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Endangered dugong spotted just east of Henoko site

19 August 2014, The Japan Times (Japan)

A dugong, a rare marine mammal that inhabits waters around Okinawa, was spotted about 5 km east of Henoko on Sunday, the same day as seabed surveys started before landfill operations begin at the relocation site for the U.S. Marine Corps’ Air Station Futenma.

A dugong, a threatened species due to the loss and degradation of underwater sea-grass meadows, was spotted and photographed from a helicopter by a Kyodo News reporter.

“There’s no doubt this is a dugong,” confirmed Mariko Abe of the Nature Conservation Society of Japan, who specializes in the area’s ecosystem.

The dugong, a species of marine mammal which is believed to be the source of the mermaid and siren myths, was watched for about 10 minutes at around 4:25 p.m. when it repeatedly appeared at the surface and then dived.

The mammal’s large nostrils on the muscular upper lip, which enable it to breathe when it surfaces, and its tail fluke were also visible.

In the Henoko coastal area, just a few kilometers away from where the mammal was spotted, a barge was readied Sunday. Around it, orange buoys and other floating devices have been installed to mark the restricted area where the survey of the seabed will be carried out.

Outside the marked-off area, as many as 15 Japan Coast Guard patrol ships were on duty in an effort to keep protesters away from the site.

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Great Barrier Reef will deteriorate further after decision to dump spoil from Abbot Point, former marine park official says

18 August 2014, ABC Online (Australia)

Australian authorities are failing to protect the country's greatest natural icon, the Great Barrier Reef, by approving the dumping of dredge spoil inside the marine park, a former government official says.

Jon Day, until recently the director of Heritage Conservation at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), has told the ABC's Four Corners that not enough was being done to repair the reef.

He says the dumping of dredge spoil will put more pressure on the reef, which is already in decline.

In January, the GBRMPA approved a plan to dump 3 million cubic metres of dredge spoil inside the marine park for the expansion of Queensland's Abbot Point coal port.

Tonight Four Corners reveals the fraught year-long struggle within the GBRMPA against this proposal by scientists and senior officials who feared the effect it could have on an already weakened reef system.

The decision has been widely condemned by senior marine scientists and was criticised by UNESCO's World Heritage Committee, which will decide next year whether to declare the reef as "in danger".

Mr Day, who resigned from the authority last month, says alternatives to sea dumping for Abbot Point were not properly considered.

He says the dumping will add to the stress already on the reef from agricultural run-off, overfishing and extreme weather.

"If we take that into account and if we did a proper evaluation of all the alternatives, that decision would not have been made," he said.

"Our own legislative mandate says 'the long-term protection and conservation of the values', and we're not doing that."

But GBRMPA chairman Russell Reichelt says the disposal will only be done under tough environmental conditions and will not do long-term harm to the reef.

Four Corners can also reveal discussions are taking place which could see the reversal of the Abbot Point dumping decision.

Inquiries are underway into an alternative to sea dumping.

Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt, who also approved the dumping, told Four Corners that Abbot Point was a "line in the sand" and he has guaranteed that no further dumping will take place in the marine park under his watch.

"I made the decision that this would be the last time, that we were changing the practice," he said.

"Since then we have stopped four inherited proposals from proceeding which would have seen material deposited into the marine park."

Last week GBRMPA released its 2014 outlook report which outlined the poor health of the reef and painted a bleak picture, citing climate change and ocean acidification as the greatest long-term threats to the reef.

"Even with the recent management initiatives to reduce threats and improve resilience, the overall outlook for the Great Barrier Reef is poor, has worsened since 2009, and is expected to further deteriorate in the future," the agency said in its report.

Watch the full report, Battle For The Reef, on Four Corners

More information: Click Here



'Don't tangle with seagrass': Hornsby mayor

16 August 2014, Cadtle Hills News (Australia)

Hornsby Council has launched a campaign to raise awareness of the fragile seagrass beds in the Hawkesbury Estuary, urging boat users to take care around them.

Mayor Steve Russell said the seagrass beds were vitally important to the health of the estuary, as they act as nurseries for young fish.

“Boat propellers, anchors and mooring chains can very easily damage them – even small scars reduce resistance to erosion and lead to far greater damage,” Cr Russell — who lives on the river and drives his boat to work every day — said.

Hornsby Cuncil has also created a pamphlet and posters, to be distributed throughout the area, with information boaters need to avoid damaging the seagrass.

“The message is a simple one – don’t tangle with seagrass,” Cr Russell said.
Points to remember when boating:

  • Avoid shallow water;
  • Observe signs and marker buoys; and
  • Don’t anchor on seagrass.

More information: Click Here



Let's Start Caring About Seagrass Like We Care About The Rainforest

16 August 2014,

Seagrass deserves just as much attention as the tropical rainforest

The rainforest gets a lot of attention. There are many Save the Rainforest campaigns, and while there is certainly much more work to be done to ensure that we do what we can to stop deforestation, there’s no denying that it’s definitely a part of our collective environmental conscience. Seagrass, on the other hand, is a different story.

When was the last time you saw a Save the Seagrass initiative? Probably never. Seagrass deserves just as much attention as the tropical rainforest, because it’s disappearing just as quickly, to the tune of two soccer fields an hour.

Why is seagrass so important? It plays an essential role in the lives of juvenile fish, providing them with a habitat in which they can thrive. For example, a new study shows that seagrass contains higher fish abundance than adjacent sand. This has a big impact when we’re thinking about commercial fishing. As the report’s abstract explains, “Although fisheries are of major economic and food security importance we still know little about specific juvenile habitats that support such production. This is a major issue given the degradation to and lack of protection afforded to potential juvenile habitats such as seagrass meadows.”

If we don’t protect those areas of seagrass, those fish in turn will have a harder time surviving. “When you start to lose these habitats you’ll see smaller juveniles and smaller fish stocks,” Dr. Richard Unsworth, lead researcher on the study, told the BBC.

Seagrass deserves as much attention as some of the other sensitive environments that have taken the headlines in terms of environmental causes. “The rate of loss is equal to that occurring in tropical rainforests and on coral reefs yet it receives a fraction of the attention,” Dr. Unsworth said.

Seagrass is up against a lot. It’s facing the problems of ocean acidification, coastal development and degraded water quality, and the problem is being felt around the globe. Part of a complex ecosystem, the loss of seagrass has many impacts beyond just fish. As a 2009 report by the National Academy of Sciences stated:

“Losses of seagrass meadows will continue to reduce the energy subsidies they provide to other ecosystems such as adjacent coral reefs or distant areas such as deep-sea bottoms, diminishing the net secondary productivity of these habitats (14). Seagrass losses also threaten the future of endangered species such as Chinook salmon (39) and the habitat for many other organisms. Seagrass losses decrease primary production, carbon sequestration, and nutrient cycling in the coastal zone (5).”

Ultimately, with the current rate of seagrass loss, we’re looking at serious environmental and economic consequences. “If the current rate of seagrass loss is sustained or continues to accelerate, the ecological losses will also increase, causing even greater ill-afforded economic losses,” wrote the authors of the NAS report.

Maybe it’s time we paid a little more attention to protecting seagrass.

More information: Click Here



Seagrass fish feeding grounds 'lost like rain forests'

12 August 2014, BBC News (UK)

Seagrass - here with a conger eel - is usually found in sheltered waters, including coves and moorings

Underwater fish "meadows" are being lost at the same rate as the Amazon rain forests, researchers have warned.

Seagrass is a key habitat for feeding and sheltering young fish, including plaice, haddock and pollock.

But every hour an area the size of two football pitches is destroyed.

Scientists from Swansea University believe the habitats need to be protected otherwise fishing stocks could be affected.

"The rate of loss is equal to that occurring in tropical rainforests and on coral reefs yet it receives a fraction of the attention," said Dr Richard Unsworth, lead researcher.

"If you're a small fish, like a juvenile cod, then you need food and shelter. Seagrass meadows provide both."

The biggest threat is from poor water quality and damage caused by boat anchors and moorings.

The Swansea research, for the Natural Environment Research Council (Nerc), is part of a global conservation effort to save seagrass.

The team, using baited underwater camera systems and netting, took a year to measure the size and number of fish in seagrass meadows in the seas around Britain, and compared the results with nearby sand habitats.

Seagrass is found just off the shoreline so is vulnerable to pollution and disturbance by marine anchors

The study included Porthdinllaen and Pen-y-Chain on the Llyn peninsula in Gwynedd.

In one seagrass site off the Gwynedd coast, divers found 42 fish species, 10 of which are important commercially.

"If there's lots of food available for them to eat and reduced predation, like there is in seagrass meadows, they don't spend all their time hunting for food so they're more likely to survive and put on weight faster," said Dr Unsworth.

"When you start to lose these habitats you'll see smaller juveniles and smaller fish stocks."

The research is part of a wider project assessing the benefits of seagrass meadows across the Atlantic, which is funded by the Welsh government and the EU.

"We want to work with partners around the country to look at trying to get this up the conservation agenda," said Dr Unsworth.

More information: Click Here

Read more on Porthdinllaen : Seagrass-Watch Magazine: Issue 47









Planting meadows in the ocean: technique may help restore disappearing seagrass beds

11 August 2014, (USA)

Seagrass spathes (the part of the plant that contains its seeds) surrounded by netting that allow the seeds to fall to the seabed below. Photo by Jude Stalker.

Seagrass meadows form important parts of many ocean ecosystems, but is disappearing due to human impacts. However, a study published recently in PLOS ONE found eelgrass beds could benefit from a restoration technique using seed-filled pearl nets.

The technique, called Buoy-Deployed Seeding (BuDS), uses pearl nets filled with seed-containing “spathes,” which are much like peas in pea pods. The spathe-filled pearl nets are attached to a buoy anchored to the substrate so that the net sways with the tides. The seeds in the spathes develop naturally and drop to the floor as they ripen. This is closer to what happens in nature compared to other artificial seeding methods that broadcast mature seeds at once, according to Dr. Brian Ort, lead author of this study that was conducted at the Romberg Tiburon Center of San Francisco State University.

Eelgrass is a genus (Zostera) of a marine plant that has long, grass-like leaves, which grows in coastal waters and brackish ares around the world. It provides the foundation for entire ecosystems, just as corals do for a coral reef ecosystem, according to Ort.

“Eelgrass provides physical structure and shelter for many other organisms,” he explained. “Fish, including commercially important species, use it to hide from predators or prey. Some, like herring, use it as a nursery in which they lay their eggs, giving their young a safer place to grow before migrating to sea.”

Eelgrass and other seagrass species also provide ecosystem services that benefit humans.

Buoys are used to suspend the spathe nets high in the water so that their seeds disperse widely. Photo by Jude Stalker.

“Being rooted in the sediment, they stabilize substrates and shorelines, improving water quality and guarding against erosion, like terrestrial grasses do,” Ort said. “In addition, their shoots absorb wave energy, also protecting shorelines. This also improves water clarity by trapping fine sediments in the water column, allowing them to settle to the bottom.”

Eelgrass, however, is disappearing from sea floors due to human influences.

“Eelgrass is impacted by the filling of shallow waters, dredging,…boat anchoring and mooring chains, wave energy from boats, trawling, poor water clarity as a result of sediment, and nutrient run-off,” Ort said. “The elimination of shallow areas, for example by dredging a channel and then protecting the steepened shoreline by the use of rip-rap, also eliminates eelgrass habitat. Climate change, and the rising sea levels that come with it, is also reducing the amount of suitable habitat available for eelgrass.”

The study found that BuDS is especially effective for preserving genetic diversity. The method was tested in tanks filled with water from San Francisco Bay and with seed-filled nets floating in each. The seeds fell from the nets and started to grow as they matured, and the researchers compared the genetic diversity of the seedlings in the bins to that of the natural environment where the seeds were collected. They found the resulting crop of eelgrass was just as genetically diverse as the beds where they came from.

Genetically diverse ecosystems, in relation to homogeneous ones, are better able to survive through stressful situations since a wide variety of genes allow for more flexible adaptive responses. Likewise, genetically diverse patches of seagrass tend to be better at withstanding heat and grazing by geese, increasing the likelihood that restoration will succeed.

Several years ago, BuDS was used for a project to restore a meadow that had suddenly died a few years earlier. Currently, this method is used as part of the Living Shorelines Project in the San Francisco Bay area, which aims to protect shorelines with sustainable resources and natural vegetation in lieu of conventional shoreline reinforcement methods that degrade wildlife habitat.

More information: Click Here



Singapore's seagrass meadows at risk from reclamation

12 July 2014, by David Ee, The Straits Times (Singapore)

Land reclamation is putting Singapore at risk of losing all of its seagrass meadows - lush, underwater "gardens" of the only flowering plants that live in the sea.

A National University of Singapore (NUS) study has found that filling the island's coastal waters with sand over the almost five decades since independence has killed 1.6 sq km of seagrass - nearly half of the country's total. Dredging and reclamation works either bury it or cloud the water with sediment, blocking out the sunlight that it needs to thrive.

"One of the main threats to seagrasses is declining water quality," said marine ecologist Siti Maryam Yaakub, who recently graduated after carrying out the four-year study as a PhD student.

More information: Click Here


Amendments Expected For Forest City

30 June 2014, New Straits Times, (Johor, Malaysia)

Several major amendments to the original plan for the controversial Forest City project along the Johor Straits are expected as pressure mounts from environmental non-governmental organisations and concerns from Singapore. The changes were proposed by Kuala Lumpur-based Asian Environmental Solutions Sdn Bhd (AES), which was appointed by project developer Country Garden Sdn Bhd to prepare a preliminary environmental impact assessment (EIA) report for the mammoth project. The proposed changes are aimed at cushioning the impact of the reclamation project on the surrounding environment.

In the preliminary report, one of the major changes proposed was to build two parallel water channels cutting across the island, created by reclamation work, almost in the shape of a right angle isosceles triangle. The water channels, which will form part of the waterfront features, will also be parallel to the Johor Straits to encourage water flow. A source close to the company told the New Straits Times that the changes were aimed at making the project more friendly to the Johor Straits, which separates Malaysia and Singapore.

Another proposal was to replant seagrass, since a lot of it had been destroyed following the reclamation work. However, environmental NGOs doubted the effectiveness of replanting works, especially when the replanting zone was fronting the open sea. A Malaysian Nature Society spokesman, who did not want to be named, said the survival rate of seagrass replanting was 10 per cent.

More information: Click Here


New funding for dugongs in the Pacific could make a big difference to the future of the species

25 June 2014, Radio Australia (Australia)

Dugongs may look like overweight dolphins but actually they are more closely related to elephants.

Like their terrestrial cousins, they are herbivores and they are vulnerable to extinction.

The Pacific is an important part of their range and it may be about to benefit from new funding from the Global Environment Facility.

Mike Donoghue, threatened and migratory species advisor with the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Program, told Pacific Beat the funding could make a big difference.

He says dugongs are an ancient group of marine mammals whose diet is very restrictive, consisting solely of seagrass.

"Seagrass is particularly threatened by climate change in the oceans because it's very sensitive to acidification so as more carbon dioxide goes into the water and the ocean ph drops and it becomes more acidic, it's possible that seagrass will be particularly impacted," he said.

"Also most of the great seagrass meadows are in coastal areas so they're particularly susceptible to silt deposition [and] inappropriate coastal development.

"Dugongs are very slow swimming, [they're] not particularly great at holding their breath so they're very vulnerable."

The threats include being taken directly, being entangled in nets or being hit by boats with outboard motors.

