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Rare dugong sighting in southern NSW

25 November 2015, Australian Geographic (Australia)


Dugong spotted feeding on seagrasses in Merimbula Lake. Photo Credit: Brenda Edbrooke

A DUGONG HAS been spotted well outside its usual range in the waters of Merimbula in southern New South Wales – much to the surprise and delight of locals.

The dugong was initially spotted by local resident Beth Richards on 18 November in Merimbula Lake, a coastal lagoon about 460km south of Sydney. Locals and tourists have made several further sightings over the past week.

The core habitat for dugongs in Australia is in the tropics and sub-tropics, from Shark Bay in Western Australia around to Moreton Bay in Queensland. However, while sightings of dugongs this far outside of their usual range is rare, it isn't unheard of, says Amanda Hodgson, an expert in dugong behaviour at Murdoch University in WA.

"Dugongs can travel hundreds of kilometres and are known to occasionally visit NSW coastal waters," Amanda said. "There are actually some records (although very few) of dugongs around Merimbula – the lake there has seagrass, so there is likely some forage for this particular animal."

Amanda added that while we do not yet know why individual dugongs occasionally head so far south, "we do know they headed a long way to get there and may travel a long way back, so it's great to hear people are respecting this animal and not causing it distress or interrupting its feeding," she said.

Anthony Daly, the manager at Merimbula Aquarium, told Merimbula News Weekly – where the sighting was originally reported – that it was the first time he had heard of a dugong being sighted in the area in 25 years. More information: Click Here



Estuary closed to avoid a stink

24 November 2015, Mornington Peninsula News (Australia)

ROTTEN egg gas – or sulphur dioxide – is described as being the by-product of an “environmental tragedy” occurring along Western Port beaches, especially at Balnarring and Somers’.

Merricks Creek and Estuary Working Group members have discussed solutions to the stink and agreed to the estuary being temporarily closed.

The group was formed to provide community input into an independent study to investigate whether there is a practicable option to controlling the pong.

Melbourne Water’s Georgina Downey has told the group that the objective is to find a permanent solution to the problem.

“While the construction of a sand groyne will help in the short-term, the group is still developing a long-term solution that will allow the estuary to open and close naturally,” she stated in a newsletter.

“[Consultants] Alluvium was appointed by Melbourne Water to undertake an independent study into the reasons for the odour and to come up with possible solutions.

“The main finding was that the persistent odour experienced at the estuary is due to hydrogen sulphide or ‘rotten egg’ gas caused by the breakdown of the large amount of seagrass which has accumulated in the estuary.

“They found that because the estuary is permanently open, seagrass on the beach is carried up the estuary and deposited there.

“The working group agreed that the estuary be temporarily closed to mimic the natural closing of the estuary and prevent any more seagrass entering the estuary prior to the completion of a longer term solution by the end of autumn next year.”

A sand groyne will be used to close the estuary, but the estuary will be reopened “if necessary”.

Triggers for reopening the estuary include higher than normal levels of “rotten egg” gas, poor water quality, if high water levels threaten local flooding, and if the smell of decomposing seagrass “becomes unbearable”.

“The shire will liaise with the Merricks Estuary Watch group and the community to monitor the site. They will gauge how the estuary responds to the mouth closure, and if there is any deterioration in conditions, and will look to reopen the estuary if necessary,” Ms Downey said.

Balnarring Ratepayers’ Association is concerned that gas concentrations in Merricks Creek are increasing because “over 200 percent of its catchment is being taken by the uncontrolled growth of large dams by wineries”, a member said.

“This lack of catchment flow has resulted in huge amounts of seaweed being pushed up Merricks Creek.”

More information: Click Here

Protection of our marine life needs more than Marine Protected Areas, we need to make it resilient

23 November 2015, Swansea University (United Kingdom)

Management of the world’s marine habitats needs to look beyond only Marine Protected Areas and put achieving ecosystem resilience at the top of the agenda, according to research by an international group of scientists led by Dr Richard Unsworth at Swansea University.

Our oceans and coasts are changing rapidly due to human impacts. But our very existence depends on the resources and functions that their biodiversity and productive habitats provide. Learning to manage the habitats and biodiversity within our oceans and coasts is one of the greatest challenges of this century.

Management of our coasts typically takes the approach of establishing Marine Protected Areas, controlling fishing, or regulating industrial activity. But in the face of the increasing threat of climate change we need to take measures that increase the resilience of our oceans and coasts to ensure they survive into the future (Ecological resilience is “the capacity of an ecosystem to absorb repeated disturbances or shocks and adapt to change without fundamentally switching to an alternative stable state”).

The research published online this week in Marine Pollution Bulletin examined the ecosystem resilience of seagrass meadows globally. The work shows how the resilience of these productive ecosystems is becoming compromised by a range of local to global disturbances and stressors, resulting in ecological regime shifts that undermine their long-term viability.

The paper examines over 150 sources in the academic literature and illustrates how the management of these systems needs to consider a series of features and modifiers that act as interacting influences on the resilience of the ecosystem (see figure). The paper concludes by providing a series of simple actions that marine conservation managers can take to improve ecosystem resilience. Dr Richard Unsworth said: “The resilience of marine ecosystems is influenced by many factors, such as the health and proximity of adjacent habitats; the water quality; the supply of larvae and the presence of human disturbance. Management of biodiverse and important marine ecosystems like seagrass needs to consider more than just simple location specific protection, but instead consider the biological and environmental influences beyond the extent of its distribution.”

