now in danger after a vessel sank two weeks ago, leaving thousands of plastic items floating in the Arabian Sea.

The Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs had sent a team last week to inspect the affected locations, according to a ministry official.

“It is a sensitive environmental area and the ministry is doing its best to resolve the issue,” she said.

According to sources, the vessel is still leaking water bottle caps, water bottles, plastic torches, toothbrushes and diesel and petrol barrels.

Food items are also being washed onshore, such as biscuits, chewing gum and candy, while a volunteer said some syringes and cosmetics have also been found on the island.

Reports suggest that the 800-tonne cargo vessel sank on July 22 on the south east side of the island, around 500 metres from the shore, generating massive quantities of toxic litter.

“It will take months to clean the beaches, there needs to be a consolidated effort from private sector companies and public sector entities to find a quick solution to this environmental disaster” an environmental activist said.

Last week, the Environment Society of Oman (ESO) had called via their Twitter account for an urgent cleanup campaign, which started on Thursday morning and ended Saturday to pick up the plastic trash.

In a post, ESO asked volunteers to join the cleanup effort and asked them to arrange their own transportation and accommodation.

Activists said the spill will also have an adverse effect on tourism on the island. “The restive beaches of Masirah will never be the same if something isn’t done soon to clean up the spill and restore them back to their natural state,” an activist told the Times of Oman.

Isa Al Amri, a kite surfer, explained that some beaches in Masirah have turned blue after many bottle caps washed ashore. “Turtles and fish might swallow some plastic material, which will eventually kill them,” he explained, adding that the litter will also result in the suffocation of nesting turtles on beaches. Masirah has gained a reputation as the best kitesurfing spot in the Middle East and attracts a number of tourists throughout the year.

It is also one of the largest turtle sanctuaries in the world, accounting for a large number of new hatchlings and is considered to be one of the main beaches that could help increase the number of the endangered loggerhead turtles. July to October is the peak time for turtle watching in Oman as approximately 20,000 turtles or more lay around 50,000 to 60,000 eggs each year in the Sultanate, according to the Ministry of Tourism.

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Coalition preparing new laws to protect dugongs from hunters

08 August 2016, The Cairns Post (Australia)

NEW laws are being prepared by the Coalition to provide stronger protection for dugongs and sea turtles from traditional hunters.

Conservationists have campaigned for years for a moratorium on the traditional take of the marine animals, claiming it is a practice exploited by hunters using non-traditional weapons and equipment.

Leichhardt MP Warren Entsch said that the Turnbull Government was preparing draft legislation to strengthen protection for turtles and dugongs along Australia’s eastern seaboard.

He said it was not ready to be released publicly.

“I’ve got a copy of the draft legislation. I’m not happy with some elements of it, and I want to change them,” he said.

“I’ll be talking to the new (Environment) Minister (Josh Frydenberg) when he comes on board.

“I agree with the argument in the marine park: There needs to be a moratorium on the taking of these creatures, because they are listed as vulnerable. There has always been an argument about defending native title rights, as opposed to protecting these species, but in my view, unless we take firm action on this, there will be no arguments about native title rights because the target species won’t exist.”

Several indigenous communities restrict traditional take of the protected species through Traditional Use of Marine Resource Agreements (TUMRAs).

However Mr Entsch wants a “total moratorium” to prevent turtles and dugongs being taken in other areas.

“It’s more complicated when you get up into the Torres Strait, where you get into the Papua New Guineans who don’t have any sort of welfare system and they rely on it as part of their food source.

“But there needs to be protections up there and we need to make sure that we enforce rules ...”

Wildlife activist Colin Riddell urged a total ban on hunting in Australia’s marine parks.

“It’s ridiculous that any animal or marine life is supposed to be in a sanctuary and is still hunted,” he said.

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Managed turtle breeding helps maintain wild population

03 August 2016, Jakarta Post (Indonesia)

With an output of about 10,000 baby turtles a year, the breeding of green turtles in the regency of Tolitoli in Central Sulawesi is seen as a promising move to maintain the population, said a local officer.