Mr Donoghue says the Pacific could play a significant role in the future of dugongs.

Funding plan for coastal Pacific communities

He says Pacific dugongs are particularly vulnerable because the populations are so isolated.

"They're particularly susceptible to a whole bunch of human-induced threats and it's a big concern for SPREP to try and encourage the countries that have dugong in this region to manage and maintain their populations," he said.

An application to the Global Environment Facility is underway for a $5.8 million program to conserve dugong and seagrass. The Pacific would receive less than $1 million.

"That's still a huge increase than before so if we are able to mobilise those sort of funds, if we can get some partners and donors to realise the critical state that dugong is in, then it does provide us with an opportunity to protect and conserve the remaining population for future generations," he said.

"Probably the most significant part about this is that because they're a very coastal species, often in areas where people live, the key thing about this program will be to encourage communities in Papua New Guinea, in New Caledonia, Palau, Vanuatu and Solomon Islands to take responsibility for looking after these animals [and] to encourage them by providing some funding support.

"Perhaps also to encourage people to come and visit them and to generate revenue for those communities through ecotourism."

More information: Click Here



Acoustic tags to be used to monitor dugong behaviour

22 June 2014, The Nation (Thailand)

A Japanese expert shows the acoustic tags used on dugongs in Trang, which people hope will help to conserve the animals.

Japanese and Thai marine biology researchers plan to jointly monitor dugong behaviour via acoustic tags in Trang - home to Thailand's largest dugong population - in the hope of encouraging marine-life conservation.

Dr Kanjana Adulyanukosol, director of Marine and Coastal Resources Research and Development Centre (Upper Gulf of Thailand), and Kyoto University marine biologist Dr Kotaro Ichikawa went to Banbatuputeh School at Koh Libong, Trang on Tuesday to meet locals and prominent officials in order to explain the use of acoustic tags on dugongs.

Researchers have spent 10 years investigating the topic, with experiments set to start in November and implementation of the project set for the following February.

Researchers said the tags would not harm the dugongs as they would be tethered to the animals with a rubber rope with a built-in weak link.

The line, which is approximately 30 metres, can be broken to safeguard dugongs should the lines get tangled or they will eventually fall off in five days.

Capturing the dugongs to attach the tags will only take up to five minutes.

The Japanese team has used acoustic tags on over 1,000 dugongs in Sudan and Australia with great success. The work is divided into four procedures.

The acoustic tags will be attached to the dugong's tail and then an autonomous underwater sound-recorder will be placed on the seafloor or attached to a floating buoy.

The recorder will record sounds underwater and this is known as passive acoustic monitoring. The system will be equipped with built-in automatic detection software for dugong vocalisations.

A 60-metre-long hydrophone cable will then be towed behind a boat, with researchers monitoring the process from nearby Batuputae hill.

Five dugongs will be monitored over 14 days so that we have a better understanding of their habitat and daily routines. The information will be used to develop necessary measures for dugong conservation.

Trang has between 125-135 dugongs, with over 10 mother-child couplets.

Kanjana hopes that Koh Libong locals will help protect dugongs.

While she said she did not know why people killed the mammal, she reminded locals that Thailand had environmental protection laws covering dugongs.

Ichikawa declined to comment on the matter because he was aware that Thailand had laws to protect dugongs. He called on locals to stop smuggling the animal and preserve it instead.

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Why are our sea prairies under serious threat?

18 June 2014, WalesOnline (UK)

Seagrass meadows, the so-called “prairies of the sea”, which along with kelp forests and horse mussel beds are vital for the existence of fish such as cod, are seriously under threat.

That is the warning from Swansea University marine systems expert Richard Unsworth and his colleagues at the seaside campus who have done extensive research on this important, hidden worlds.

Now, an international group led by Dr Unsworth, including many world renowned scientists, has summarised the present knowledge about the challenges seagrass meadows are facing now and in the future.

Thier work has been included in a special “emergency issue” of the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin entitled Seagrass Meadows in a Globally Changing Environment.

Dr Unsworth said: “These prairies of the sea are critically important for many fish species throughout their life cycle, and in many countries these meadows form expansive fishing grounds.

“For example, seagrass forms important nursery habitat for our fish and chip staple the Atlantic Cod (Gadus morhua).

“Seagrass meadows are also becoming increasingly recognised for their importance in trapping and storing carbon dioxide from our atmosphere, reducing the impacts of future climate change.

“They are a globally important resource that is being threatened by a whole series of issues, ranging from climate change and major weather events to poor water quality and coastal development.

“They are highly productive shallow water marine and coastal habitats comprised of marine plants.These threatened habitats provide important food and shelter for animals in the sea.”

Dr Unsworth explains in the special issue of the journal that world wide there are an estimated 380,000 square miles of seagrass which also provides protection against coastal erosion.

Swansea University biosciences expert Dr Jim Bull, says his studies from the Isles of Scilly show the importance of maintaining long-term monitoring programmes to understand how experimental results translate to the natural setting.

They also highlight the value of long-term ecological surveillance through its potential to inform conservation.

He said: “The work stresses the need to manage these habitats to ensure long-term viability is not in doubt.

“Unfortunately, seagrass meadows globally are declining at an alarming rate.”

The work by the researchers warns in particular that seagrass meadows are currently being subjected to poor water quality (particularly excessive nutrients) and extreme climatic variability.

More information: Click Here


Researchers dive into dugong heath project in Queensland's Moreton Bay

13 June 2014, ABC Local (Australia)

Dugong feeds on seagrass in Moreton Bay. Photo by South-east Queensland Catchments - file image
A marine researcher on Queensland's Gold Coast says conditions for dugongs in Moreton Bay have improved after the environment was badly affected by Brisbane's 2011 floods.

Sea World on the Gold Coast, the University of Queensland, and the Sydney Sea Life Aquarium are checking dugong health in a project that started seven years ago.

Up to 20 dugongs will be captured to carry out the health assessment, with Sea World welcoming a federal grant of $250,000 for whale and dolphin research.

Sea World's director of marine sciences, Trevor Long, says issues like boat strike are still a problem.

"There is about 1,000 animals and the population's reasonably sustainable but we've got to make sure that everyone understands how these animals use the bay," he said.

"There is a far greater use of recreational craft and personal water craft in areas that these animals habitat and find their food.

"We've got to make sure that everyone understands where they are, how they live, so that we can continue to protect them."

Dolphins could also benefit from program

Mr Long says the dugong health program could work for dolphins.

"We believe that from the researchers that we've been speaking to now and involved in this particular project, it is very similar," he said.

"This is a very good model - what we'd like to look at doing is maybe to replicate a similar model with dolphins in Moreton Bay as a pilot first.

"Then be able to take that pilot to other areas with a more needy basis where future expansion might be."

He says there have not been any significant health assessments of dolphins in Queensland.

"There's lots of proposed new ports for Queensland so there's lots of issues that dolphins may have to face in the future," he said.

"We'd like to look at a health assessment that can be established that we can look at the way that we do that and be able to continue it into the future so we can see trends of health that either relate to environmental impacts or either human impacts."

More information: Click Here



Great Barrier Reef water quality remains poor: report

12 June 2014, Sydney Morning Herald (Australia)

A major report card shows water quality in the inshore of the Great Barrier Reef remains poor despite reductions in pesticides and nutrients flowing on to the reef.

The report card - provided to journalists after a media conference with Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt and his Queensland counterpart Andrew Powell who travels to Doha this week to convince UNESCO that reef is not "in danger'' - breaks water quality readings into six geographic zones.

The report shows in the overall Great Barrier Reef section, the inshore reef "remained poor''. Inshore sea grass showed "some signs of recovery" in some areas, improving from "very poor" to "poor''.

In the Cape York section, the overall marine condition improved from "poor" to "moderate". One southern seagrass bed in this section was in "poor condition."

In the Wet Tropics area, seagrass meadows declined from "poor" to "very poor". Coral reefs declined from "moderate" to "poor".

In the Burdekin region, the overall inshore area remained "poor", seagrass meadows improved from "very poor" to "poor", while water quality remained moderate.

In the Mackay-Whitsunday area, inshore sea grass meadows remained "very poor", the inshore marine environment remained "poor" and coral reefs remained in a "moderate" condition.

Further south in the Fitzroy River section, coral reefs declined from " poor to very poor", overall inshore conditions remained "poor", while "inshore sea grass meadows" and the overall inshore environment was described as remaining "poor".

The report card measures changes in environmental conditions between July 2009 and June 2013.

Mr Powell said the results showed the conditions on the reef were at a "watershed" stage.

Mr Hunt acknowledged the report card showed reef conditions were "poor, but on the improve''.

What will happen now?

The two ministers today signed the $40 million Reef Trust and outlined where the first $15 million would be spent.

Initially, $5 million will be spent on dugong and turtle protection.

A further $2 million will be spent on the crown of thorns starfish "one shot" injection program, $5 million will be spent to control runoff - including nitrogen - from the Wet Tropics area, while $3 million will be spent to control run-off from the Burdekin and Fitzroy regions.

Mr Powell said most of the reef damage came from storms and cyclones, the crown of thorns starfish and coral bleaching.

“Storms and cyclone contribute 48 per cent of damage, the crown of thorns starfish contributes 42 per cent of damage and that coral bleaching the remaining 9 to 10 per cent,” Mr Powell said.

Crown of thorns starfish outbreaks are triggered by inorganic nitrogen in the streams.

The report card shows Queensland’s progress towards 2009 targets to halve nutrient and pesticide loads by 2013 and reducing sediment by 2020.

Reducing nutrients and sediment

The report shows the nutrient reduction targets have not been met, although some progress has been observed.

Sediment from rivers and streams has been reduced by 11 per cent, with a 16 per cent reduction in the Burdekin.

Pesticides have been reduced by 28 per cent overall, with a 42 per cent reduction in Mackay Whitsunday area.

Inorganic nitrogen load have been reduced by 10 per cent, with 17 per cent in Mackay-Whitsunday.

Mr Powell said these were positive signs.

“What we are seeing is a consistent improvement in all of these key indicators in the Great Barrier Reef catchment,” he said.

Mr Hunt fielded many questions on the expansion to the port at Abbot Point, north of Bowen.

He said under the incoming federal and Queensland governments, the proposed 38 million cubic metre movement of dredge spoil had been reduced to a 3 million cubic metre shift in spoil.

“It is one-twelfth the size of what was proposed and announced by Anna Bligh [when she was Queensland premier] as a super terminal,” Mr Hunt said.

Queensland’s Greens Senator Larissa Waters said she was pleased there were some signs of improvements to sections of the reef.

However Senator Waters said she was very concerned that the Reef Rescue program, that helped farmers control nutrient flowing into rivers, had been scrapped in the federal budget.

Senator Waters suggested the $40 million that was funding the Reef Rescue scheme had been used to set up the Federal Government’s new Reef Trust.

“What they have done with the Reef Rescue program is turn that in to the Reef Trust,” she said.

Mr Hunt said Reef Trust would be used as an “offset fund” and could triple in size with money from the private sector.

Senator Waters said mining companies would use the scheme attempt to “offset” any damage that was caused in specific environments.

“And of course seagrass offsets are a farce and there is not a scientist who says you can do it effectively,” she said.

Michael Roche, the chief executive of the Queensland Resources Council, said the report contained scientific information about the practical actions taken to reduce run-off and “turn around” the health of the reef.

“It talks about what the science says – about the impacts of crown of thorns starfish, the water quality issues and storm damage,” he said.

“And yet what you will continue to hear between now – and the meeting of the World Heritage Committee next week – is more fear about port development, about shipping .

“And there is not a skerrick of science to justify that scare-mongering.”

More information: Click Here



Great Barrier Reef health: Reports shows UNESCO requests met, Queensland Government says

12 June ABC Online (Australia)

The Queensland Government has fulfilled all of UNESCO's requests to improve the health of Great Barrier Reef, the state's Environment Minister Andrew Powell has said.

Mr Powell said a report, which is due to be released today, would reveal an improvement in water quality in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

In May, UNESCO outlined its concerns over the decision to dispose of dredge spoil near the reef.

UNESCO has recommended the World Heritage Committee consider adding the reef to the World Heritage in Danger list in 2015, unless the Government further protect it.

Mr Powell will take the State Government's report card to a UNESCO meeting in Doha later this month, where he will argue the reef should not be put on the endangered list.

Mr Powell told 612 ABC Brisbane today the suggestion the reef was under threat from port development was a clever marketing campaign run by "green" groups.

"What I'm going there to convince them of is that the real causes of concern for the reef are storms and cyclones, crown-of-thorns starfish, coral bleaching, and we're addressing those through the investment that we're putting into it," he said.

He said sediment and pesticide run-off levels had dropped across the catchment.

"In the Burdekin alone, we've reduced it by 16 per cent," he said.

"Pesticide loads, we've reduced it by 28 per cent across the whole reef catchment.

"In the Mackay-Whitsunday region alone, 42 per cent.

"In terms of nitrogen - that's what causes those crown-of-thorn starfish outbreaks - we've reduced it by 16 per cent overall."

Concerns about dredging programs near the reef

Earlier this month, the Queensland Government announced five so-called mega ports would be allowed along the state's coast under blueprint for dredging programs near the reef.

Abbot Point near Bowen in the state's north, one of the world's biggest coal terminals, was declared a port development priority area under the Queensland Ports Strategy, along with Gladstone, Hay Point, Mackay and Townsville.

The strategy also established a 10-year moratorium which banned dredging near the reef except for in those priority development areas.

The declaration came six months after conservation groups lost a court battle to stop three million cubic metres of dredge spoil being dumped in the reef marine park boundaries.

Queensland Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney said the new approach was consistent with UNESCO World Heritage Committee recommendations.

However, the Greens said the Government's blueprint for dredging near the reef was loaded with loopholes.

Greens Senator Larissa Waters said the strategy would be poorly received by United Nations inspectors.

Australian Marine Conservation Society spokeswoman Felicity Wishart said Queensland's coastline along the reef would be industrialised.

Ms Wishart said the State Government was putting big business ahead of the environment.

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Watching the seagrass grow

11 June 2014, Western Cape Bulletin, (Australia)

Rangers estimating seagrass percent covers.. Photo by Matt Gillis

THE Nanum Wungthim Rangers have just completed further training on sea grass monitoring with Louise Johns from James Cook University, Seagrass-Watch (SGW) team.

Ranger Coordinator, Matt Gillis said the Rangers and Seagrass-Watch have been monitoring seagrass at a permanent monitoring site within the Embley River on the northern side of the river in Napranum for the past ten years. The rangers have found changes in data over the past 12 months. "The sea grass in the Embley River has impacts from port development and land runoff," Mr Gillis said.

"This area is surrounded by mining that alters the sediment, nutrient and fresh water running off into the seagrass meadows. The monitoring site tends to have more fine mud rather then sediment and shell, which is more suitable for sea grass meadows." The rangers gain skills at the workshops in sea grass identification, the importance of sea grass, animals that use the sea grass, and the distribution of sea grass around the world.

These skills are used when monitoring sea grass and include learning about percentage cover, sediment composition and data collection.

"Sea grass is essential for the survival of the dugong and species of sea turtle that graze on it," Mr Gillis said. This extensive sea grass community provides habitat for juvenile fish and prawn species that are important to commercial, recreational and the local community.There is evidence showing the trails that dugong leave behind on the Embley River.