Seagrass meadows are the ‘Prairies of the Sea’. 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.

Globally there is estimated to be over 600000km2 of seagrass. Seagrass is important for storing carbon, providing juvenile fish nursery habitat, pumping oxygen into the air and protecting the Worlds coasts from erosion.

For further information about the study go to and email Dr Unsworth at: .

More information: Click Here


Elusive Dugong: Icon in fight over U.S. military in Japan

22 November 2015, McClatchy Washington Bureau (Japan)



A childlike smile overcomes Takuma Higashionna when he remembers swimming with a rare and wild Asian manatee. He imagined that the animal had a message for him, beckoning him into the bay near his home.

“It was as if it was saying, ‘Follow me’” into the waters of Oura Bay, recalls Higashionna, 53.

That day, eight years ago, was the last time the local politician saw up close one of the endangered marine mammals known as dugongs, which have come to symbolize the international campaign to block an expansion of an American military base here.

For nearly 20 years, activists like Higashionna have used a fear of the dugong’s extinction in Japan to rally support for their cause. They’ve filed lawsuits delaying construction of military runways in Oura Bay on Japan’s southern island of Okinawa and attracted throngs of protesters to the gates of a Marine base called Camp Schwab.

But today, it’s an open secret that the gentle animals already may be gone from the island. If any remain, they likely will not recover to the healthy numbers that lived here before the 1930s, regardless of whether Tokyo and Washington follow through with their military plans, experts say.

Instead, dugongs on Okinawa are powerful environmental icons for a broad movement that’s determined to prevent the Japanese government from filling a corner of the bay for a Marine air base that they say would disrupt a gorgeous harbor with abundant sea life.

“If you lived here and you saw this rich nature that you knew they were going to destroy, you would oppose it, too,” said Higashionna, who is a member of the Nago City Council.

Higashionna has been a part of two lawsuits in U.S. federal court that sought to undo the plans for Camp Schwab by calling on a Japanese law that protects dugong as a significant cultural resource.

The first legal effort compelled Japan and the Marines to reassess the proposal’s potential impacts on dugongs in 2008. A more recent lawsuit this year failed to persuade a Northern California judge to stop the project, though its supporters have signaled that they intend to appeal the decision.

Dugongs are special creatures in Okinawan folklore, featuring in a local creation myth. Centuries ago, Okinawans considered dugong meat to be a delicacy. Other tales credit the animals with warning people about approaching tsunamis.

The dugong population in Japan lives at the extreme northern edge of the animal’s habitat. Most dugongs live in waters near Australia, and it’s unclear to researchers how the creatures in Okinawa found their way to the shores of the East China Sea.

Dugongs were believed to be plentiful on Okinawa before World War II, but hunting and accidental catches took a toll that crushed their population.

In many ways, they weren’t appreciated until Washington and Tokyo proposed building runways in 1996 that threatened to damage some of their remaining habitat. The latest estimates suggest that 58 Marine aircraft would move to the base on Oura Bay, recording about 86 flights a day.

“It’s ironic, but it took this military base issues for people to begin to realize, actually realize, the environmental richness of this area,” said Hideki Yoshikawa, a professor at the University of the Ryukyus who grew up in a city near the bay and now advocates for it as a leader in the Save the Dugong Foundation.

In 1997, the Mammalogical Society of Japan estimated there were fewer than 50 dugong remaining on Okinawa. More recent surveys by the Japanese government have shown traces of dugong feeding and images of a handful of creatures in and near Oura Bay as recently as 2013, according to a Marine summary of environmental reports.

Those low numbers factored into an April 2014 Navy decision to proceed with the construction proposal. It noted that the planned runways at Oura Bay could not harm dugongs because of the “extremely low probability” that they’re in the construction area.

Ellen Hines, a geography professor at San Francisco State University, has traveled to Okinawa several times to teach residents how to identify signs of the reclusive animal. She focused on finding paths in sea grass that reveal dugong feeding patterns.

She’s seen evidence that dugong have been on the island in recent years, but she does not believe the population can recover. Hines still opposes the Marine construction plan, which would eat up more than a third of the sea grass where dugong have fed in Oura Bay and drive the creatures away.

“Just because an animal is critically endangered or perhaps not sustainable doesn’t give people the license to just go through and ignore the presence at all, to just get rid of their habitat and not even care,” she said.

Around Okinawa, the most visible dugongs are ones that decorate billboards and T-shirts declaring opposition to the Marine plan.

Bright-red designer shirts at a downtown mall show a cartoonish dugong snapping a machine gun. It declares “No base Henoko!,” referring to the town and harbor that sit on the opposite side of Camp Schwab from Oura Bay.

“Most obviously, the dugong has become a symbol of Okinawa and its struggle against the base,” Yoshikawa said.

More information: Click Here


Town looks to develop, embrace seagrass management plan

21 November 2015, SoutholdLOCAL (USA)

One of the area’s dwindling natural resources will soon be in the spotlight.

On Tuesday, Soren Dahl of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Bureau of Marine Resources came before the Southold Town board to discuss seagrass management.

According to Dahl, seagrass management across the state’s waters is required; habitat experts have recommended that the a collaboration with local stakeholders be sought.

When dealing with seagrass, or eelgrass, water clarity is a primary issue, Dahl said.

In past years, eelgrass may have been, “in some people’s minds, a nuisance, getting caught in outboard motors,” he said.

But in fact, the eelgrass is critical, a natural habitat for all manner of marine life, including finfish and blackfish.