“In the near future, we will release some 100 of the baby turtles to the sea,” Tolitoli Fisheries and Maritime Agency head Hardiyan said on Monday.

He said the breeding of the green turtles in the regency was conducted in cooperation with locals people over awareness that the population of the reptiles was continuing to decrease over time because of illegal hunting.

He said his office had allocated some Rp 32 million this year to empower the people of Sese village, North Dampal district, Tolitoli, to breed green turtles.

The funds, he said, came from the state budget of the Coastal and Marine Resource Management Center and were handed over to the local community group that was given full authority to disburse them.

“The budget was for the maintenance of the green turtle population in the village,” Hardiyan said.

There are currently four regions in the regency that have been breeding green turtles. The other three are Galumpang village in Dakopemean district, Lingayan Island and Ogotua village in North Dampal district.

The green turtle breeding on Lingayan Island, one of the outmost islands in Tolitoli, was conducted because its population of the protected animals was declining and neared extinction because of extensive illegal hunting.

“The turtles are caught for trade,” said Bachtiar, chairman of Lingayan Environment Lovers.

He said the hunting of green turtles was extensive in the regions because both their eggs and meat could be sold for high prices. He predicted that between five and seven turtles were killed every month for that purpose.

He said during the seasons when green turtles laid eggs on beaches, people usually got ready on shore to wait for the reptiles.

“They usually use fishing rods with special hooks to catch the turtles,” he said.

Other turtle species that have been hunted because of their high economic value included the hawksbill sea turtles on one of Tolitoli’s outermost islands. They are hunted for their eggs, meat and scales.

“My prediction, the perpetrators [will be found to have] come from Kalimantan and Donggala regency,” he said.

Hendro, a naval officer at the Tolitoli Naval Base, said he often found green turtles traded openly. “Two months ago we seized four green turtles from a broker here,” he said.

Lingayan Island directly borders with Malaysia. With 64 families living on it, the island has been in the list of underdeveloped subdistricts despite its rich potential.

Apart from turtles, Lingayan is also the habitat of a bird species resembling the maleo, which locals call the molong. The bird is black and is as big as a maleo. It is currently estimated to only have about 50 left in its population.

The breeding of the green turtles in Tolitoli regency, Central Sulawesi, has shown a promising yield, currently producing more than 10,000 baby turtles a year, a local officer said.

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Scientists probe carbon marine sinks

02 August 2016, Vancouver Sun (Canada)


Parks Canada scientist Marlow Pellatt collects a core sample from an eelgrass bed in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. He'll later use radioactive isotopes to date the age of the sample and the volume of carbon it absorbs from the atmosphere and sequesters below ground. Photo Credit: Stephen Hume / PNG

It’s true. There are jobs where a day at the office involves stepping through the looking glass to roam the rocky bonsai-like islets of the Broken Group.

Instead of pings, bleeps and burbles of incessant social media, you listen to surf boom over reefs. And rather than Facebook posts, you check out sandy beaches in sheltered, sun-dappled coves fringed by sea oats, salt marshes and rainforest.

I have one of those jobs. Marlow Pellatt, a palaeo-ecologist with Parks Canada, has another.

Which is how we came to be sharing a wallowing Zodiac in swells rolling all the way from Japan to spend themselves on Vancouver Island’s rugged Outer Coast.

Pellatt is the lead Canadian scientist on a major international initiative. He’s studying the importance of coastal salt marshes and seagrass beds as long-term carbon sinks in which vast quantities of greenhouse gases are absorbed and stored.

Many are at risk. Losses are up to seven per cent each year. Real estate developers drain marshes. Recreational boaters rip up seagrass beds with anchors. Farmers convert wetlands in highly fertile flood plains.

But research finds that these often unappreciated coastal ecosystems are a critical component in capturing the carbon dioxide that contributes to global warming.