"Dugong tend to pull the seagrass completely out as the rhizomes growing below the surface are the most nutrient rich part of the plant.The sea grass varies in growth throughout the year and has greatergrowth in the wet season when possibly there is more fresh water seeping from the land into the meadows.

Rangers standing beside a propeller scar (running through a transect). Propeller scars can cause damage to seagrass meadows. Photo byMatt Gillis

There are four species of sea grass at the monitoring site: Halophila ovalis; Halodule uninervis, Thalassia hemprichii and Enhalus acoroides. Sea grass varies from algae, and is more related to plants that grow on the land as they have roots and set seed as do other angiosperms.

All data collected by the rangers is sent to the Seagrass-Watch team and added to the Seagrass-Watch data base which can be viewed at It is found that the sea grass changes over time and even within a year the rangers have seen increases in sea grass cover and changes in species of sea grasses.

People of the community that are interested in participating and have an interest in sea grass are welcomed to join the rangers in future seagrass monitoring days. The rangers will continue to monitor the sea grass four times a year when the tides are below 0.9 of a metre. This allows for the sea grass to be exposed and data collected.

Depending on the tides and current predictions, it is usually in June or July, September, December or January and April.

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For more images of workshops



Sandbags used to boost seagrass regeneration in trial off Adelaide coast

04 June 2014 ABC Online (Australia)

Hessian sand bag with Amphibolis recruits after six months

About 2,000 sandbags are being dropped into waters off Grange in a project aimed at boosting Adelaide's seagrass.

Scientists from the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI) are doing the work, after previous trials in the same area showed promise.

Environment Minister Ian Hunter says the hessian bags degrade over time.

"The metropolitan coast is quite exposed with high levels of water and sand movement so traditional methods of transplanting seagrass seedlings don't work because they simply get washed away," he said.

"The biodegradable hessian sandbags allow more seagrass seeds to take root and grow."

The sandbags are being dropped from the SARDI research boat the Ngerin across two areas of the seabed and the divers will check in six months to see whether there is new growth.

In areas where the hessian bags have been spread previously, thriving seagrass has been found more than five years later.

Marine experts say seagrass meadows are the feeding grounds for many South Australian marine species, including King George whiting and garfish.

It is estimated more than 5,200 hectares of seagrass have been lost along the Adelaide coast in the past half century.

Factors blamed include wastewater and stormwater run-off and more industry and other coastal development.

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Kuala Lawas – last frontier for dugong conservation

01 June 2014, The Borneo Post (Borneo)

THEY are believed to have been at the origin of mermaid legends when spotted swimming from a distance.

Now the remaining populations of this seemingly clumsy sea mammal called dugong, commonly known as sea cow, are at serious risk of extinction.

Many countries throughout the world are making every effort to protect this elusive marine mammal, associated with legends of women with fish tails.

Sarawak too is moving into the same direction – to save the species.

Historically, dugongs were common in shallow coastal waters of East Malaysia and hunted, particularly in the old days.

Today, their occurrences are rather occasional.

The protected waters and plentiful seagrass meadows are perfect for the dugong.

The ungainly sirenian feeds almost exclusively on seagrass although now and then, it does snack on molluscs and crustaceans. As it feeds, it stirs up plumes of sand, leaving meandering trails that can be seen from the air.

The dugong is listed as one of the totally protected species in Sarawak under the Wild Life Protection Ordinance 1998.

Today, this large marine herbivore can still be found in Sarawak waters, especially in Kuala Lawas, assures Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC).

Its deputy general manager (Protected Areas and Biodiversity Conservation Division) Oswald Braken Tisen said the state government was committed to ensure the continued existence of the dugong in the area for posterity.

And in response to the government’s commitment, he added, SFC, in collaboration with a few higher learning institutions and international organisations, had taken some proactive actions to protect and conserve the seabed off Kuala Lawas, one of the feeding grounds for dugongs and turtles.

In fact, Braken pointed out, seagrass and dugong conservation in Kuala Lawas was initiated by the Forest Department back in 1994 after it monitored the movement of turtles.

Together with students from Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS), a marine mammal survey was carried in 1999.

“The dugong was first spotted in Kuala Lawas in 2000. Before the study, we thought it had become completely extinct as there were no reports of sightings.

“The last dugong death was recorded in Sarawak during the Japanese occupation,” he said.

In 2004, together with UMS students, SFC conducted a multi-discipline wild life expedition in Kuala Lawas to find out what the state had in the area.

Arising from that expedition, SFC requested for federal funding, and in 2007, conducted a boat and aerial survey along the state’s coastal waters and managed to record more than 10 individual dugongs and other marine mammals in Kuala Lawas.

Braken said the SFC-endorsed boat survey in 2008-9 by Dr Nicholas Pilcher observed over 30 individual dugongs off Kuala Lawas and in Brunei Bay.

In 2011, to enhance the seagrass and dugong conservation in Kuala Lawas, SFC organised the Southeast Asia regional workshop on the dugong in Lawas, funded by the UN Environment Programme and Convention on Migratory Species (UNEP/CMS).

The objective was to come up with recommendations on the distribution of dugongs, their habitats and risks from fisheries in the region – at the same time establishing collaborations on conservation and research programmes with renowned institutions.

From the workshop, Malaysia requested for funding from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) to support the conservation of marine biodiversity and ecosystem in the country.

“The latest information I have is that the GEF has approved in principle some funds for Malaysia to enhance conservation of the dugong and seagrass in its waters, including in Kuala Lawas,” Braken revealed.

He said efforts to conserve the seagrass and dugong conservation in the area did not stop there, adding that SFC and Universiti Malaysia Terengganu (UMT) signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) last year.

The MOU will provide a framework for both parties to enhance research and conservation measures through the exchange of technical information, joint cooperative studies and research, as well as, industrial technology transfer in the field of endangered marine species.

Braken said SFC had decided to work closely with UMT because the latter is known for its marine conservation work.

He hoped from such collaboration, UMT would become a platform for other agencies to participate in the conservation of seagrass and dugong in the whole area off Kuala Lawas and in Brunei Bay.

“The dugong does not belong to us alone. During low seagrass season in Kuala Lawas, it may be feeding somewhere in Brunei or the Philippines and therefore, every country in the region should play its part in conserving seagrass.

“On our (SFC) part, we have worked with other member countries to protect our seagrass meadows.

“But even with protection, others will still kill them – not just the seagrass but also the dugong. So it’s our hope Kuala Lawas will be gazetted as a totally protected area.”

Braken said recommendations had been made to the State Forest Department to gazette Kuala Lawas as a national park.

“It’s also important the water source going to the seagrass meadows in Kuala lawas is protected as sedimentation poses a threat to them.”

He pointed out that protecting the seagrass meadows, the dugong’s main source of food, is essential because without adequate sustenance, the dugong will not breed normally.

He noted that the seagrass beds are also nurseries for fish, turtles and other marine life.

SFC had organised a few wild life awareness programmes in Lawas and in 2012 had recruited over 30 wild life rangers.

“Today, many people, including the wild life rangers, have become the ambassadors to promote our seagrass and dugong conservation in Kuala Lawas,” Braken said.

Although not a targetted species now since local fishermen know it’s protected by law, by-catch is still the number one issue.

It is believed rising pollution, coastal developments, river traffic, bad fishing practices and hunting have contributed to a decline in the fortunes of the dugong — both in Sarawak waters and around the world.

Dugongs are particularly vulnerable to boat strikes as they come to the surface to breathe, putting them directly in the path of watercraft.

Boats travelling at speed or in shallow waters over seagrass beds or coral reefs pose the greatest threat.

Dugongs are also under threat from diminishing food sources. Seagrass meadows are being detrimentally affected by pollution (pollutants can include herbicide runoff, sewage, detergents, heavy metals, hypersaline water from desalination plants, and other waste products), algal blooms, high boat traffic and turbid waters.

Today, dugongs need to rely on smaller seagrass meadows for food and habitat. When the seagrass habitat becomes unsuitable for foraging, dugong populations are displaced and the mammals face greater threat.

Other direct threats include incidental mortality in gill fishing nets and shark meshing.

The dugong has a long rotund body and a tail or fluke for propulsion. Adult dugongs can reach lengths of more than three metres and weigh up to 420kg.

Dugongs have relatively poor eyesight, so they rely on the sensitive bristles covering the upper lip of their large snouts to find seagrass.

The dugongs have been hunted for thousands of years for meat and oil.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists the dugong as a species vulnerable to extinction while the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species limits or bans the trade of derived products.

How about that connection with mermaids?

The word dugong derives from the tagalog term dugong which was, in turn, adopted from the Malay word duyung – both meaning lady of the sea.

Other common local names include sea cow, sea pig and sea camel (Wikipedia).

Another assumption is that when swimming, the dugong, which has a streamlined body, use its whale-like fluked tail and front flippers to glide forward in slow graceful movements and this probably caused early sailors to liken the species to mermaids.

Biologists also note that female dugongs have large teats at the base of their flippers.

According to the website of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), any threat to this huge migratory herbivorous mammal should be of critical concern to the billions of people who rely on the oceans for their livelihoods.

“If the dugong, a key indicator species, is declining, then the coastal environment that provides protein in the form of fish, and income in terms of tourism, is also being degraded,” it states.

Dugongs may live for 70 years or more and are slow breeders.

The female does not begin breeding until 10-17 years old and only calves once every three to five years, providing seagrass and other conditions are suitable. This slow breeding rate means dugongs are particularly susceptible to factors that threaten their survival.

Dugongs feed almost exclusively on seagrass, a flowering plant found in shallow water areas. An adult will eat about 30kg each day.

As dugong feeds, whole plants are uprooted leaving tell-tale tracks behind. They will also feed on macro-invertebrates such as sea squirts.

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Read more on Dugongs: Seagrass-Watch Issue 45: Dugong - June 2012



New study shows impact of sediment on Great Barrier Reef worse than first thought

30 May 2014, ABC (Australia)

Clear water at Fitzroy Island on the Great Barrier Reef, July 2008: Water is clearer at the Great Barrier Reef in July 2008, outside the flood period.

Sediment being washed into the ocean from rivers is continuing to damage the Great Barrier Reef and is having a more widespread impact than scientists first thought.

New research into the impact of river run-off has led to renewed calls for better land management practices.

Sediment is one of the biggest pressures on the health of inshore reefs.

It clouds the water and blocks sunlight from reaching the photosynthetic algae that gives coral its vibrant colours. The algae depends on the sun to survive.

It can also kill or damage sea grasses, which are important food for mammals and fish because they also need the sun to survive.

The study shows that large river flood events during the wet season are washing sediment into the ocean, which is having a significant impact on water quality around the reef.

The sediment reaches far off the coast and lasts several months.

Sediment impact worse than first thought

The Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) has led the study of 10 years of satellite data, provided by NASA's Ocean Biology Processing Group.

Flood affected water in Keppel Bay on the Great barrier Reef, February 2008: Sediment from river run off creates turbid water at the Great Barrier Reef during a flood event in February 2008.

AIMS research program leader Dr Britta Schaffelke says the study used new techniques to examine the long-term data.

She says it showed the sediment had a greater impact than previously thought.

"If we have large flood events, there are really visible brown flood blooms that are reaching into the coastal area and we always knew that the water clarity is then reduced for probably several weeks or perhaps even months at a time.

"The study showed that water clarity was affected not only in the inshore area, but actually at a lower level it was visible quite a way off shore, which is something that we didn't know before."

The study focused on run-off from the Burdekin River.

By removing the variability in water clarity caused by waves or other forces stirring up the ocean bottom, the researchers could identify the specific impact of river run-off.

Dr Schaffelke says the research has also given scientists a better understanding of how long the impact lasts.

"We now have a better understanding of how far the reach is of the river water, how far the influence goes and also how long that influence lasts," she said.

"So in big flood years that inference actually lasted pretty much into the dry season, whereas in the years where there wasn't that much river flow was still turbid in the summer but then cleared up towards the winter dry season."

Plankton bloom in Keppel Bay on the Great Barrier Reef, February 2008: A scientist works in a plankton bloom in Keppel Bay on the Great Barrier Reef during a flood event.

She says that will allow scientists to better analyse the impact of the sediment on the health of the reef.

"We can now compare that to what we know about the ecology of the reef and get a better understanding of how water clarity affects the organisms and how long the effects are lasting."

Calls for better land management practices

The fine sediment in the river is caused by land erosion.

Dr Schaffelke says modelling studies show the amount of sediment in the water has increased significantly since human settlement and the beginning of agricultural activities.

"With better land management practices, which are currently going on in the catchment, we can probably reduce the amount of that erosion and reduce the amount of load the rivers are carrying into the reef."

She says better land use practices are a win-win situation.

"The retention of nutrients, clays and fine silts in the catchments near the Burdekin River would not only safeguard the long-term productivity of farms but also improve water clarity and ecosystem health in the central Great Barrier Reef during the wet and dry seasons."

Work on reducing the amount of sediment entering the ocean has already begun.

"Under the Government's reef rescue initiative, these things have been going on for the last 10 years," she said.

"Landholders are improving their practices, but it takes a long time to fix up the land issues."

The research has been published in the international journal Marine Pollution Bulletin.

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Dredge-and-dump will damage the Great Barrier Reef

26 May 2014, New Scientist (Australia)

Dumping spoil from Australian port expansion projects into the Coral Sea will do serious damage to the Great Barrier Reef

LATE last year, the Australian government approved a plan to expand a coal terminal at Abbot Point in Queensland, one of five major ports along the Great Barrier Reef coastline.

The project involves dredging approximately 5 million tonnes of sediment from the seabed to deepen the port. The resulting material will be dumped 25 kilometres out to sea, inside the boundaries of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The park authority claims that the approval is subject to 47 strict environmental conditions that will protect the reef from damage.

Environmentalists, not surprisingly, are up in arms. Some claim that the dredge material is toxic and that it will be dumped directly on to the reef. Neither claim is true – the material is just sand, silt and clay and will be dumped on to bare seabed. But that doesn't mean that the project won't damage the reef. Far from it.

The Great Barrier Reef is a World Heritage Site but has been in severe decline for decades. For many species and ecosystems – corals, seagrass, dugongs, turtles and fish including sharks – the situation is dire.

The causes of decline are well known: pollution from coastal development and agricultural run-off, coral diseases, ocean acidification, coral bleaching and increasingly severe storms.

Water pollution is a particularly serious threat. Suspended sediment makes the water murkier, which can deprive sunlight-dependent organisms such as coral and seagrass of food. Farm run-off also increases the population of crown-of-thorns starfish, which prey on coral.

At present, the only measure in place to reduce pollution is an agricultural run-off scheme, which is quite successful but also quite limited. There is nothing to specifically manage sediment from port development.

Nonetheless, the Australian government claims that the Abbot Point project will not affect water quality. In fact, when environment minister Greg Hunt announced the plan, he said it would improve water quality. The government expects to achieve this with an "offset" programme that will stop farm run-off entering the Coral Sea.

If that sounds too good to be true, that's because it is. Such improvements to water quality are likely to be impossible.

To offset Abbot Point's 5 million tonnes of dredge spoil will require an equivalent reduction in agricultural sediment over the approximately five years that the project will run. Given that the total sediment reaching the Great Barrier Reef from human activities on land is only 6 million tonnes a year, that is a tall order.

In addition, the rules require that the offset must come from the watersheds of just two rivers, the Burdekin and Don, which together contribute less than 3 million tonnes of sediment a year. Reducing their discharge by 5 million tonnes over five years implies restoring them to almost pristine conditions, requiring the removal of most agriculture – obviously an impossible and undesirable situation.