Eelgrass also plays a pivotal role in shoreline resiliency, Dahl said.

But the losses in eelgrass have been “huge,” he said, reaching historical levels. In 2014, a study of the Peconic Estuary indicated that 30 to 40 percent of its coastal habitat had been lost since 1930.

“There are multiple issues confronting seagrass,” he said. “To preserve what’s there, as soon as possible, the best way is to go in and deal with the larger issues, such as water clarity and water management.”

That’s why, he said, the aim was to reach out and partner with local municipalities, identifying areas were eelgrass still exists, and then working with local officials and stakeholders to determine a management plan, focusing on what’s practical for each individual area.

“We need to figure out a game plan,” Dahl said, showing the board a map of town waters, pinpointing the areas where eelgrass still exists.

There is some present at the Orient State Park, and “a bit surprising,” near the ferry terminal in Greenport. “It doesn’t make a lot of sense, since one of the issues with managing eelgrass is physical disturbance, but maybe it’s protected because of seawall barriers,” Dahl said.

Cornell Cooperative Extension uses some of the areas for their eelgrass restoration efforts, he said.

While it’s important to preserve and restore, “It takes a long time to understand what works,” Dahl said. Other areas, such as Chesapeake Bay, have been working on shellfish restoration for decades and are finally “seeming some success.”

But Southold Town has a hidden eelgrass treasure, Dahl said: “The crown jewel of New York eelgrass is Fishers Island. That’s something, and it’s really a priority — the majority of all eelgrass in New York waters is here. I’ve been to meadows at other places that have nice eelgrass, but this is the best, and it represents a unique opportunity.”

While factors such a rising bottom temperatures preset a challenge, Dahl hopes to reduce stressors, because research has shown resiliency can then improve, he said.

Water clarity and temperature remain the most critical issues, the nitrogen nutrient management also key, he said.

Councilwoman Jill Doherty, a former town trustee, reminded the town has a shellfish advisory committee engaged in water sampling.

While the board said there’s not much seagrass left to manage in many places, Dahl said the goal was to focus on areas where it still exists, and to develop the management plan.

The board suggested he work with the shellfish advisory committee and the town trustees moving forward to develop the plan. Justice Louisa Evans suggested he also speak to the Fishers Island Conservancy and harbor committee.

Dahl said his goal was to provide the service at no cost to the town; his aim is just to create the management document and put it into practice.

Some simple answer could mean educating the public on issues such as not siting a mooring field or using scallop dredges in areas where eelgrass still exists, Dahl said.

The hope, he said, is to implement a plan as soon as possible, “since so much is being lost.”

Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said the seagrass proposal is a “great idea. We all support it in any way we can and look forward to working with Mr. Dahl.”

More information: Click Here


Dugong washed ashore

21 November 2015, The Hindu (India)

The Dugong which was washed ashore off Gandhi Nagar in Ramanathapuram district.

The carcass of a five to six-year-old female Dugong was found washed ashore off Gandhi Nagar seashore near Thirupalaikudi on Friday.

On being alerted by the local people, a team of forest personnel examined the carcass and buried it on the shore after a veterinary surgeon conducted the post mortem on the spot.

“It’s a full grown adult and measured about 2.5 metres long with circumference measuring 1.4 metres,” Deepak S Belgi, Wildlife Warden, Gulf of Mannar Marine National Park, said.

Forest personnel said the decomposed carcass weighed around 400 kg and the animal could have died about two days ago. It had some external injuries, possibly suffered while being washed ashore.

Carcass of Dugong getting washed ashore was common in the Palk Bay, officials said. A full grown carcass of a Dugong was found washed ashore at Thalaithoppu seashore near Periapattinam in the Gulf of Mannar region in February. More information: Click Here



Minimalist cork-like stools are made from landfill-diverted seagrass

18 November 2015, Treehugger (Germany)


The Dugong which was washed ashore off Gandhi Nagar in Ramanathapuram district.

Disposability is currently (and unfortunately) the foundation of our culture. From planned obsolescence, to unnecessary packaging and single-use coffee pods, disposability has been designed into so many everyday things. That's why it's imperative that designers and other creative souls get out of this 'wasteful' way of thinking, and to see 'waste' not as waste, but as a potential material.

When she found out that tons of sea grass were ending up in landfills each year, German designer Carolin Pertsch decided to find new ways to use this natural material.

According to Dezeen, beaches on the German coast are cleaned up regularly of seagrass to prepare them for tourist season. Thousands of tons of these plants end up as "special waste" in landfills. To divert this perfectly usable material from the landfill, Pertsch began to collect Zostera Marina seagrass (also known as eelgrass and seawrack) from the coast, and found a new way to use them: as minimalist but sturdy stools.

To do this, Pertsch cleaned and sorted the grasses according to varying shades of colour, then shredded them before combining them with a bio-resin made from vegetable oil in moulds. The result is an eco-friendly bio-plastic that can be used as the stool's one-centimetre thick seat. She describes how the experiments went: "Everything started in the kitchen in our co-working space. Instead of cooking lunch, I put together natural ingredients, like starch, water and vinegar, for producing my own bioplastic, which I could use as a kind of glue."

The idea was to create an everyday, innocuous stool, coming in three colours, that would enlighten people about the possibility of using "waste" material. Pertsch explains:

"Regarding our resource-wasting society, there has to be a fundamental rethinking. [..] Beside creating a new eco-material, another aim of these experimentations was to open people's eyes to think in new alternative ways for future materials. There is no better way to confront people with a new material than in furniture. Furniture always needs an interaction between human and object. With its minimalism it focuses on the new eco-material."