Although they represent a much smaller area, just a fringe of coastline, their sequestration rates turn out to be 10 times that of forests. One hectare of salt marsh extracts as much carbon from the atmosphere as emitted by two standard passenger cars driven for a year, and can store it for thousands of years.

Although the total area covered by seagrass meadows is not known — it’s estimated at anywhere from 300,000 to 600,000 square kilometres — the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says they represent a vast reservoir of carbon: more than 90 per cent stored below ground, where it’s fixed and distributed in root systems.

Scientists call this “blue carbon.” Total up what’s absorbed and stored in coastal ecosystems and the estimated volume is claimed by some to equal all the carbon annually stored by terrestrial forest systems.

But is that theory accurate, or is it a scientific urban myth extrapolated from wishful interpretations of early data? Pellatt says he’s one of those tasked to test the hypothesis.

Pellatt is Parks Canada’s lead scientist with a research project by the United States, Mexico and Canada launched under the Commission for Environmental Cooperation. It’s to map, measure and evaluate the extent and magnitude of carbon storage in these coastal ecosystems as a baseline to help the three countries develop and apply conservation and restoration measures.

“Anything we can do to store and sink carbon is important,” Pellat told me as I watched him pull slimy core samples from an eelgrass bed on one of the Broken Group’s small islands in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. “If we look at the rate of climate change, it’s extremely important. If we don’t get a handle on mitigation, we are going to suffer the consequences of extreme heat. Mitigation is the best we can do; otherwise, it’s all just trying to adapt.”

These blue carbon ecosystems are an extremely efficient, low-energy natural system for pulling carbon from the atmosphere and storing it, Pellatt says. And all we have to do is leave them alone to do their work.

But how much do we have? How much carbon is stored in Canadian ecosystems? What’s the potential for restoring what we’ve damaged and protecting what we have left?

“Most of our results are coming from tropical and sub-tropical research,” Pellat says. “But what’s happening in our northern systems? What role do they play?”

That’s where Parks Canada steps in. Pacific Rim National Park Reserve has pristine examples of temperate salt marshes and seagrass beds. And Pellatt’s task is to collect samples, date them using radioactive isotopes and figure out the volumes of carbon storage.

So we clambered over seaweed slick rocks, trudged through mud flats and along beaches and interrupted another Parks Canada science team led by Pacific Rim ecologist Jennifer Yakimishyn while Pellatt waded into the stinky muck to gather samples.

It was sunny. Yakimishyn was laughing as one of the tiny fish being measured by technicians Mike Wald and Dan Grinnell made a jail break.

Pellatt bent, elbow deep in the ooze. Across the channel, mist drifted and tore in the treetops. An eagle soared on the thermals. Silvery foam flicked off wave tops as the breeze stiffened. Another day at the office.

Dirty work but somebody’s got to do it.

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A Record Number of Manatees Are Being Killed by Boats

02 August 2016, TakePart (USA)

Florida’s manatees are dying from boat strikes in record numbers this year, but conservationists and boating advocates disagree over the reasons why.

Seventy-one manatees had been killed by boat strikes as of July 22, compared with 58 manatees by mid-July 2009, the deadliest year on record, when 97 of the docile marine mammals died in collisions, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Patrick Rose, executive director of Save the Manatee Club, said an increase in boating traffic is to blame.

“With every recession you tend to have somewhat fewer watercraft injuries and mortalities, but with the robust recovery in the economy and really dramatic decreases in fuel costs, the number of boating hours goes up,” Rose said, adding that a mild winter and a hot summer also contributed to more boating this year.

But Jim Kalvin, president of Standing Watch, a boater advocacy group, said that pollution, harmed manatee habitat, and unsustainable manatee management programs are responsible for the increase in boat strikes. He said the manatee population has exceeded its “carrying capacity,” meaning there are more animals than the availability of sea grass, their chief food source, can sustain.

“Sea grasses are being foraged by an ever-growing manatee population, and they’re having to swim farther for food because their traditional grounds are barren,” Kalvin said.

“When they’re in a place with plenty of food, they don’t have to migrate,” he said. “But now they have to swim into areas where boaters haven’t seen them before.”