A further complication is that the offset sediment must consist only of particles smaller than 15 micrometres across. Given our limited knowledge of particle size distribution in agricultural run-off, this creates immense technical hurdles.

Finally, based on the cost of the existing farm run-off scheme, the overall cost may be as much as A$1 billion. The minister's statement only mentioned funding of A$89 million.

If that wasn't bad enough, three other large Queensland ports – Cairns, Townsville and Hay Point – are also planning major expansions over the next decade. Another, Gladstone, has been undergoing expansion since 2010.

From the public documents available, I estimate that these projects will generate a total of up to 150 million tonnes of dredge spoil at a rate of 15 million tonnes a year. To offset the impacts of all these port developments is even less achievable.

Even more port expansion is likely in the future. The recent approval of a large coal mine near Alpha, Queensland, will require further dredging at Abbot Point which is not accounted for in the current project.

If dredging is not managed well, I expect severe degradation of the reef as a result. Seagrass beds, the dugongs and turtles that rely on them, and inshore coral reefs will be severely damaged.

There are a few encouraging signs of improvement, however. Hunt has ordered that in future, Gladstone's spoil will have to be dumped behind bund walls rather than offshore. Spoil from the expansion of the port of Cairns may be dumped on land.

Nonetheless, it is clear that under the current regime, management of port development is not compatible with the Great Barrier Reef's World Heritage values.

On top of that, neither the Australian nor Queensland governments have effective climate policies that would help protect the reef; the Queensland government rejects the scientific evidence of climate change and the position of the Australian government is ambivalent.

So of the three big threats to the Great Barrier Reef – climate change, coastal development and agricultural pollution – only the latter is being managed on the basis of good science, and then only to some extent.

There is another way. At Abbot Point, dredging could be avoided altogether by building a long jetty into deeper water. If dredging must happen, the spoil could be dumped behind container walls. It is inexcusable that these options have been rejected: the decision has clearly been made to expedite the project at least cost to the developer but maximum cost to the environment.

Jon Brodie is the chief research scientist at the Centre for Tropical Water & Aquatic Ecosystem Research at James Cook University in Townsville, Australia. A more detailed and fully referenced version of this article is published in the journal Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science (vol 142, p 1)

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Okinawa Defense Bureau confirms traces of dugongs eating seagrass in the sea around Henoko

23 May 2014, Ryukyu Shimpo (Japan)

Dugong feeding trail (Nago east coast). Photo Taro Hosokawa

The Okinawa Defense Bureau released a research report on the living organisms in the waters around Camp Schwab, on May 22. The research was carried out from November 2012 to March 2013. The defence bureau is proceeding with building a new base to replace Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Henoko, Nago. The defence bureau has now announced a key finding from the 2013 survey; traces of dugongs eating seagrass on the Oura Bay side of Henokozaki, the proposed the landfill site. Seagrass, which dugongs feed on, abound in the area, according to the research. The defence bureau saw 17 dugongs over 15 days in Kayo, Oura Bay and the sea near Kouri Island.

Meanwhile, volunteer research group “Zan” found more than 30 traces of seagrass eaten by dugongs on the Oura Bay side of Henokozaki by May 21. Some experts stress that the planned site for landfill is likely to be an important feeding ground for dugongs. The survey data suggests that the habitat of the dugong covers a wide range of areas from the east side of the northern part of the main island to the west coast. Environmental protection groups are concerned that the landfill construction will affect the dugongs because the proposed area for dredging sand and transporting it for landfill is part of their habitat. According to the research report , the number of dugongs there is three, a male, female, and their child.

Taro Hosokawa, the deputy secretariat of the Okinawa Dugong Network, said, “The dugongs found in Kouri Island in the past have moved to Oura Bay, and they might live in the east coast. He pointed out that Oura Bay of Henokozaki has possibly become one of a few feeding grounds of the dugongs. He doubts that only three dugongs live there. He said, “It is difficult to identify individuals other than the dugong that has the split tail fin.”

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Ribbons for riches: thank eelgrass for our food and safety

22 May 2014, The Independent News (USA)

I felt as if he was looking right at me, his shark tail waving back and forth, propelling him. He headed straight for me until – bonk! He swam upward. My camera lens wasn’t the food that this dogfish had been hoping for.

Of course I wasn’t where he was; I was watching the scene in a monitor on board the boat, holding the camera a couple of feet above the ocean floor. The monitor was showing me a real life movie: the brilliance of life underwater.

I have a dream job: I’m being paid to look at what’s in the ocean while slowly circumnavigating British Columbia’s Gulf Islands, my horizon fringed by mountain peaks.

I shout aloud to my colleague when I find our treasure.


Lingcod in eelgrass bed. Photo by Jamie Smith, Coastal Photography Studio

From coast to coast

On the west coast of Canada, where I live and work now, eelgrass is slowly becoming a household name for anyone who cares about the ocean. These ribbon-like blades lie flat like a long shag carpet when the tide is running and wave like eels when it is slack. Eelgrass is a flowering plant that grows in the ocean on the east and west coasts of Canada, including in Newfoundland and parts of southern Labrador. We find it in shallow, sheltered areas with freshwater input. Eelgrass needs soft sea bottoms to grow in, like sand and silt. When it’s healthy, it can grow in extensive beds that trap sediments and keep the water clear. It holds the sea floor together and helps to baffle waves that would otherwise hit the shoreline.

And it does what many people might care most about: it houses crabs and other commercial shellfish and fish species at some point during their life cycle. Eelgrass beds in Newfoundland and Labrador shelter juvenile cod, protecting them from predators. Researchers have found that juvenile cod living in eelgrass beds were 17,000 times more likely to survive than those living outside them.

Although I live in British Columbia now, while I lived in Newfoundland I studied where eelgrass grows around the province. Through land- and water-based surveys, and by tapping into local knowledge, researchers and community members have identified eelgrass locations around the island. Because we haven’t yet done detailed surveys around the whole island, what we have identified so far is likely an underestimate of where and how extensive it is.

An important – and fragile – resource

This patchy eelgrass location in Newman Sound, Newfoundland was devoid of juvenile fish until around 2004, when eelgrass expanded naturally into the site. It is now a significant producer of young cod. Aerial photo by Robert Gregory.

Like many important ecosystems, eelgrass is fragile and easily destroyed. Anchoring and dredging activities uproot the plants faster than they can grow back. Like other plants, eelgrass needs sunlight, so docks and wharves can shade it and prevent its growth. To prevent this, boats can be tied to moorings that are installed deeper than the depths at which eelgrass grows, and designed properly so that they minimize bottom disturbance and don’t have chains or ropes that drag on the sea floor. Docks should also be built away from eelgrass locations and can be designed to let light penetrate through.

Eelgrass mitigates the effects of climate change, as it sequesters carbon. Eelgrass is one of our sources of “blue carbon” – it takes carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, metabolizes it during photosynthesis, and releases oxygen. In fact, it does so even more efficiently than terrestrial plants do. This process also keeps our ocean water clean and helps fish, crabs and other animals stay healthy. The more eelgrass we have, the cleaner our air and water, particularly as our concerns about climate change are growing.

Newfoundland and Labrador is characterized by its coastal communities. Eelgrass beds are one of the many coastal ecosystems that protect our shorelines. The effects of climate change that we are already observing are sea level rise and increased frequency and intensity of storms. Storms and sea level rise can erode shorelines, particularly when natural defenses such as vegetation have been cleared for houses, roads and other developments.

Although a common approach to protecting shorelines is to harden them with riprap or sea walls, these hardened structures only serve to amplify waves and lead to scouring of adjacent shorelines. Soft shores such as beaches, wetlands and vegetated areas absorb water and wave energy and allow them to dissipate. Nature knows best. There are a number of stewardship resources and guidelines that describe how to take care of shorelines sustainably, including what to do around eelgrass beds.

“Once a few folks become more acquainted with this emerald jewel of a plant,” says Nikki Wright, Executive Director of SeaChange Marine Conservation Society (also on Facebook), “they might want to learn more about it by finding out where eelgrass grows near their coastal community and mapping it.”

Wright is also Co-Chair of the Seagrass Conservation Working Group, which maps and restores eelgrass habitats, and has fun doing it.

“We could have a sister group on the east coast,” Wright suggests enthusiastically.

So next time you’re in your boat or kayak in a sandy, shallow area, look over the edge and see if you are over a bed of green. Next time you enjoy a plate of fish and chips, remember the grassy oasis that enabled that fish to survive long enough to make it to your plate. Talk to your municipal planners and encourage them to keep your shorelines soft and green, and protect the ecosystems such as eelgrass that protect you.

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New report adds to dredge debate

16 May 2014, Whitsunday Times (Australia)

JUST weeks after Ports Australia released its report into capital dredging, another report has been compiled, this time by the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) and Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS).

In contrast to the Ports Australia report, which states that environmental impacts of dredging are well managed and understood, the WWF/AMCS report finds that the mining industry understates the impact of dredging and dumping on the Great Barrier Reef.

According to the report's key findings, the reef is under threat from unprecedented industrial development, including seabed dredging, along the Queensland coast. The report also states that dredging eradicates seagrass and marine animals living in the dredge area and creates plumes that cover vast distances, often underestimated by industry.

Furthermore the report states there are significant credibility issues with claims about limited dredging impacts at Hay Point, south of the Whitsundays near Mackay.

Coral scientist Dr Selina Ward said there were issues with the monitoring program used at Hay Point, hence the developers' claim of little to no impact from the dredging.

"[But] we know some corals had up to 60 per cent coverage by sediment which would have been damaging for them," she said.

"How did they cope into the future? We don't know because the monitoring stopped six months after the dredging."

Dr Ward said there were many methods for measuring coral health that weren't used in this particular monitoring and as a scientist she questioned the results.

Great Barrier Reef campaign director for the AMCS, Felicity Wishart, said no longer could the mining industry and the State Government claim that dredging did not cause damage to the reef.

"Claims that 8.3million cubic metres of seabed dredged at Hay Point Port and dumped in the Great Barrier Reef's waters in 2006 led to no significant or long term environmental impacts are not credible," she said.

"The State Government is both the owner and the overseer of these dredging projects, which means that it is essentially checking its own homework and giving itself top marks."

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Mystery Seagrass Circles in Croatia Puzzle Experts

15 May 2014, Mashable (Croatia)

Empty circles in seagrass, roughly 164 feet in diameter, near the Croatian island Dugi Otok. The Google Maps screenshot was not enhanced in any way.

RIJEKA, Croatia — You've heard about crop circles, but what about seagrass circles? Aerial photos of the coastline of several islands in Croatia show regular circles of sand amidst a sea of Posidonia oceanica, a seagrass endemic to the Mediterranean.

Biologist Mosor Prvan from the Sunce Association, a nonprofit environmental organization that first noticed the circles, doesn't have an explanation for the phenomenon. The circles are about 164 feet in diameter and are roughly at the same distance from the islands and from one another.

"We've first seen the circles in aerial photos in 2013 while working on a habitat mapping project at the islands of Unije, Susak and Srakane," Prvan told Mashable.

If you know where to look, the circles are easy to spot on Google Maps. But Prvan and the team from Sunce have dived in these locations to check with their own eyes.

"At first we thought it was some sort of photo manipulation, so we dived at one of the locations, and sure enough, the circles were there. They had a perfect edge, as if someone pulled the Posidonia out with a corkscrew," says Prvan.

A similar case of mysterious seagrass rings in Denmark has been explained by scientists in January 2014 — the rings were a result of a poisonous substance that was killing the seagrass, leaving circular marks.

But this case is different in several ways: The rings are larger and more regular, both in their shape and the pattern in which they appear.

Prvan is sure the phenomenon is antropogenic (manmade). "I don't know the cause, but I think it's manmade. I've contacted several experts on Posidonia, and they've never seen anything like that. I don't think it could be a bacteria or a substance poisonous to the seagrass."

Another solution that comes to mind is illegal dynamite fishing, which can damage the seabed, but Prvan waves it off. "Dynamite leaves smaller, irregular trails. It would take a huge amount of dynamite to cause a 50 meter circle."

Empty circles in seagrass, roughly 164 feet in diameter, near the Croatian island Srakan. The Google Maps screenshot was not enhanced in any way.

And it's not all just a brain-teaser, either — the phenomenon could potentially have serious ramification on the environment. "The Adriatic is one of the most important Posidonia habitat in the Mediterranean," says


What's the most probable cause, then?

"If I had to take a wild guess, I'd say military experiments. Posidonia

grows slowly, only 2 to 3 centimeters a year, and there's a theory among experts that once you removed a patch of Posidonia like that, it would not grow there again," he said. "Whatever caused this could have happened years ago. So, to determine the cause, the first thing to do would be to find out how old these circles are."

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Greenpeace attacks federal budget's funding cuts to Great Barrier Reef authority

14 May 2014, ABC Online (Australia)

Greenpeace says a $2.8 million budget cut to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), as well as cuts to the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) and the Landcare program, shows the Federal Government's disregard for the environment.

The federal budget will set up a $40 million trust fund for projects to protect the Great Barrier Reef.

However, Greenpeace program director Ben Pearson says the mining industry has been given preferential treatment with other cuts.

"When you look across the board at the cuts to AIMS, the cuts to GBRMPA, the cutting of the Renewable Energy Agency, it is pretty clear where the Government's ideological bench is," he said.

"They're not interested in dealing with climate change, they're not interested in promoting renewable [energy], they're not interested in promoting a green energy future for Australia and that's really disappointing.

"At a time when fuel for ordinary motorists is going to go up because the indexation has been unfrozen, the mining industry continues to have a fuel tax credit which gives it billions of dollars of a year in subsidies.

"Now that's simply not okay, those are big industries that we're told are extremely profitable - they can pay for their own fuel."

Queensland Resources Council (QRC) head Michael Roche says he is surprised about the cuts to the GBRMPA when the world is watching how the area is being managed.

"We were mightily surprised there would be cuts to the budget for the GBRMPA and also to the Australian Institute of Marine Science," he said.

"These are two essential institutions providing overview and research into the management of the Great Barrier Reef."

AIMS says it does not expect to axe any jobs in response to the federal funding cut.

The research body will lose $7.8 million over the next four years.

The institute's chief executive, John Gunn, says it may have to wind down some research programs in order to cope with the shortfall.

"We have a portfolio of projects, some of them are projects that we would invest all of our money in, they're, if you like, pilot projects that are immature to sell on to government or industry stakeholders," he said.

"The most likely area for us to wind back is in that space, the more fundamental end of our research and we'll continue to focus in the more applied area.

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QRC says its TV campaign about dredging is working

13 May 2014, Dredging News Online (Australia)

The Queensland Resources Council’s (QRC's) 'Reef Facts' television advertising campaign has resulted in thousands more Australians learning about current and future management challenges for the Great Barrier Reef, the QRC says.

Chief Executive Michael Roche said this initial television advertising campaign would wind up this evening, having achieved its objective.

"This campaign was about encouraging factual inquiry so that people could satisfy themselves about documented threats to the health of the reef and learn what is being done by governments, industries and communities in response," he said.

"Since the start of the campaign, there has been a three-fold increase in visits to the Queensland Government’s Reef Facts website with thousands more visitors to the QRC’s Working Alongside the Great Barrier Reef site.

"However, we expect the campaign by environmental activists holding the Great Barrier Reef as an emotional hostage will continue.