Intriguingly, Pertsch says that the texture of the finished product feels very much like cork, another renewable material that's well-loved by designers. The stools are simple, but they do highlight how materials might not be 'waste', but can be transformed into something useful and surprisingly attractive. This is one example of how a shift in perspective, one that interrupts our entrenched wasteful and 'waste'-generating approach to life, could change everything.

More information: Click Here




Okinawa Delegation Seeks Support for Stopping US Military

18 November 2015, Center for Biological Diversity (press release)

A delegation of 27 political and community leaders from Okinawa, Japan is visiting the United States to seek support for its efforts to stop the U.S. military from building a large new base in biologically rich and sensitive Henoko and Oura Bay, home to the dugong — a marine mammal related to manatees that is an ancient cultural icon in Okinawa — and other endangered species. That project is strongly opposed by residents of the island, which has had a tremendous U.S. military presence since the end of World War II, and Okinawan Gov. Takeshi Onaga, who last month withdrew local consent for the project.

The Bay Area portion of the delegation’s visit on Nov. 15-18 includes meetings with representatives of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, receptions at the city halls in San Francisco and Berkeley, a press conference at San Francisco’s War Memorial Building (401 Van Ness Avenue, 2nd Floor, on Tuesday, Nov. 17, at 11 a.m.), and meetings with the Center for Biological Diversity and other conservation groups that are challenging the project in U.S. federal court. That case is now before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, with oral arguments expected in spring 2016.

“Okinawa dugongs are facing extinction, a sad fact that the approval process for this project ignored. We stand with the Okinawan people in calling for a real environmental review and respect for local concerns,” said Peter Galvin, director of programs at the Center. “We shouldn’t let the U.S. military continue to trash this biologically important region.”

During a meeting at the Center’s Oakland office, delegation members said that American and international popular support is crucial to stopping a project that is being pushed by the U.S. Department of Defense and the national government in Japan. “We need to reach as many people in the United States as possible and get them to stand up and say this is wrong,” Naha City Council member Emiko Miyagi said.

Yoshiaki Nitta, a member of Okinawa Prefectural Assembly, recalled the long history of U.S. military occupation of the island and called for new era of mutual respect. “What’s happening now is unreasonable and unjust and not the way things are supposed to go,” said Nobutake Yasutomi, a member of the Kin-Town Assembly. “We feel like there is discrimination and oppression against the people of Okinawa.”

The Okinawa delegation travels next to Washington, D.C., where it will meet with the Marine Mammal Commission, Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, and other groups before leaving the country on Nov. 21.

More information: Click Here

Project to save Duguong from extinction

15 November 2015, Business Standard (India)

Government would soon take up a project to prevent the extinction of Dugong, an endangered marine mammal species, an official today said.

A sum of Rs 40 lakh had been allocated for the project to protect the Dugong, Deepak S. Belgi, Wildlife Warden of Gulf of Mannar National Marine National Park, said.

As part of the project, awareness would be created among fishermen on the need to protect dugong.

Steps would be taken to increase the population of Dugong as it breeds round the year.

Dugong is poached for its tasty flesh and medicinal properties.Its hide also is in great demand.

More information: Click Here

$65000 grant aims to improve Westport waterway

15 November 2015, Westport News (USA)

A Nature Conservancy-led initiative to help address the problem of excess nitrogen in Long Island Sound is the beneficiary of a Long Island Sound Futures Fund award from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

The $65,000 grant award will support community-based planning for improved water quality in the Saugatuck River Estuary — where the river meets Long Island Sound — in Westport.

A separate $150,000 Long Island Sound Futures Fun award will support the Conservancy-led construction of a fishway on Beaver Creek in Mill Neck, Long Island.

“The Nature Conservancy is extremely grateful for support from the Long Island Sound Futures Fund and the many other partners who are making this work possible,” said Holly Drinkuth, director of outreach and watershed programs for The Nature Conservancy in Connecticut, in a statement.

The Saugatuck River Estuary work stems from a recent conservancy study of eight coastal sub-watersheds in Long Island Sound that showed nitrogen pollution from fertilizers and wastewater in Saugatuck Estuary significantly exceeds the threshold for seagrass survival.

Excess nitrogen fuels the growth of harmful algae that choke seagrass meadows, destroy salt marshes and deplete oxygen in the water, killing fish and other marine life.

The largest contribution in Saugatuck comes from onsite septic systems, underscoring the need to find new solutions. The Saugatuck award will be used to evaluate and compare the feasibility, cost and effectiveness of traditional and non-traditional nitrogen reduction techniques, and develop a set of options for the fastest, least expensive approaches to improve water quality and support recovery of seagrass, saltmarshes and marine life.

This grant was among 22 grants awarded totaling more than $1.3 million that were announced this week in Stratford. The grants are for projects that improve water quality, restore habitat, enhance living resources, and educate and involve the public with the ultimate goal of protecting and restoring the Long Island Sound.

This public-private grant program pools funds from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Saugatuck grant requires a match of more than $48,000, which the conservancy will secure through donor support and in-kind contributions.

More information: Click Here

Teachers join scientists to study marine grass and make an unexpected find

14 November 2015, Courier Mail (Australia)

SIX Victorian school teachers have teamed up with a group of scientists to study the impact of Brisbane’s coastal development on Moreton Bay’s seagrass.