Kalvin said some animals are entering into travel corridors where boats can navigate at higher speeds, while others are moving into shallower waters with heavy vessel traffic.

“There is not enough room for both to occupy the space,” Kalvin said, adding that boaters in shallow waters must travel more slowly, which lowers propellers beneath the waterline and increases the likelihood of striking manatees.

Kalvin said that algae blooms caused by the release of nutrient-rich water from Lake Okeechobee are blocking sunlight and killing sea grass in certain estuaries, such as the Indian River Lagoon.

Rose agreed that algae blooms spawned by runoff of agricultural fertilizer are killing sea grass but said that over-foraging by manatees was not the problem.

“Even with the remaining habitat we have, the carrying capacity is still multiple times the number of manatees we have, so there’s no scientific support for what he’s saying,” Rose said.

Carli Segelson, spokesperson for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, agreed. “We have found no conclusive evidence of manatees reaching carrying capacity,” she wrote in an email.

Segelson also said that sea grass shortages are not causing manatees to migrate through waters that put them at greater risk of boat strikes.

“Our sea grass research staff conducts statewide monitoring, and while sea grass resources do vary from year to year for a variety of reasons, we do not see any evidence of significant changes in manatee behavior or distribution,” she said.

Manatees reproduce at a slow rate, with females giving birth to one calf every three to five years, Rose said. “There’s no way to have a population explosion,” he said.

The latest aerial survey of manatees, conducted in February, found there were at least 6,250 manatees in Florida. The animals are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, although the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed to reclassify their status as threatened.

In addition to boat strikes, manatees face cold winters, toxins from red tide blooms, and tourists who swim with the animals.

“Still, the overall single greatest cause of manatee mortality remains watercraft strikes,” Rose said. “The vast majority of manatees already have scars from being struck. Every manatee in Florida has been within an inch or so of losing its life.”

Rose said the solution to boat strikes is better education for boaters.

“We’re not saying boaters are bad people. They’re not,” Rose said. “It’s a rare boater who doesn’t care or feel it’s not worth slowing down for, and I say that as a boater myself.”

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Marooned marine life: Sea creatures wash up in their thousands along Adelaide's coast

02 August 2016, ABC Local (Australia)

Recent wild weather, large tides and strong winds have beached an interesting assortment of sea creatures along Adelaide's coastline.

Kristen Messenger from Conservational Education Services told 891 ABC Adelaide's Afternoons program the variety of wildlife that had washed up was astonishing.

"We've had massive tracks of seagrass wash in and all of the species that would normally be living in the seagrass have been washing in [too]," Ms Messenger said.

"I've found razor fish in their thousands, great big spider crabs.

"I've found about 20 slipper lobsters alive, giant sea tulips, decorator crabs."

Ms Messenger said many of the shellfish washed up were still alive, and locals had taken advantage of the bounty — but she warned people needed to be aware of fishing allowances.

"I've seen people collecting the live razor shells to eat, so you really need to check."

The limit is 25 razor fish per person in South Australia.

"Personally I wouldn't recommend taking things off the beach as you can't tell how long they have been lying there."

Ms Messenger said because of the sea bed and tidal flows of Gulf St Vincent, the majority of sea creatures had been found dumped along the beaches north of West Beach.

"There is a lot of dead stuff but [you need to remember] that is bird food too," she said.

"The silver gulls and all of the bigger gulls and seabirds are having a very good time [at the moment]."

Vast swathes of seagrass had also dislodged and been washed up.

"The seagrasses are quite fragile along our coast and there are vast tracks of seagrass rolling in like instant turf," Ms Messenger said.

"There are massive pieces of the seabed that have come up, roots and all."
Get out and explore the beach yourself

Ms Messenger said the most important thing people should do if they want to explore the shoreline was to check the tide times.

"There is not really any point going at high tide, so make you are going at low tide," she said.

She also warned people should only touch washed up creatures if they were certain they knew what they were and were certain they were not poisonous.

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