"They have made it clear that their goal is to shut down Queensland’s export coal and gas industries, regardless of the costs to the nation, the state and more than a million people living in communities from Bundaberg to Cape York."

Mr Roche also hoped the television campaign had been successful in encouraging the media and communities to more closely scrutinise activist claims, particularly following the publication of a peer-reviewed study of environmental impacts from port dredging projects in northern Australia.

"Dredging and seabed relocation of sediment continues to be misrepresented as an environmental threat when this expert, peer-reviewed report confirms that recent placements in subtropical and tropical Australian ports have either met their rigorous environmental conditions or exceeded expectations," he said.

"All we are advocating is that people genuinely interested in the future of the Great Barrier Reef put their faith in science over ice cream marketing stunts.

"The TV campaign may be over for now but the message remains the same – no dredging of coral reefs and no disposal of dredge spoil on coral reefs or other environmentally sensitive areas," Mr Roche said.

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Great Barrier Reef 'facts' TV ads ignore dredge dumping risks

01 May 2014, The Conversation (Australia)

New “Reef Facts” commercials are currently airing during prime-time television shows in Australia, purporting to tell the “facts” about the environmental health of the Great Barrier Reef. It comes amid growing international concerns – including from the United Nations overnight – about the future of the reef.

The context for these ads is the contentious expansion of the Abbot Point coal port, which will see three million cubic metres of dredge spoil dumped within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. And there is a lot more dredging and dumping being proposed – so much, in fact, that the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority said in a recent 636-page report:

The increase in the number of proposals for new and expanded ports along the Great Barrier Reef coast is of particular concern. There is also an increase in requests for dredging to extend outside of port exclusion areas and into the Marine Park — for example dredged entrance channels to allow for larger draft ships to access ports such as Townsville and Hay Point. The Authority has identified risks from the proposed port developments to the inshore area of the Region, which have the potential to cause significant negative impacts on species and habitats critical to the healthy functioning of the Reef’s ecosystem.

The United Nations is concerned about port expansions and dredging disposal in the Great Barrier Reef – but that bigger picture is ignored in new ‘Reef Facts’ commercials. Image courtesy NASA/GSFC/LaRC/JPL, MISR Team, CC BY

In yet another sign of international concern about the Abbot Point dumping decision, overnight the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has expressed “concern” and “regret” about recent approvals for major industrial projects on the reef, particularly the approval of Abbot Point dredge disposal within the marine park, “despite an indication that less impacting disposal alternatives may exist”. (Scroll down to page 102 of that link. You can also read my analysis of disposal alternatives here.)

The UN’s World Heritage Committee is now expected to decide whether to list the Reef as a “World Heritage Site in Danger” in February next year.

It’s important to be clear upfront: dredging is not the most significant threat to the Great Barrier Reef’s future. Discussing that would require a whole other article about climate change and countless other factors.

But the truth is not as simple as these QRC ads make out. So let’s get the facts straight on the Great Barrier Reef.


What the ads don’t tell you

The ads – which you can watch below or on the QRC website – say that:

No scientific study has blamed ports or shipping for coral loss, or a decline in the environmental health of the Great Barrier Reef.

Paid for by the Resources Council, both ads end by pointing to a Queensland government Reef Facts website.

The basis for the statistics in the two QRC ads come from an excellent 2012 peer-reviewed paper, “The 27–year decline of coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef and its causes”, published in the international journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The paper found, just as the ad shows, that 48% of coral death was attributed to cyclones, 42% to crown of thorn starfish and 10% to bleaching.

But the way that those facts are used in the ads is highly misleading.

The data in the 2012 study come from coral reefs predominantly on the mid-shelf of the Great Barrier Reef – that is, 30 to 100 kilometres from the coast.

The study does not address the causes of death and decline among inshore reefs, seagrass meadows, dugongs, turtles and inshore dolphins. All these ecosystems and species are also in decline, with inshore coral reefs – those found up to 40km from the coast – seagrass and dugongs in severe decline in most of the reef south of Cooktown.

It is misleading for these ads to selectively quote one study that only looks at coral mortality on mid-shelf reefs, and then claim that shipping and port activity has no impact on “the environmental health of the Great Barrier Reef”.

The Great Barrier Reef: more than coral

It might seem like a statement of the obvious, but the Great Barrier Reef is not only world-famous – and World Heritage-listed – because of its coral. To borrow from Bill Clinton’s famous campaign line: it’s the ecosystem, stupid.

The largest living structure on Earth, it spans 2300km and is home to 600 types of coral, more than 100 species of jellyfish, 500 species of worms, 1625 types of fish, 133 varieties of sharks and rays, 14 breeding species of sea snakes, 215 species of birds, six of the world’s seven species of marine turtle, 30 species of whales and dolphins, and one of the world’s most important dugong populations.

Protecting mid-shelf coral reefs is important. But unlike the QRC ads, most studies on threats to the Great Barrier Reef consider threats to the complete range of species and ecosystems that make it so unique.

The main water-quality threats to these ecosystems are sediment, nutrients, pesticide, toxic metals and hydrocarbons from the land. These come from agricultural activities and from coastal development – including ports.

So is it true, as the ad claims, that:

No scientific study has blamed ports or shipping for coral loss

In fact, the very limited coral monitoring that has occurred associated with dredging at Gladstone Harbour has suggested some changes to the benthic communities (organisms living on the sea floor, such as sponges and corals) in the area. But as with so much of the monitoring, the design of the study was not robust enough to firmly ascribe the actual cause.

So without more scientific evidence, it’s impossible to fairly conclude whether any coral loss can be attributed to ports or shipping activity.

However, the ads make a broader claim that:

No scientific study has blamed ports or shipping for … a decline in the environmental health of the Great Barrier Reef.

And this is where the ads really don’t tell the full story.

Ports along the Great Barrier Reef coastline. Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority Draft Strategic Assessment Report, CC BY

Independent scientific studies – as in, independent from the Queensland government and Gladstone Port Corporation – have linked extensive finfish, crabs, prawns and shark disease and death with the dredging of contaminated sediments in Port Curtis at Gladstone in 2011 and the leakage of the most contaminated component of the dredge spoil from a poorly constructed, monitored and maintained bunded retention area.

Environmental management was so poor at Gladstone that several inquiries have been set up to investigate, the most recent one by federal environment minister Greg Hunt, which was recently extended. Its findings should be released soon.

That inquiry came after years of local concern over the outbreak of fish disease and claims of cover-ups non-reporting of a leaking bund wall, non-reporting of exceedences of water quality guidelines, and other problems.

Further north at the Hay Point coal terminal near Mackay, large-scale capital dredging in 2006 led to considerable loss of deepwater seagrass, which recovered somewhat by 2007 but had not recovered well in the period to 2011, most likely due to the combination of the dredging impacts and further impacts of extreme weather.

The authors of the reports on the Hay Point seagrass monitoring program noted the vulnerability of this type of Halophila decipiens seagrass to disturbance, especially when such disturbances occur regularly, which has a cumulative effect.

Get the facts

So should the QRC be declaring so absolutely in its TV ads that:

No scientific study has blamed ports or shipping for coral loss, or a decline in the environmental health of the Great Barrier Reef.

Based on my knowledge of the science: no.

Several robust studies have now established that dredging and spoil dumping on a large scale have had impacts on species and ecosystems of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.

And that’s concerning, given the likelihood of further massive dredging programs potentially generating up to 80 million tonnes of dredge spoil, which presents a significant threat to the inshore ecosystems and species of the Great Barrier Reef.

More information: Click Here



Hundreds of areas deemed 'important waters'

09 May 2014, The Japan Times (Japan)

An Environment Ministry panel has designated around 280 coastal areas in Japan as “important waters” in which biodiversity should be preserved, officials said Friday.

The areas, which account for around 18 percent of Japan’s coastal waters, include locations in Shizuoka and Aichi prefectures where loggerhead turtles lay eggs, and Kasaoka, Okayama Prefecture, which is known as a breeding ground for horseshoe crabs.

Also covered are most coastal areas of the main island of Okinawa, which hosts the threatened dugong, they said.

“The designation aims to present scientifically important areas, and it does not immediately lead to regulations on fishing activities,” a ministry official said.

The government expects research data from the experts to be used in compiling local conservation policies and for environmental education.

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Endangered marine turtle poaching in Palawan alarming

09 May 2014, Sun.Star (Philippines)

THE Palawan Council for Sustainable Development Staff (PCSDS) said the poaching and illegal trading of the endangered green sea turtles (pawikan) and other “critically endangered” species in the province is “alarming.”

“Something needs to be done to curb this because we are losing them fast; we do not want to wake up one day with no more of them in our ocean,” PCSDS spokesperson Alex Marcaida said in an interview with Philippine News Agency (PNA).

Marcaida’s statement came in wake of the interception of 11 Chinese and five Filipino fishermen within the vicinity of Hasa-Hasa or Half Moon Shoal on Tuesday, suspected to be making a trade for caught green sea turtles from Balabac island town at the southernmost tip of Palawan.

He said they are not only worried about the sustainable protection, conservation and preservation of the green sea turtles, but also other reptiles of the order Cheloniidae that are found in Palawan like the critically endangered hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata).

“Almost 70 percent to 80 percent of our wildlife protection and conservation operations in the Balabac area involved the poaching and illegal trading of the green sea turtles, and this is alarming because the numbers being collected are great,” Marcaida disclosed to the PNA.

He said what is even alarming is that it is the Filipino fishermen that are now catching the endangered green sea turtles to make a trade with foreign fishermen, such as the Chinese.

“Some foreign fishermen wittingly enjoin unscrupulous Filipino fishermen to catch them and then make a trade. We suspect that they are making a trade in Half Moon Shoal; like they have made it a store for green sea turtles in the sea,” he said.

Since the location of the shoal is in the open sea, Marcaida believes it is easier for foreign fishermen to escape to nearby country of Malaysia, where they can no longer be chased due to border laws.

“If they see Filipino soldiers patrolling at sea, they can easily escape to the nearest country, which is Malaysia because it’s near Half Moon,” Marcaida added.

The alarming rate at which the green sea turtles and other marine turtle species are being poached and illegally traded, Marcaida claimed, was the subject of the PCSDS’ recent meeting with Western Command (Wescom) commanding chief Gen. Roy Devaraturda.

On May 7, he said the military general met with PCSDS staff to discuss what can be done to further increase concerted efforts to protect the marine turtle species, and how the Wescom can also expand its participation.

“We had initial discussions on how we can increase our joint efforts to protect the endangered and critically endangered turtles, and we have agreed to widen our information, education and communications campaign about their protection,” said Marcaida.

This means that the support of barangay officials, particularly in Balabac, will be enjoined to prevent the possibility of losing the green sea turtles.

“Community support is very, very important in efforts to make this species of marine turtle survive. We cannot discount them, we need to make them see the value of why there is a need to protect these marine turtles,” he added.

He added that the Wescom might be able to help by providing logistical support since one operation can cause environment authorities outside the military at least P 20,000 or more in gas and fuel, which is difficult.

“We’re in the process of mapping out how to address this problem with the help of government agencies, like Wescom. General Deveraturda is very cooperative, and we appreciate this,” he said.

Before the arrest of the 11 Sino fishers with over 300 live and dead green marine turtles, on April 30, environment authorities in Palawan recovered 53 species of the same species held in water pens in Sitio Silom-Silom, Barangay Catagupan also in Balabac.

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Gladstone dredging project inquiry finds conditions on port expansion too vague to be enforced

09 May 2014, ABC Online (Australia)

An independent inquiry into a major dredging project in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area has found environmental conditions on a central Queensland port expansion were too vague to be enforced.

The Federal Government commissioned a scientific inquiry into the Gladstone Port dredging project.

It examined a bund wall that leaked sediment into the harbour from June 2011 to July 2012.

The inquiry has found "aspects of the design and construction of the bund wall were not consistent with industry best practice", and the geotextile layers of the wall eroded under pressure.

The investigation has found water quality monitoring sites in Gladstone were established in the wrong areas, and the federal Environment Department failed to adequately retain compliance records.

It also says environmental conditions imposed by the Commonwealth lacked the specifics necessary to enable their effective enforcement.

Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt will hand down the report this morning.

Fishermen in the Gladstone area have been eagerly awaiting the inquiry's findings.

When the bund wall leaked it coincided with an outbreak of fish disease in the harbour and nearby waterways.

However, a Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry report released in 2013 found that flooding and a large number of fish spilling out from the Awoonga Dam was the main cause of the problem.

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Science appeals to fisheries for seagrass salvation

08 May 2014, ABC Local (Australia)

The scientific community is reaching out to the fisheries industry in the hope of preserving a vital part of its aquatic ecosystem.

Seagrass provides vital food and shelter, for a huge range of fish species, but recent years has seen it decline in eastern Victorian waters.

“There’s certainly been persistent decline over the last two decades,” said Dr Ford, a research fellow from the University of Melbourne's Department of Zoology.

Dr Ford says a broad range of species are dependent on seagrass for survival.

“All these lovely local, sustainable fish that we eat, things such as King George Whiting, Garfish, Calamari, Rock Flathead, rely on seagrass in different ways,” he said.

“They either live in the seagrass, or they might actually eat the seagrass, or eat what is living on the seagrass.

“If we want to have a viable sustainable industry out of them, we need the seagrass to be there.”

A central part of Dr Ford’s research into seagrass decline, hopes to draw on the knowledge of commercial and recreational fishermen.

“The key difference to my project, to a lot of science and research that has gone on before, is that I am trying to harness the local knowledge of those who spend their lives on Gippsland waters.

“They’re out there every day when the weather’s good and they’re observing so many things,” said Dr Ford.

“As a scientist, I go out and do a short scientific survey, but I’m never going to pick up the things that they do.

“There’s so much information and observations that they have, that is vital for understanding the dynamics of the system.”

Dr Ford hopes the knowledge gained from those in the fisheries industry, can direct future ecological management strategies.

“What I’m doing is chatting to fishermen, getting them to document their observations, changes in seagrass cover and quality over time, and map algal bloom and how they might be affecting seagrass,” said Dr Ford.

“Algae can starve seagrass of light, nutrients and oxygen, so we’re trying to document what’s actually going on out there.

“[Fishermen] have such investment; their livelihood is invested in this seagrass, they are stewards of the system, they see these things and they care about them.

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Seabed mapping: Sensor aims to improve seagrass checks off SA coast

08 May 2014, ABC Online (Australia)

New technology to map the seabed could lead to more frequent monitoring of the health of seagrass off the South Australian coast.

SA Water and a Taiwanese university are testing the technology in Saint Vincent Gulf, towing a sensor behind a boat.

SA Water senior research manager Mike Burch hopes it will prove to be a faster way of gathering information on marine health.

"Currently the seagrass is mapped about every five years and that's quite good, I mean it's valuable information but we're hoping ... the optical monitoring technology is something we can use from a boat and we can do it at least annually, or even more frequently if there's an event like a storm event," he said.

South Australia's Environment Department says about one third of seagrass along Adelaide's metropolitan coastline has died since the middle of last century.

It blames stormwater run-off and effluent for much of the initial losses of seagrass within two kilometres of shore and says the seagrass appears to be much healthier four kilometres offshore.

It says once the seagrass thins there can be erosion of sand by waves and this worsens the loss of seagrass.

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Cameras to keep eye on Jurien Boat Harbour wave conditions

07 May 2014, ABC Online (Australia)

WA Transport Minister Dean Nalder says fixed cameras have been installed at Jurien Boat Harbour to help gather information about wind and wave conditions.