The six-day sailing trip was a joint initiative between Healthy Waterways Monitoring Program, Earthwatch’s Teachlive Sailing for Seagrass and the Geography Teachers Association of Victoria.

Healthy Waterways chief scientist James Udy said seagrass in the area was vital for the survival of marine creatures such as green sea turtles and dugongs and supported all recreational and commercial fishing.

“Without the seagrass and the mangroves you wouldn’t have that habitat and you’d actually break the life cycle. If we lost the seagrass, we’d lose all the crabs and the fish,” Dr Udy said.

“Really when it gets down to it, seagrass is one of the most important parts of the ecosystem.”

Dr Udy was surprised by the condition of the seagrass in Moreton Bay.

“We’ve been finding lots of seagrass, a lot of places I thought might just be mud but there’s actually seagrass,” he said.

Williamsdown High School marine biology teacher Garrett Drago said living the life of a marine biologist for the trip was an “eye-opener” and said the most important thing he learnt was why the survey was being done.

“It’s not a result of something that’s happened, it’s just to prevent further damage,” Mr Drago said.

“I think that’s the main thing I’m getting out of all of it.”

500,000 tonnes of sediment washes into southeast Queensland’s waterways each year, impacting on seagrass supplies in the bay.

More information: Click Here


Solicitor says environment minister must consider Adani mine's climate change impacts on the Great Barrier Reef

10 November 2015, ABC Local (Australia)

The chief solicitor in a new legal challenge against Australia's biggest coal project says Environment Minister Greg Hunt is obligated to consider the mine's impact on the Great Barrier Reef through its contribution to climate change.

The Australian Conservation foundation lodged papers in the Federal Court yesterday against Mr Hunt's approval of the Carmichael Mine in central Queensland.

Environmental Defenders Office principal solicitor Sean Ryan said Section 137 of the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act required the minister to take into consideration how coal exported from the mine would affect the reef, when burned in power stations overseas.

"That provision [in the Act] requires the Environment Minister to not act inconsistently with Australia's obligation under the World Heritage Convention," he said.

"That World Heritage Convention creates an obligation on Australia to do all it can to protect the Great Barrier Reef for future generations."

Mr Ryan acknowledged climate change is not specifically identified in the Act, but said the wording of the Act still showed climate change should be considered.

"If you have a look at Section 527E of the Act, it includes in the consideration of what are 'impacts,' both the direct consequences of the activity and the indirect consequences of the activity," he said.

"And surely digging up coal, the burning of that coal is a natural and ordinary consequence of that activity."

The challenge by Australian Conservation Foundation is the latest legal challenge hurdle for the $16 billion project by Indian company Adani, which would create the biggest coal mine in Australia.

The minister's approval was challenged earlier this year by Mackay Conservation Group, also represented by the Environmental Defenders Office.

That challenge resulted in the Federal Government withdrawing its approval in August to consider further advice on an endangered snake and skink.

Mr Hunt reapproved the project in October, based on revised documentation.

Federal Member for Dawson George Christensen said the latest legal case showed the need for legislation to be changed to prevent environmental groups delaying projects with "frivolous" legal challenges.

More information: Click Here

Call for authority to get tougher on Reef law-breakers

09 November 2015, The Cairns Post (Australia)

CAIRNS has again topped a list of Great Barrier Reef law-breakers, prompting calls for the marine park authority to get tougher on offenders.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has released figures on offences carried out during the 2013/14 financial year.

For the second year in a row, Cairns-Cooktown is the worst region, with authorities netting a total 311 offenders.

A majority of the offences reported from the Far North included illegal line fishing and spearfishing within no-take zones, and breaches of permits by the tourism industry.

But despite the large number of offenders, there were no court actions for the region.

Overall, GBRMPA collected $194,000 in fines from 21 court prosecutions for offences across the entire marine park.

The authority’s compliance planning and operations manager Andrew Simpson said many of the matters detected and reported from the Cairns-Cooktown area during 2014/15 were still before the court.

He said there were also five $1700 Commonwealth fines issued in the area for fishing in a green zone, with the infringement notices issued outside of the court process.

“The figures in the annual report reflect the fact that education is our most effective compliance tool, with 87 advisory letters and seven caution notices being issued in the Cairns-Cooktown management area in 2014/15,’’ he said.

“Our data shows very few people reoffend after receiving one of these letters or notices.”

Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators chief executive Col McKenzie said there should be zero tolerance of those who break Great Barrier Reef rules and regulations.

“The most common breach is fishing in green zones, and our position is that we want to see those offenders fined or prosecuted,’’ he said. “These green zones have been in place for 12-15 years and we believe there should be zero tolerance.

“We know from some of the research that the green zones are being fished, there’s no doubt about that, and we need to go in and do something about it.”

Mr McKenzie was concerned the lack of prosecutions may give marine park users the impression offences were not taken seriously.

“It’s sending the message that ‘don’t worry what the marine park regulations are, just ignore them, because we’re not going to prosecute you’,’’ he said.

Mr Simpson said the GBRMPA would continue to target illegal activities.

“This includes an aircraft surveillance program, vessel patrols, including covert operations, and targeting high-risk activities and user groups that we’ve identified through intelligence and offence trends,’’ he said.

More information: Click Here

Australian green group to challenge India-backed coal mine it claims will destroy Great Barrier Reef

09 November 2015, Firstpost (Australia)

An Australian environmental group Monday launched a new legal challenge to a huge, India-backed coal mine, saying the government's recent re-approval of the project failed to consider the impact on the Great Barrier Reef.