The data is being collected as part of an ongoing investigation into understanding environmental problems in the area.

Mr Naldar says the research is needed to understand how to improve water quality and reduce seagrass build-up.

In October 2013, the beach at the harbour was closed for a month due to poor water quality.

Mr Nalder says a device outside the harbour entrance will record wave height and speed and wind direction.

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Dumping in the Great Barrier Reef still an option for GPC

06 May 2014, Mackay Daily Mercury (Australia)

OFFSHORE dumping of up to 12 million cubic metres of dredge spoil in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is still on the table at Gladstone Harbour.

A Gladstone Ports Corporation proposal to duplicate two shipping channels in the harbour is currently being assessed by the federal Environment Department.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt last year said offshore dumping should be the last option considered for disposing of the dredge spoil should the project go ahead.

He said at the time that it was his intention that "the first priority" be given to "shoreline, near to shore or land reclamation disposal".

But despite his comments, guidelines for the environmental impact statement for the project, issued by his department last month, specifically highlight offshore disposal was still an option.

The filing of those documents also comes as the World Heritage Committee last week warned more approvals in the World Heritage Area could see the entire reef could be put on the WHC "in danger" list next year.

"The project footprint is located within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area and the Great Barrier Reef National Heritage place," the document reads.

"Offshore disposal of dredge material may occur inside the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park."

The guidelines also highlighted that alternatives and reasons for selecting the "preferred option and rejecting the alternatives" should be provided in the EIS for the project.

A spokesman for Mr Hunt said the proponent was "currently evaluating options" and such information would be considered in a public review of the EIS.

GPC chief executive Craig Doyle said at the time the channel duplication project wouldn't be needed for several years unless port trade expanded above current forecasts.

He said the harbour already has capacity to deal with existing expansions of LNG and coal export projects, and the latest project would not take place within three years.

A spokeswoman for GPC has further clarified that the port has been working on preparing the EIS "sometime in the next two years".

"The trigger for channel duplication will be if port trade expands past the current planned levels in the future," she said.

"This will include options for any potential disposal of dredge spoil as required and will be in full consultation with the relevant state and federal government agencies and other stakeholders.

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Landcare projects are making a positive impact

05 May 2014, Mackay Daily Mercury (Australia)

THE hard work and dedication of local Landcare volunteers was celebrated at the Catchment to Coast event recently hosted by Whitsunday Catchment Landcare.

The group has reached the half-way point on the two state government funded Everyone's Environment Grant projects: the Central Queensland Coast Riparian Health project and the Community Coastcare project.

Whitsunday Catchment Landcare co-ordinator Jacquie Sheils said the projects were designed to remove and suppress weeds, restore local native plant communities, to improve habitat for wildlife and to improve water quality by restoring stream-bank vegetation.

She said this would benefit the seagrass meadows downstream that provide habitat for native species such as turtles and dugongs, as well as providing a nursery for other marine life.

A total of 19 participants gathered at the Whitsunday Catchment Landcare Community nursery in Proserpine last Sunday, where the volunteers grow local native plants for community revegetation projects.

They then travelled to Galbraith Creek Park in Cannonvale to access the progress of more than 1935 plants they have planted as part of the Riparian Health project.

The group then travelled to Coral Esplanade to review the Community Coastcare site where 0.7 ha of weeds have been removed to make way for 350 local native plants established by local volunteers.

This was followed by a walk along the foreshore to see the unique Whitsunday Bottle Trees and remnant vegetation with a picnic lunch at the beach.

At low tide, the group walked out to the seagrass meadows near Pigeon Island and met the local Seagrass Watch volunteers who demonstrated seagrass monitoring methods.

More information: Click Here



Abundance of Chesapeake Bay's underwater grasses increases

22 April 2014, William and Mary News

Monitoring of underwater bay grasses is now being reported by salinity zone, a more ecological relevant scheme that one based on geography.

An annual survey led by researchers at William & Mary's Virginia Institute of Marine Science shows that the abundance of underwater grasses in Chesapeake Bay increased 24 percent between 2012 and 2013, reversing the downward trend of the previous three years. The increase reflects an upsurge from 48,195 acres to 59,927 acres.

VIMS tracks the abundance of underwater grasses as an indicator of Bay health for the Chesapeake Bay Program, the federal-state partnership established in 1983 to monitor and restore the Bay ecosystem.

VIMS researchers estimate the annual acreage of underwater Bay grasses through aerial surveys flown from late spring to early fall. This year, the VIMS team for the first time categorized abundance using four different salinity zones, which are home to underwater grass communities that respond differently to storms, drought, and other adverse growing conditions. Reporting grass abundance by salinity zone makes it easier for scientists to connect changes in grass communities with changes in growing conditions through time.

Scientists attribute this year’s boost in bay-grass abundance to the rapid expansion of widgeongrass in the saltier waters of the mid-Bay, from the Pocomoke Sound to the Honga River south of Cambridge, Maryland. The VIMS team also observed an increase in the acreage of the Susquehanna Flats, and a modest recovery of eelgrass in shallow salty waters, where the hot summers of 2005 and 2010 had led to dramatic diebacks. A lack of sunlight due to algal growth and suspended sediment remains a challenge for eelgrass growth in deeper waters.

Professor Robert “JJ” Orth, head of the Seagrass Monitoring and Restoration Program at VIMS, says “The expansion of widgeongrass in the mid-Bay’s saltier waters was one of the driving factors behind the overall rise in bay-grass abundance. While widgeongrass is a boom-and-bust species—notorious for being incredibly abundant one year and entirely absent the next—its growth is nevertheless great to see.”

The VIMS team began tracking the abundance of underwater bay grasses in 1978, and initially segmented their data by geographic zone due to constraints imposed by then-existing computer technologies.

“We’ve known for many years that reporting by salinity zone would be more ecologically relevant,” says Orth, “but we also knew it would be a massive project to update all our past data into the new scheme.” The decision to do so was made in consultation with the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Submerged Aquatic Vegetation (SAV) Workgroup, with serious discussion of the planned change beginning around 2010.

David Wilcox, a GIS programmer/analyst in the Seagrass program at VIMS, says the switchover from geographic to salinity zones “has been quite a journey.” “This is something that we’ve been working on for four years now,” says Wilcox. “We got the go-ahead to make the change about two years ago, and this year we made the push to get it done.” That push required every available moment, with Wilcox implementing final edits in the last few days before the Chesapeake Bay Program’s release of the 2013 Seagrass Report, fittingly scheduled for Earth Day on April 22.

Lee Karrh, program chief for Living Resource Assessment at Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources and chair of the Chesapeake Bay Program’s SAV Workgroup, says “Since 1984, Chesapeake Bay Program partners have reported abundance of underwater grasses by geographic zone. These artificial boundaries worked for some time, but the switch to mapping grasses by salinity zones makes more ecological sense. Reworking our historic data was hard work, but doing so makes it easier to understand patterns in grass growth.”

Underwater Bay grasses are critical to the Bay ecosystem. They provide habitat and nursery grounds for fish and blue crabs, serve as food for animals such as turtles and waterfowl, clear the water by reducing wave action, absorb excess nutrients, and reduce shoreline erosion. They are also an excellent measure of the Bay's overall condition because their health is closely linked to water quality.

2013 findings in perspective

  • Across the entire Chesapeake, bay-grass abundance has fluctuated between 38,958 acres (1984) and 89,659 acres (2002), averaging 65,468 acres. This is 32% of the 185,000-acre Bay restoration goal.
  • Bay grass abundance in the Tidal Fresh Salinity Zone (no salt) has ranged from a low of 6,900 acres (1995) to a high of 25,481 acres (2008) averaging 12,399 acres. In 2013, bay grass abundance in this zone measured 13,990, achieving 68 percent of the zone goal, an increase of 1,841 acres over 2012 coverage.
  • Bay grass abundance in the Oligohaline Salinity Zone (slightly salty) has ranged from a low of 653 acres (1984) to a high of 13,918 (2005) acres, averaging 6,680 acres. In 2013, bay grass abundance in this zone measured 5,590 acres, achieving 54 percent of the zone goal, an increase of 78 acres over 2012 coverage.
  • Bay grass abundance in the Mesohaline Salinity Zone (moderately salty) has ranged from a low of 15,636 acres (1984) to a high of 48,443 (2005), averaging 27,851 acres. In 2013, bay grass abundance in this zone measured 25,579 acres, achieving 21 percent of the zone goal, an increase of 5,958 acres over 2012 coverage.
  • Bay grass abundance in the Polyhaline Salinity Zone (very salty) has ranged from a low of 9,959 acres (2006) to a high of 24,015 (1993), averaging 17,887 acres. In 2013, bay grass abundance in this zone measured 14,768 acres, achieving 44 percent of the zone goal, an increase of 3,859 acres over 2012 coverage.

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Africa's Submerged Savannas

21 April 2014, NatGeo News Watch, Posted by Paul Rose in Explorers Journal (blog)


A sea pen pops up in an eelgrass meadow at Matamba estuary. Sea pens are not plants, but colonies of polyps where one individual grows large and serves as a stalk from which others reach out to capture food in their tentacles. (Source: Kike Ballesteros)
The small Halophila grass in Mozambique. (Source: Kike Ballesteros)

There are many iconic images of Africa, from camels in the Sahara desert to gorillas in the mountain rainforest of Virunga or surfing hippos in Loango beaches, but the African wilderness is probably most identified by the savanna—the open grassland where elephants, giraffes, cheetahs, and lions roam.

Although some scattered trees thrive in the savanna, most of is covered by grass, the major element that feeds wildebeest, zebras, and other herbivores, which are in turn prey of the big cats. Grasses are a kind of plant that prosper better in semiarid climates with short seasonal periods of good environmental conditions, when they grow quickly and abundantly. However their growth is usually limited by the scarcity of water.

Strange as it seems, grasses also develop where water is plentiful: in the ocean. Oceanic grasses or seagrasses have terrestrial ancestors: they have adapted secondarily to water. This is a striking difference with seaweeds, whose evolution has been largely underwater their entire history. Moreover, seagrasses produce flowers, and fruits are their major method of dispersal—a feature that is only explained by their aerial origin.

Estuaries are for sure the habitat of seagrasses’ first ancestors and they still are their preferred place. These last three days, because of the high seas, our expedition has been confined to the estuary of the Matamba river, close to the city of Inhambane. We have dived extensively in the waters of the estuary and several times we dropped onto seagrass. The diversity of grass here is great. I have found up to six species in a seagrass patch of hardly 100 square meters. More species than in the entire Mediterranean Sea! In fact, the Indian Ocean is the world’s hotspot for seagrass biodiversity.

Who Does What

These seagrass meadows are the marine counterpart of the terrestrial savannas. They hold large populations of animals that graze on them, from sea hares and small crustaceans to sea urchins and herbivorous fish. Seagrass meadows are also critical to maintain the dugongs’ populations as they almost exclusively feed on them. Green turtles also depend on seagrass to feed.

These two animals are the biggest herbivores in the seagrass meadows, with a role similar to antelopes and zebras or elephants in the savanna. Most crabs and some snails play the role of scavengers—the function played by hyenas and vultures in the savanna. The carnivores here can be cautious, like sea stars and sea horses, or eager, like jacks and barracudas. The top predators—the lions of seagrass meadows—are sharks.

Dugongs and green turtles are in danger all over the Indian Ocean, threatened by habitat destruction and hunting. So are the bullsharks which were the major estuarine predators until humans began to fish them. Seagrass itself is apparently doing well in the bottoms of Matamba estuary, but big herbivorous fish and dugongs are becoming scarce.

Our First Dugong Sighting

Yesterday afternoon Janneman and Andrea, our partners of the Megafauna Foundation, spotted a dugong and her calf close to Linga Linga, in the mouth of the estuary. They called us by radio and we quickly launched a small team to join them and obtain some images.

We tried to get close but dugongs are extremely suspicious animals. Scott Ressler, one of our terrestrial filmmakers, got some two-second shots of dugongs’ backs from above. Manu San Félix tried to shoot them underwater. I followed him. The sun was low in the skyline, the water was murky and visibility was only seven feet. We made two unsuccessful attempts to approach them. We free dived again and again. We found sickle-leaved seagrass, a favourite food for dugongs, everywhere. It is clear that seagrass abundance is not limiting dugong populations. Humans are.

These have been the first sights of dugongs in our expedition. For the days to ahead we will face the waters of Bazaruto National Park, which hold the largest population of dugongs in Africa. Thus, we will surely have better opportunities to record them on film. But few dugongs still graze seagrass in the Matamba estuary, where they are extremely vulnerable. They are the elephants of the underwater savannah and as such they need protection. Our expedition is here to provide a promising future for the calf we saw yesterday. And we will do our best to succeed.

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Read All Pristine Seas: Mozambique Blog Posts



UF/IFAS research findings shed light on seagrass needs

17 April 2014, University of Florida (USA)

Seagrass beds represent critical and threatened coastal habitats around the world, and a new University of Florida study shows how much sunlight seagrass needs to stay healthy.

Loss of seagrass means fish, crabs and other animals lose their homes and manatees and sea turtles lose a source of food. Nutrients, such as phosphorous, may prevent seagrass from getting the sunlight it needs to thrive. Nutrients may come from many sources, among them fertilizers used in agriculture, golf courses and suburban lawns, pet waste and septic tank waste.

Scientists often use seagrass to judge coastal ecosystems’ vitality, said Chuck Jacoby, a courtesy associate professor in the Department of Soil and Water Science and co-author of a new UF study that examines light and seagrass health.

“By protecting seagrass, we protect organisms that use seagrass and other photosynthetic organisms that need less light,” said Jacoby, a faculty member in UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

When nutrient levels are too high, microorganisms in the water, called phytoplankton, use these nutrients and light to grow and reproduce until they become so abundant that they block sunlight seagrass needs to survive, said Zanethia Choice, a former UF graduate student who led the investigation.

“Seagrass can cope with short-term light reductions, but if those conditions last too long or occur too frequently, seagrass will deteriorate and ultimately die,” Choice said. “Good water clarity is vital for healthy coastal systems.”

Choice studied seagrass beds in a 700,000-acre swath off the coast of Florida’s Big Bend.

Choice, now a natural resource specialist with the U.S. Forest Service in Mississippi, conducted the study as part of her master’s thesis, under the supervision of Jacoby and Tom Frazer, a professor of aquatic ecology and director of the UF School of Natural Resources and Environment.

Choice combined 13 years of light and water quality data and two years of seagrass samples from habitats near the mouths of eight rivers that empty into the Gulf of Mexico.

Seagrass off the Steinhatchee, Suwannee, Waccasassa, Withlacoochee, Crystal, Homosassa, Chassahowitzka and Weeki Wachee rivers constitutes part of the second largest seagrass bed in Florida. The largest bed is in Florida Bay, between the Everglades and the Florida Keys, Jacoby said.

Choice wanted to see how much light was needed to keep the seagrass in this region healthy. She found different seagrass species needed varying amounts of light, ranging from 8 to 27 percent of the sunlight at the water’s surface.

The UF/IFAS study will give water resource managers, such as the state Department of Environmental Protection, water-clarity targets they can use to set proper nutrient levels for water bodies, Jacoby said.

Reducing nutrient levels can promote the health of seagrass and coastal waters. For example, concerted efforts to reduce nutrients flowing into Tampa Bay over the past 20-plus years resulted in a 50 percent reduction in nitrogen, a 50 percent increase in water clarity and a return of lost seagrass, according to a study conducted by the Tampa Bay Estuary Program.