The Aus $16.5 billion (US$11.6 billion) project in the Galilee Basin in Queensland state has been criticised by environmentalists who say the coal it produces will not only contribute to global warming but will have to be shipped from a port near the World Heritage-listed reef.

The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) said it had lodged papers with the Federal Court applying to challenge Environment Minister Greg Hunt's approval of the Adani company's Carmichael coal mine.

"This action is historic; it's the first case that has sought to test the environment minister's World Heritage obligations as they relate to the climate change impacts on the reef caused by pollution from burning a mine's coal," the foundation's Geoff Cousins said.

Adani has previously accused environmental activists of exploiting legal loopholes to stall the massive open-cut and underground coal mine forecast to produce 60 million tonnes of thermal coal a year for export, with the approvals process so far stretching to five years.

Environmentalists say the Barrier Reef -- the world's biggest coral reef ecosystem -- is already struggling from the threat of climate change, as well as farming run-off, development and the coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish.

"Coral reef scientists are telling us in just a few decades warmer waters could bleach the reef beyond recognition. This would be a tragedy for Australia and the world," Cousins said.

Scientists warned last month that if the current El Nino weather phenomenon drove worsening warming effects, the reef would suffer widespread coral bleaching and subsequent mortality -- the most common effect of rising sea temperatures.

The Carmichael mine was blocked by the Federal Court in August over a legal challenge relating to two vulnerable reptiles -- the lizard-like yakka skink and the ornamental snake -- but was reapproved last month, with Hunt defending its strict environmental conditions.

Lawyers for the ACF said they were now seeking an independent judicial review by the Federal Court of the legality of the government's re-approval.

"Australia has an international legal obligation to do all it can to protect our Great Barrier Reef for future generations," Environmental Defenders Office Queensland principal solicitor Sean Ryan said.

"Our question is, has the environment minister properly applied this legal obligation when considering the impacts of the burning of coal from this mine on the Great Barrier Reef?"

More information: Click Here

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Sea turtle found dead in crab pot on beach

09 November 2015, Mackay Daily Mercury (Australia)

A rusty crab pot was discovered on Shoal Point Beach with a dead sea turtle inside.
Photo Credit: Lee Kyrtep

A SEA turtle has been found washed up on Shoal Point Beach after it became stuck in a crab pot.

Lee Kyrtep shared photos and a message on social media at the weekend saying: "Very disappointed today when walking along Shoal Point Beach and came across a rusty crab pot with a dead sea turtle inside".

"To all the fishermen who use crab pots on our beaches, please ensure your lines are not worn or broken and check them regularly," Lee said.

"Don't leave them for turtles to explore and drown in. You are responsible for them so please take home as many crab pots as you put in so no more turtles end up like this one."

The post received more than 140 likes, with Breeze Taylor commenting that "six out of seven threatened marine turtle species are found in Australian waters".

"This is mainly due to human pollution like discarded plastic bags, fishing line, ghost nets... I think this post was more as a reminder to all of us that what we do impacts the environment and other animals that live in it, and to be mindful."

Department of Environment and Heritage Protection record all dugong and turtle deaths and strandings, with two turtles recorded as 'stranded' in the Mackay region in the first quarter of 2015.

No figures for the remainder of the year are available, but the department states the marine creatures are still feeling the effects of major flooding.

"With seagrass being a major food source for green turtles and dugong, they are currently struggling to find adequate food and are suffering from malnutrition.

"Turtles and dugong in poor health are also less able to fight diseases, strong ocean currents and to escape entanglement in fishing gear."

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Body of Dismembered Dugong Found Floating Off Phuket

04 November 2015, Phuketwan (Thailand)

The body of the dismembered dugong, brought to shore off Phuket. Photo Credit: Phuket Marine Biological Centre

The body of a headless dugong was found floating off Phuket yesterday. Marine biologists fear the harmless creature may have been dismembered so its teeth could be used in amulets.

The body of the male dugong, more than 40 years old and weighing as much as 350 kilos before its head was removed, was found floating between Ko Yao Yai and Ko Yao Noi islands.

''There are probably only about 10 of this endangered species still in the Andaman zone,'' said Dr Kongkiat Kittwattana, head of the Rare Marine Species, Marine Division, at the Phuket Marine Biological Centre on Cape Panwa.

A team at the centre on Phuket's east coast was examining the dugong's remains today.

Their conclusion is that marks on the body indicated the animal may have been pulled on board a trawler or some other boat where it was probably beheaded.

''The teeth of this remarkable animal unfortunately are believed to have some protective properties and are a valuable commodity for amulets,'' Dr Kongkiat said.

Sea grass beds that are the dugongs' food have been polluted by coastal resort construction and the animals have been put at risk by an increasing number of tourist boats and their propellors.

The animal found floating yesterday was probably two metres long and aged at least 40, Dr Kongkiat said.

The skeleton of the creature is likely to be kept for future education.

A dead male dolphin pulled from the sea off Rawai and measuring close to two metres in length will have an autopsy performed on Friday at the marine biological centre.

Dr Kongkiat said it was usually the case that bottlenose dolphins died from illness while dugongs usually were killed by fishermen.

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Water quality is the focus of a St. Pete ballot question

03 November 2015, Creative Loafing Tampa (USA)

If there's one thing all St. Petersburg residents can agree on, it's that the quality of the city's abundant water ought to be heavily protected.