Unlike Tampa Bay, there is no evidence that elevated nutrient levels in Choice’s study area have led to loss of seagrass. UF researchers are trying to make sure nutrients do not pollute the seagrass beds off the coast of the Big Bend, and they hope their results will guide managers as they strive to prevent any damage.

The study of seagrass light requirements is published in this month’s issue of the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin.

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Declining catch rates in Caribbean green turtle fishery may be result of overfishing

16 April 2014, Science Codex (Nicaragua)


A green turtle is being unloaded by fishers in Río Grande Bar community. A 20-year assessment of Nicaragua's legal, artisanal green sea turtle fishery by the Wildlife Conservation Society and the University of Florida has uncovered a stark reality: greatly reduced overall catch rates of turtles in what may have become an unsustainable take.(Source: Cathi L. Campbell.)
Green turtles are being transported to slaughter in Bluefields, Nicaragua.(Source: Cynthia J Lagueux.)

A 20-year assessment of Nicaragua's legal, artisanal green sea turtle fishery has uncovered a stark reality: greatly reduced overall catch rates of turtles in what may have become an unsustainable take, according to conservation scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society and University of Florida.

During the research period, conservation scientists estimated that more than 170,000 green turtles were killed between 1991 and 2011, with catch rates peaking in 1997 and 2002 and declining steeply after 2008, likely resulting from over-fishing. The trend in catch rates, the authors of the assessment results maintain, indicates the need for take limits on this legal fishery.

The study now appears in the online journal PLOS ONE. The authors are: Cynthia J. Lagueux and Cathi L. Campbell of the University of Florida (formerly of the Wildlife Conservation Society), and Samantha Strindberg of the Wildlife Conservation Society.

"The significant decrease in the catch rates of green turtles represents a concern for both conservationists and local, coastal communities who depend on this resource," said Dr. Lagueux, lead author of the study. "We hope this study serves as a foundation for implementing scientifically based limits on future green turtle take."

Caribbean coastal waters of Nicaragua contain extensive areas of sea grass, principal food source for green turtles, the only herbivorous sea turtle species. Green turtles in turn support a number of indigenous Miskitu and Afro-descendent communities that rely on the marine reptiles for income (by selling the meat) and as a source of protein.

The catch data used by the researchers to estimate trends was gathered by community members at 14 different sites located in two geographically political regions of the Nicaraguan coast. The research team analyzed the long-term data set to examine catch rates for the entire fishery, each region, and for individual turtle fishing communities using temporal trend models.

Over the duration of the assessment, the scientists recorded that at least 155,762 green turtles were caught; the overall estimated catch (factoring in estimated take during periods when data were not recorded) was 171,556 turtles. The average catch rate per fishing trip (assuming average fishing effort in terms of nets used and trip length) revealed an overall decline from 6.5 turtles to 2.8 turtles caught, representing a 56 percent decline over two decades.

In individual communities, catch rate declines ranged between 21 percent and 90 percent in green turtles caught over the 20-year period.

"These declining catch rates align with our survival rate estimates of green turtles exposed to the Nicaragua turtle fishery and population modelling, which suggested the fishery was not sustainable at high take levels reported in the 1990s," said Dr. Cathi Campbell.

The steep declines in green turtle catch rates, the researchers maintain, indicate a potential decline of green turtle populations that use Nicaragua's foraging grounds, particularly smaller rookeries in the Caribbean. The scientists note that the study results highlight the need for not only close monitoring of rookeries in the region, but also in-water aggregations of green turtles. Further, future research efforts should include the use of molecular technology to better refine Caribbean green turtle genetic stocks, specifically to identify populations most at risk from turtle fisheries.

"Given the importance of green turtles to Nicaragua's past, present and future, we encourage the communities, governmental agencies, and conservation groups to take measures that conserve and sustain these globally threatened populations, and to work together to ensure that the communities have alternative sources of protein and income into the future," said Dr. Caleb McClennen, Director of WCS's Marine Program.

Growing up to 400 pounds in weight, the green turtle is the second largest sea turtle species next to the leatherback turtle. The reptile inhabits the tropical and subtropical waters of the world. The species is listed as Endangered on the IUCN's Red List and on CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna) as an Appendix I species, a designation which prohibits all international commercial trade by member countries. In addition to the threat from overfishing (intentional take), the green turtle is at risk from bycatch in various fisheries (unintended take), poaching of eggs at nesting beaches, habitat deterioration and loss due to coastal development and climate change effects, and pollution.

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Dugong carcass found off resort

14 April 2014, The Star Online (Malaysia)

KOTA KINABALU: The recent discovery of a decomposing carcass has raised questions about the fate of a rare marine mammal believed to be found only at an island off Sabah’s northern Kota Belud district.

The body of an adult 1.5m-long dugong was found by staff and guests of a resort at Pulau Mantanani at about 3pm last Friday.

Bembaran Beach Resort owner Zamzani Pandikar Amin said the dugong could be one of the 12 to 15 mammals that were found grazing on sea grass at the shallow reefs around the island.

“Sighting these animals is becoming rare compared to 10 years ago. This is a big loss of these unique creatures,” he said, adding that, as far as he knew, Mantanani was the only known grazing ground for dugongs in Malaysia.

“It’s sad that the island is the only sanctuary for these special animals.”

He said the dead dugong was rotting when it was found, indicating that it had died several days ago.

Zamzani said as there were no obvious external injuries on the carcass, it could have died from internal wounds.

He said among the possible causes was fish bombing which was still prevalent around the island.

“It could have been that someone had tossed in an explosive into the water and this creature happened to be nearby,” Zamzani added.

He said this was the first sighting of a whole dugong carcass at sea, adding that dismembered parts of such an animal had been found washed ashore several years ago.

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Research links turtle deaths to dredging in harbour

07 March 2014, The Reporter (Australia)

A MAJOR dredging project in Gladstone harbour may have been linked to a spate of turtle deaths in the area, new research by James Cook University has claimed.

The research looked at links between turtle health and marine water quality across the Great Barrier Reef, and contradicts previous State Government reports that largely blamed a flood for the problems.

Led by JCU water quality expert Dr Jon Brodie, the report said a dredging project underway in the harbour in 2011-12 may have exacerbated turtle health problems.

The report found that turtle strandings and deaths across the reef in recent years were suspected to be the result of a "herpes virus" in association with a secondary factor, "the isolation of which remains elusive".

While the 2010 flood was a possible link in the Gladstone harbour strandings and deaths, having reduced seagrass cover, it was also "likely that the elevated metals found in stranded turtles resulted from metals mobilised through dredging".

The report also said the "leakage" of dredging sediment from a bund wall built to hold the spoil may have further added to stress the turtles were under.

The failure of that bund wall is currently being investigated by a review ordered by the Federal Government, tasked with finding out if there were any unacceptable failures in the bund wall structure.

Dr Brodie's research cited a previous study into metals in the blood of 56 turtles that were stranded or died at the time, finding it was likely "that the large scale dredging in Gladstone Harbour may be associated with these elevated metals".

While the Gladstone Ports Corporation, which undertook the dredging, has consistently claimed the turtle strandings and deaths were not associated with the dredging, the JCU study joins a growing number of counter-claims.

The Australian Institute of Marine Science has previously noted all the specific causes of a fish disease outbreak in the harbour may remain "unknown".

However, reports last week confirmed at least one noted chemical in the harbour was overlooked during state and federal government investigations into the 2011 outbreak

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Cape York groups to share in $2m of Reef Rescue funds

04 April 2014, ABC News (Australia)

A new project to improve the health of the Great Barrier Reef off Cape York in far north Queensland has secured $2 million in federal funding over three years.

Cape York Natural Resource Management (NRM) and Cape York Sustainable Futures put forward a joint project to the Reef Rescue program.

The NRM's Bob Frazer says a large part of the project involves working with landholders in hotspots for sediment and nutrient run-off between Laura and Princess Charlotte Bay.

"So Sustainable Futures will be planning with landholders and graziers in those hotspots and would deliver them grant money, around the dollar for dollar, to actually bring about land management practice changes and put in infrastructure that'll reduce the impact," he said.

"The other component is working with the farmers, current and intending farmers in the Lakeland area, to implement best management practice to help them to plan their enterprises and soil test and look at water use efficiency and things like that.

"That will reduce the impact into the Laura Basin which runs into the Normanby."

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Seagrass conservation in Indonesia protects fisheries

03 April 2014, World Fishing (UK)

Research by Swansea University and partners shows that protecting seagrass meadows throughout Indonesia is critical for national food security and important fisheries exports.

The research by scientists at the Seagrass Ecosystems Research Group at Swansea and Cardiff Universities, and in collaboration with an Indonesian NGO (FORKANI) and the Wildlife Conservation Society, has examined how seagrass meadows that are a globally threatened ecosystem are important for marine fisheries throughout Indonesia.

The recent surveys conducted in the Wakatobi National Park in SE Sulawesi build on previous case studies by the authors in Indonesia and throughout the Indo-Pacific that clearly show how seagrass is both locally threatened as well as being a source of hugely important local food.

The recent studies that included in water fish surveys, fisheries landing surveys and household interviews found that at least 407 species of fish are present in Indonesian seagrass meadows and that in the Wakatobi 68% of fishing activity is in seagrass. Fisheries surveys also revealed that 62% of fish caught use seagrass meadows. Of significance was the favoured status of seagrass fish species such as the White-spotted spinefoot (Siganuscanaliculatus) known locally as ‘Kola’. 60% of people favoured fish species that use seagrass meadows as habitat.

Explaining the significance of the research, Dr Richard Unsworth said: “This case study in the Wakatobi highlights the role of seagrasses in supplying every day food needs to local people. Unfortunately these important seagrass meadows in the Wakatobi and throughout Indonesia are being degraded at an alarming rate from a range of diverse factors including poor water quality, coastal development and destructive fishing practices. Seagrass meadows need to be placed high on the Indonesian conservation agenda, not just to protect biodiversity but to protect national food security and economically important fisheries exports”.

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What's an Acre of Seagrass Worth? $80000 in Fish Alone

31 March 2014, National Geographic (USA)

For decades, dire tales of collapsing fish stocks were told, only to fall on deaf ears.

Then, in a 2008 report, “Sunken Billions,” the World Bank and the FAO began to couch the problem in entirely new terms – financial terms. They estimated that $50 billion was lost each year due to poor fisheries management. That staggering figure caught the eye of finance ministers, development agencies, and economists around the globe.

At last, the conservation community discovered how to get attention, but it raised a new question: what to do about it? To truly turn the tide, they knew, meant not only taking fewer fish, but also producing more. That’s where seagrass, mangroves, and other habitat come in. These habitats are nurseries to new generations of commercially valuable fish and it is time we recognize the value of those important ocean services on Earth’s balance sheet.

Juvenile fish have it hard from day one. They are at the mercy of the elements and voracious predators. The odds of a microscopic fish larva making it to adulthood are one-in-a-million. Seagrasses represent the rare safe haven, providing much needed food and shelter. And yet, like the fish, seagrass beds have also been disappearing. Some say the world loses a soccer field worth of seagrass every half-hour, further contributing to the decline in fish.

New fisheries management has to consider the whole life cycle of the fish—where they are born, where they spend their lives, as well as how they die.

In places where habitat loss harms fish, protection and restoration are a very real opportunity. A new study, supported by The Nature Conservancy, tells us just how real. The report tells us that each square meter of seagrass habitat we save in southern Australia could add nearly one kilogram of fish each year. Said in a different way, every acre of seagrass could add US$80,000 of commercially important fish to the oceans every year.

No one is blind to the fact that seagrass restoration is both technically challenging and financially expensive, but these figures show that the benefits far outweigh the costs. Some restoration efforts could pay for themselves in just five years. In these terms, seagrass restoration is a no brainer.

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Proposed projects 'will destroy Krabi'

07 March 2014, The Nation (Thailand)

Coal seaport, power plant will ruin largest seagrass area, fossilised shells

Fossilised shells at a beach dating back 75 million years and over 10,000 rai of the country's second-largest seagrass area in Krabi would be destroyed if the coal seaport and coal-fired power-plant project go ahead, an environmental watch agency warned yesterday.

Adding to the concerns over the project, the local tourism association in Koh Lanta is worried that the project would jeopardise the area's tourism, with the industry generating between Bt1.4 billion and Bt1.5 billion annually for the local economy.

In response to the backlash, a consultancy company hired by the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat), which would construct the plant, will on Sunday listen to public concerns about the project in Krabi.

"We fear that the public scoping for the Ban Klong Ruo Coal Seaport project will not be different to the one organised earlier for the coal plant," said Chariya Senpong, a campaigner for Greenpeace Southeast Asia's Climate Change and Energy division.

"Both assessments only identify the impacts that they are able to mitigate, and play down the environmental, societal and economic harm the project will cause."

The 700MW power plant would be fuelled by bituminous and sub-bituminous coal, which would likely be imported from Indonesia, Australia and Africa.

Construction of the Bt30-billion facility is scheduled to be completed in 2019. Egat is conducting an environmental and health-impact assessment of the project, which is expected to be completed soon.

"The report will just be procedural compliance for Egat to carry on with the project," Chariya said.

A Greenpeace report states that the marine life surrounding the proposed project and the sea route to transport coal to the port includes the seagrass area, which covers 17,725 rai, dugongs, nursing grounds for aquatic species, a mangrove forest and over 21 species of wild birds.

The mouth of Krabi River is also recognised under the Ramsar Convention, an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable utilisation of wetlands.

Koh Lanta Tourism Association chairman Therapot Kasirawat said he was worried that hundreds of thousands of tourists, especially from Sweden, would shun the area if the project went ahead. Therapot said about 150,000 Swedish tourists annually visited Koh Lanta, staying on average 19 days, while about 95,000 visited Koh Phi Phi.

"We learnt that they [tourists] will go to other places once they see the first coal ship pass the island," he said.

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Getting firm on fertilizer

06 March 2014, Florida Today (USA)



Fertilizing yards during summer months may soon be illegal in unincorporated Brevard County, in an effort to sow greener pastures for the Indian River Lagoon. If commissioners approve the rainy-season fertilizer ban tonight, Brevard would join more than 50 local governments statewide — including several within the county — that already have done so.

The ban would effect only unincorporated parts of the county and would run from June 1 to Sept. 30. Other new rules under consideration include prohibiting use of phosphate fertilizer without a soil test first to prove it’s needed, requiring at least 50 percent slow-release nitrogen fertilizer, and no longer allowing people who use deflector shields on spreaders to fertilize within 3 feet of waters.

County commissioners declined to implement a ban and other strong measures in 2012, but are revisiting the matter as the lagoon’s woes have become more apparent.

In recent years, unprecedented algae blooms have choked off tens of thousands of acres of seagrass in the lagoon. Seagrass is important source of food and shelter for marine life in the lagoon.

The seagrass die-off was followed by the mysterious deaths of large numbers of manatees, dolphins and pelicans.

Excessive nitrogen and phosphorous — the active ingredients in most fertilizer — in the lagoon is widely suspected of feeding the algae blooms.

While fertilizer isn’t the sole source of nutrients in the lagoon, it is a major one. Leaking septic tanks, pet waste, power plants, tailpipes and groundwater also contribute nitrogen and phosphorus to the lagoon, with each pound capable of growing more than 500 pounds of algae.