Tampa Bay’s warm, shallow waters have for years been murky with pollution from dredging, industrial emissions and wastewater — this past summer's sewage dump being a case-in-point, though ongoing efforts to improve water quality in the region have had some success. An effort up for vote on the city ballot today could enhance those with increased protections to seagrass beds.

Referendum question No.1 asks residents to decide if the City Council should be allowed to establish permanent development restrictions over underwater areas the city controls near North Shore Park. The restrictions would prevent any development or construction projects near or on the area's seagrass beds. These protections are intended to support and enhance seagrass beds that can be used to improve the city’s water quality and surrounding ecology.

Tess Chibirka, a volunteer at the Suncoast chapter of the Florida Sierra Club, said that poor water quality is a result of overdevelopment.

“That’s great that our city is growing, but we don’t have enough infrastructure to handle it,” said Chibirka.

Currently, any decisions regarding the placement of protections on seagrass beds must be approved through a referendum. Christian Haas, a member of the Old Southeast Neighborhood Association, said if the referendum passes, the City Council will no longer have to wait annually for each election to add future protections for seagrass beds.

"Every time they (City Council) want to change (add protections), they have to go through referendum," said Haas. "This is a permanent reservation, so changes can happen without a city-wide referendum."

Researchers are noticing a correlation between seagrass bed populations and water quality. Carlos Frey, an engineer for the City of St. Petersburg, said seagrass beds and water quality benefit from each other in different ways.

"One of the things that we use as a measure of our success is the amount of seagrass out (in Tampa Bay),” said Frey.

According to Haas, seagrass beds filter out toxins in the water, curb erosion and aid in filtration. The Bay's water clarity also allows for sunlight to reach seagrass beds rooted deep below the surface.

“Seagrass needs light,” said Nanette Holland O'Hara, the Public Outreach Coordinator for the Tampa Bay Estuary Program. “If it doesn't get light, it can't grow.”

Groups like the Tampa Bay Estuary Program and The Nitrogen Management Consortium are already working to increase the number of seagrass beds in the Bay. According to O'Hara, the amount of seagrass beds grew from 20,000 acres in 1990 to 40,295 acres this year. The number exceeds the 38,000 acres of seagrass that existed in the 1950s.

The ordinance for the referendum does not clarify which parts of North Shore are protected. While some speculate the referendum only applies to seagrass beds between the Coffee Pot Bayou Canal and the Pier, Haas believes the initiative will affect the city's overall water quality.

"It doesn’t help a specific district, it helps all of St. Petersburg," said Haas.

Though referendum one may enhance the city’s water quality, the full impact of the ballot will only be determined when its perimeters are clearly established.

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Group says mining project threatens biodiversity in Southern Mindanao, neighboring regions

03 November 2015, Minda News (Philippines)

An impending mining project in Southern Mindanao threatens the area’s biodiversity as well as the ecology of neighboring regions, an environment group said citing a technical report by an American consultancy firm.

The King-king Copper-Gold Project will affect 12 “vulnerable or critically endangered” species of the 253 native or endemic plant species present in the area, as defined by the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List and the Philippine National Red List, the Francis S. Morales Resource Center said in a press statement Monday.

The project will also affect six bird species endemic to Mindanao of the 74 bird species in the area, and a total of 17 mammal species and 10 reptile species.

FSMRC said these findings are contained in the 2013 NI 43-101-compliant Technical Report and Preliminary Feasibility Study of M3 Engineering & Technology, a US-based consultancy firm contracted by St. Augustine Gold & Copper to conduct the study in compliance with Canada’s National Instrument 43-101, which is supposedly required under Canadian laws.

The copper-gold project was reportedly to be approved within this month, the group said.

FSMRC further quoted he report as saying that several of the wildlife species found in the region “are listed as near-threatened or vulnerable by the IUCN, while others are protected by Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), including 11 bird species, two (2) mammal species and five (5) reptile and amphibian species.”

“Marine studies showed that several species of sea turtles, dolphins, whales, and seabirds live in the area. Sea cows and whale sharks also live in the region. The sea cow species and all species of sea turtle found in the region are listed as endangered,” the report said.

“Phyto-, nano-, zoo-, and ichthyoplankton, as well as coral and benthic species were found in abundance during oceanographic surveys which included diving surveys. The sea grass density ranged from 772.0 to 3,174.2 shoots per square meter,” it noted.

M3 said that given the threats “it will likely be necessary to implement ongoing monitoring for these species and modify Project activities accordingly to avoid habitat disturbance.”

It also recommends that a “comprehensive Biodiversity Action Plan, including a well-designed biodiversity offset program, will be developed and implemented with full consideration of all threatened, endangered, and vulnerable species.”

For its part, FSMRC said that aside from addressing the threats to biodiversity, the Aquino government must “look at the adverse social impact this foreign-owned mining project will impose not only on the five barangays directly within the project area but also on neighboring communities whose water supply will also be affected”.

“Health problems and loss of livelihood are also expected to result from the King-king copper-gold project,” it said.

“The DENR must see to it that these recommendations are being addressed. However, given the government’s track-record in allowing environmental plunderers and destroyers to go on with their business like in the 2012 Philex mine spill, we expect another disaster to happen if this project will push through. Thus, we register our strong opposition to the King-king copper-gold project,” it said.

“These concerns must not be dismissed by the Aquino government as simply anti-mining propaganda. If the Aquino government cannot protect our treasured biodiversity, who will?” it added.

The NI 43-101 is a “codified set of rules and guidelines for reporting and displaying information related to mineral properties owned by, or explored by, companies which report these results on stock exchanges within Canada. This includes foreign-owned mining entities who trade on stock exchanges overseen by the Canadian Securities Administrators, even if they only trade on Over The Counter (OTC) derivatives or other instrumented securities.” (MindaNews)

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Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority blames $2m deficit on un-budgeted legal battles

03 November 2015, ABC Local (Australia)

The Great Barrier Reef's governing body has posted a $2 million deficit, largely due to un-budgeted costs of legal action.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has revealed an operating deficit of more than $2.38 million last financial year.

It said the result was due to costly legal battles.

The authority is suing the owners of the Chinese ship Shen Neng One after it became grounded and spilled toxic paint off Rockhampton in 2010.

The authority has also had to defend itself against Clive Palmer's Queensland Nickel, over a dispute about a discharge pipe at the company's Townsville refinery.

A spokeswoman for the authority said those two matters had blown out the budget by about $2 million.

She said if it was successful in court, legal costs may be recovered.

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Citizen science project offers unique volunteering opportunities with vital Seagrass habitats

02 November 2015, Dartmouth-Today (UK)

SALCOMBE is a prime seagrass habitat and a new citizen science project is providing unique opportunities for local residents.

The National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth has launched the first seagrass based citizen science project in the South West.

The Community Seagrass Initiative has been awarded £475,000 by the Heritage Lottery Fund to provide opportunities for volunteers to get involved in marine science. The project will survey 191 miles of coastline from Looe to Weymouth, specifically looking at seagrass beds.

Seagrass is the world’s only submersed, marine flowering plant, which creates large meadows in shallow waters on sandy seabed. Many seagrass meadows, or beds, exist around South West England, Wales and West coast of Scotland, as well as around the world. The meadows act like an underwater rainforest, providing shelter for 40 times more marine species than if it wasn’t there. Seagrass meadows are home to some of the most charismatic species in the UK such as seahorses and cuttlefish, and act as a nursery ground for commercial fish species.

They can also improve water quality and stabilise sediments reducing coastal erosion. This vital habitat is in decline by seven per cent a year caused by coastal threats such as pollution, coastal development and increased water use over the habitat. It is in need of a management plan, but first the health must be assessed.

The three project officers who will run this project in the South West for at least the next three years, are keen to reach out to the coastal communities to recruit volunteer divers, kayakers, boat users, teachers and internet users to help with the surveys.

Local marine biologist Rachel Cole is the Salcombe and Torbay project officer for the community seagrass initiative. She says: ‘Having dived and surveyed many seagrass beds in the south west, Salcombe has some of the most impressive meadows.

‘The variety of marine species that inhabit the metre-long leaves of the subtidal grass, create a unique ecosystem that supports important commercial fisheries species and protected species such as stalked jellyfish and fan mussels.

‘However it is a shame to see damage in certain areas. I am working closely with the South Hams AONB estuary manager Nigel Mortimer who is helping spread the word about the project to recruit volunteers.’

Harbour Master Adam Parnell has been very supportive of the project and has granted us permission to dive in the harbour limits, which is usually prohibited, to conduct diver surveys of the seagrass.

He says: ‘It’s important that our role as an eco-port includes supporting and promoting projects like the Community Seagrass Initiative. Bringing benefits to the local community which will continually improve the sustainability of important marine habitats such as seagrass.’

Look out for the CSI team at local events with their marquee and underwater robot, which can film the seagrass beds and beam the live footage back to shore for passers by the view.

Rachel is also visiting local dive clubs, yacht clubs and schools to talk about the project and provide free resources for the community to utilise.

Rachel is keen to find out if there are volunteers based in Salcombe who would like to get involved and take advantage of this opportunity to receive free information, training and a chance to get out on the water and contribute to marine science and conservation in the area.

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Sri Lanka holds workshop on Dugong and Seagrass Conservation

01 November 2015, Colombo Page (Sri Lanka)

Colombo: Sri Lanka recently held a workshop on the Dugong and Seagrass Conservation in Colombo with the participation of Minister of Sustainable Development and Wildlife Gamini Jayawickrema Perera.

The inauguration of the workshop was held on 20th Oct 2015 at the King?s Court, Hotel Cinnamon lakeside, Colombo.

The Global Environment Facility (GEF) Dugong and Seagrass Project will enhance the effectiveness of conservation efforts for dugongs and their associated seagrass ecosystems across eight Indian and Pacific Ocean basin countries, namely Indonesia, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mozambique, Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Timor Leste and Vanuatu.

The Dugong is a large slow moving marine herbivore inhabiting the sea grass beds of the shallow littoral of the island, currently restricted to the Gulf of Mannar area and the surrounding shallow islets.

At the beginning of the last century, records indicate large "herds" of Dugong feeding in the Jaffna Lagoon and were very commonly encountered during the pearl fishery of by-gone days. These encounters have, unfortunately for this mammal, resulted in its falling victim to the dietary preferences of humans.

Today, the Dugong can really be categorized as the "most endangered mammal" in Sri Lanka.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List lists the dugong as Vulnerable. The dugong is rarely sighted and it is at a high risk of extinction throughout most of its vast range. Projections indicate that the dugong faces extinction within the next 40 years.

The Global Environment Facility (GEF) Dugong and Seagrass Project is the first coordinated global effort to conserve dugongs and their seagrass habitats and Sri Lanka is a partner country of the project.

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