With so much sandy soil, it doesn’t take long for those two main fertilizer ingredients to reach the lagoon, where they trigger toxic algae that smothers seagrass, fish and the rest of the lagoon’s web of life.

“We do know we have a groundwater pollution problem,” said Virginia Barker, the county’s watershed program manager.

“For most of Brevard County, it only takes a few months — weeks to months — for the groundwater to flow to the lagoon.”

Advocates for stricter rules point to studies that show lawns survive just fine without fertilizing during rainy months. Opponents — most who have connections to companies that make fertilizer or treat lawns with fertilizer — say depriving grass of nutrients when it’s most able to absorb them, during peak growing season, can result in more nitrogen and phosphorus running off the weaker grass when applied at other times of the year.

Today’s hearing will harken back to recommendations made more than a year ago by the county’s Local Planning Agency. It had recommended the ban as well as:

• Extending fertilizer free zones from the current 10 feet from waterways to 15 feet.

• Eliminating the waiver to the 15-foot zone for those using a deflector or liquid application, which currently allows it to be reduced down to 3 feet.

• Only allowing no-phosphate fertilizer, rather than low phosphates, without a test to first determine whether the soil is deficient in the chemical. Florida soil is typically rich in phosphates already.

Reading University of Florida’s research swayed Judy McCluney, a retired psychologist on Merritt Island, in favor of a rainy-season ban and the other stricter rules. Based on UF’s studies, she’s now convinced that applying the recommended fertilizer rates during rainy season can result in significant amounts of nitrogen leaching beneath the roots and into groundwater, which flows to the lagoon.

But using slow-release fertilizer leaches much less nitrogen into the ground, according to the UF research she’s looked at.

McCluney has lived near the lagoon for four decades, and says she rarely uses fertilizer in her vegetable garden.

“We’ve caused an imbalance by putting this stuff in,” she said of synthetic fertilizers.

As evidence that fertilizer ordinances work, advocates point to the large seagrass gains in Southwest Florida estuaries such as Sarasota Bay and Tampa Bay after fertilizer ordinances were enacted.

But some in the lawn-care industry doubt that the ban alone had much effect and see many other factors at play in the seagrass recoveries, such as stormwater fixes and septic tank removals.

In December 2012, Brevard commissioners adopted an ordinance similar to the state-suggested rules, balking at a rainy season ban and the other stricter rules the Local Planning Agency recommended. But increasing public awareness of the lagoon’s ecological distress prompted them to revisit the issue.

Rainy-season bans on fertilizer use are the most hotly debated aspects of state-required local ordinances to improve water quality of the lagoon and other waters.

The state’s model ordinance stops short of a rainy-season ban on fertilizer use, instead prohibiting fertilizer use during storm watches or warnings or when heavy rain is expected.

But local governments can opt for bans and other stricter fertilizer rules.

The state rules are based on research by the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Florida forces municipalities to adopt ordinances at least as strict as state-suggested fertilizer rules if they are located near waters the state determines to be taking in too much nitrogen and phosphorus.

In 2008, the state estimated some 3.28 million pounds of nitrogen and more than 471,460 pounds of phosphorus flow into the lagoon and the Banana River annually. That’s from runoff and other “non-point” sources.

Brevard County must within 15 years sharply reduce the amount of nitrogen and phosphorous flowing into its share of the lagoon, according to state environmental officials.

To pay for further reductions from stormwater system improvements, county officials plan in early April to consider increasing to $64 the current $36 fee that single-family homeowners pay each year for stormwater management. That first-ever increase would bring the fee on pace with inflation. The fee hasn’t been increased since it was enacted in 1991.

A year ago, as hundreds of manatees and pelicans happened to be dying in the lagoon, Rockledge — Brevard’s oldest city — became the county’s first city to ban use of fertilizer containing nitrogen or phosphorus from June 1 to Sept. 30.

Several Brevard cities have since joined in banning fertilizer during rainy season, including Cape Canaveral, Cocoa Beach and Satellite Beach.

Conservationists worry that state legislators will once again try, as they have in past years, to pass a law to prevent local governments from adopting rules stricter than the state’s recommendations.

The fertilizer industry counters that keeping lawn-care businesses and residents from applying fertilizer for a third of the year threatens livelihoods and property rights.

They point to a 2009 state law that says municipalities can only go stricter than the state-suggested ordinance if they prove — via a science-based, economically and technically feasible program — the tougher rules are needed and that they’ve considered all relevant scientific information.

Otherwise, they may be opening themselves up to lawsuits from industry to undo the stricter ordinances, warns Jason Steele, of the law firm Smith & Associates, which represents Florida Partnership for Sustainable Greenspace, a conglomerate of fertilizer, real estate and other associated industries.

“We think all of the cities have violated the statute,” Steele said. “They need to stop this.”

Last year, Melbourne agreed, and balked at a stricter ordinance.

County officials assure that they followed the 2009 law.

Either way, Steele says the fertilizer ordinances are unenforceable.

County code-enforcement officers would not proactively seek out offenders, county officials have said, but would respond to complaints that the fertilizer rules were being broken. Those who code-enforcement officers witness violating the rules could face fines up to $500.

Steele sees runoff, septic tanks and leaky sewers as more significant nutrient contributors to the lagoon.

“And yet everybody wants to hang their hat on this fertilizer ordinance,” Steele said.

“If they continue, we’ll end up in lawsuits with all of them,” he added. “Nobody seems to want to address real hard problems.”

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Senate inquiry into failure of environmental offsets

04 March 2014, Sydney Morning Herald (Australia)

The use of environmental offsets to compensate for damage done by major mining will come under scrutiny after the Greens secured Labor's backing for a Senate Inquiry.

The inquiry, likely to be voted on in the Senate on Wednesday, will examine whether offsets – such as the purchase of land elsewhere for its preservation – are adequately monitored and effective when used as conditions for federal approvals.

The inquiry will focus in particular on several major projects, including the Bimblebox Nature Refuge, an 8000-hectare area under threat from a coal mine owned by federal MP and billionaire Clive Palmer.

Also to be examined will be the offsets linked to the Abbot Point port expansion in Queensland which will require the disposal of millions of tonnes of dredge spoil into the Great Barrier Reef, and Whitehaven's Maules Creek open-cut coal mine, the largest new coal project under construction in Australia.

“We're seeing offsets being used more and more as an excuse for governments to tick and flick environmentally damaging projects for the big mining companies,” said Greens environment spokeswoman, Senator Larissa Waters.

“The Abbot Point coal port is a classic example, with the Environment Minister (Greg Hunt) telling us all the damage will be offset but (freedom of information) revealing that the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority found that would be impossible, as the damage was simply too great,” Senator Waters said.

An adviser to Labor's shadow environment spokesman, Mark Butler, confirmed Labor would support the Greens' inquiry. Fairfax Media sought comment from Mr Hunt's office.

Senator Waters said offsets were “often magic pudding calculations to justify irreversible environmental damage”, with little enforcement to ensure they were actually delivered.

“There's often no political will and environment departments are so under-resourced that enforcement and monitoring of offsets fall by the wayside,” she said.

Last month, an ecologist, John Hunter, found land purchased by Whitehaven to replace endangered box gum at its Maules Creek site in NSW's Leard Forest contained mostly other trees, such as silvertop stringybark. Only about one of 53 sites surveyed “was likely to fulfil the criteria of the critically endangered ecological community determination", Dr Hunter said in a report commissioned by environmental groups.

“We've seen Whitehaven get away with clearing endangered box gum for their Maules Creek coal mine by buying a patch of land that's almost completely different vegetation,” Senator Waters said.

“And Clive Palmer's company is being allowed to destroy the Bimblebox Nature Refuge for a massive coal mine, in exchange for purporting to protect other vegetation that hasn't even been identified yet,” she said.

Fairfax Media also sought comment from Mr Palmer.

The inquiry will report by June 16, two weeks before the end of the current Senate's term.

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Great Barrier Reef: government website to justify dredging ‘not accurate’

03 March 2014, The Guardian (Australia)

The site, aimed at correcting ‘false claims’ about Abbot Point decision, is just a political document, scientist says

A Queensland government website aimed at correcting “false and extreme claims” about the Great Barrier Reef is itself highly misleading, according to a leading marine scientist.

The site, called Reef Facts, addresses the contentious decision to allow the dredging and dumping of 5m tonnes of seabed sediment within the Great Barrier Reef marine park in order to expand the Abbot Point port.

Citing research by the Australian Institute of Marine Science, the site attributes the loss of coral cover on the reef to storms, crown of thorns starfish and bleaching. Pollution from port development and dredging is “minor”, the site states.

The Abbot Point dredging will be done “responsibly within strict environmental limits”, the website claims, with the sediment dumped 40km from the nearest reef. It points out the disposal area covers 0.0005% of the total area of the marine park.

Andrew Powell, Queensland’s environment minister, said the government was putting “facts ahead of opinion and hysteria”.

“The constant focus on Abbot Point and the impacts of dredging is completely out of proportion and not based on the facts,” he said.

“Most significant is the fact that the dredging that will take place is less than 8% of what was proposed by the former Labor government and will be carefully managed.

“Australia is an island and ports are the lifeblood of our economy. We can strike a balance between sensible and safe port development and continued protection of our precious reef.

“We are fully committed to protecting the reef and fulfilling our international obligations under the World Heritage convention. The Great Barrier Reef’s outstanding universal value and integrity remain largely intact.”

The dredging project was approved by federal environment minister, Greg Hunt, in December. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority allowed the dumping in January although documents released under freedom of information on Monday show that the authority felt it posed an “unacceptable social and environmental risk”.

Jon Brodie, a research scientist at the Centre for Tropical Water and Aquatic Ecosystem Research at James Cook University, told Guardian Australia that the Reef Facts website is “not very accurate”.

“It’s a political document and it’s best to think of it as that,” he said. “It’s a misdirection.

“The website suggests that the Great Barrier Reef doesn’t have dolphins, fish, dugongs and so on. It also implies it doesn’t have inner shore reefs in areas such as Hamilton Island and Hayman Island, with their big resorts. These areas are declining due to sediment delivery from the land, hence the issue with the dredging.”

Brodie said the website made little mention of the impact of climate change and downplayed the sheer amount of spoil that would be placed onto the reef by the Abbot Point project and others in the future.

“The average sediment coming from rivers onto the reef is 6m tonnes a year, so 5m from Abbot Point over three years isn’t an insignificant amount by any means,” he said. “The concern is the precedent because there’s a huge amount of dredging to come in Townsville, Cairns and Gladstone.

“The [park authority] itself said there will be damage done to the corals and seagrasses. There are perfectly good other alternatives that would cause less damage, so why did we choose the most damaging? It’s a slap in the face to Unesco.”

Unesco’s World Heritage Committee will decide whether the Great Barrier Reef should be listed as “in danger” in June, having previously warned the Australian government about levels of port development alongside the vast ecosystem.

Felicity Wishart, a campaigner at the Australian Marine Conservation Society, told Guardian Australia that the Reef Facts site made glaring omissions about the state of the reef.

“Dredging spoil can travel up to 80km, so the fact the nearest reef is 40km is largely irrelevant,” she said.

“Clearly the community is up in arms about the threat to the reef. We can only conclude the Queensland government has heard those concerns and has sadly chosen to provide a website to mislead the community.

“The reef is in the worst condition it has ever been in. This is on their watch and they need to take action.”

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Report from Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority warned against waste dumping plan

03 March 2014, Brisbane Times (Australia)

The federal government ignored scientific advice when the dumping of millions of tonnes of dredging waste from a mining project into the Great Barrier Reef was approved.

Documents released under freedom of information laws show the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority was warned that approval should not be granted for dumping sediment waste into the reef to make way for a coal project.

''The proposal to dredge and dispose of up to 1.6 million cubic metres of sediment per year … has the potential to cause long-term irreversible harm to areas of the Great Barrier Reef,'' the authority's own report reads.

Under the proposal, the seabed would be dredged to create berths for six coal ships for the Abbot Point coal port expansion. The dredged waste would then be dumped in the Great Barrier Reef.

The report's author warned particularly of the effects on seagrass meadows and coral reefs.

And yet the chairman of the authority, Russell Reichelt, approved the dumpings late last year.

''The approved disposal area consists of sand, silt and clay and does not contain coral reefs or seagrass beds,'' he said in January.

Queensland campaigner for Greenpeace Louise Mathieson said though it may be true the immediate disposal area has no seagrass, muddy plumes can spread for up to 80 kilometres. ''I think the chairman was downplaying the impact of dredging and dumping,'' she said. ''What he said does not reflect the expert advice that was coming from staff about the real impacts the project could have, especially the risks to water quality.''

In its dredging permit assessment, the authority states that seagrass in the vicinity of the dredging activity is likely to be affected by the dumping, primarily by reduced light and increased water sediment.

''Coral reefs around Holbourne Island, Nares Rock, Camp Reef, Horseshoe Bay and Cape Upstart also have the potential to be affected by turbid plumes and sedimentation,'' the assessment said.

The original application from North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation sought approval to dredge and dump 3 million cubic metres of spoil in the reef waters as part of coal terminal expansion plans at Abbot Point, north of Bowen.

Former federal environment minister Mark Butler extended the deadline for a decision on the application twice last year before the federal election.

Ms Mathieson said whilst these documents go some way in suggesting why a decision was delayed several times under Labor, they do not explain the approval granted by Greg Hunt, the present minister. But Mr Hunt says the groundwork for backing the dumping plan was made by previous state and federal Labor governments.

''This was Labor's project, announced by Anna Bligh as a massive expansion and then upgraded to a super-terminal with 38 million cubic metres of dredging,'' he said. ''The final approval was one-twelfth of this at 3 million cubic metres … I was advised the proposal put forward for offshore disposal was the best option available.''

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has been contacted for comment.

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Rare seagrass under threat

02 March 2014, The Sun Daily  (Malaysia)

A rare seagrass, found only in Middle Bank in Penang and Johor, is under threat here from proposed reclamation project.

Tanjong Bungah assemblyman Teh Yee Cheu said the seagrass needed to be preserved and the area gazetted as a marine conservation site.

He said the Penang Development Corporation (PDC) has called for a Request for Proposal (RFP) to reclaim a patch of sea where the seagrass is growing.

He said the other area where seagrass grows is off Gelang Patah in Johor.

Teh, an environmentalist, said the 125-ha site was the second largest intertidal bed after the one in Johor and was visible during low tide.

"The area is home to many types of shellfish, crabs and fish with fishermen sourcing prawns and other seafood there.

Reclaiming Middle Bank threatens the ecological balance as the seagrass bed is an important part of the food chain and an important breeding ground for marine life," he told theSun.

Middle Bank is located near Gazumbo Island, a small patch of sandy land populated with trees, and visible from the first Penang Bridge.

Echoing Teh's view was Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) adviser K. Kanda who said the society was not in favour of such a development.

"We do not want a 'concrete wall' along our coast," he said, urging the state government not to allow the taking over of the area for development.

When contacted, State Environment Committee chairman Phee Boon Poh said the administration was aware of concern over the proposed reclamation.

He said the state was studying the hydroflow as well as the geographical and physical outlook for the project.

"Sure it remains," he told theSun via a text message when asked if the seagrass bed was going to be preserved.

Seagrasses form extensive beds or meadows which harbour, among others, species of juvenile and adult fish and molluscs and are an important link in the food chain.

Species that feed on seagrasses include dugong, manatees, fish, geese, swans, sea urchins and crabs.

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