home space latest news space meg

To access Seagrass-Watch news archives Click Here

This page includes news articles of international and national interest. Seagrass-Watch HQ does not guarantee, and accepts no legal liability whatsoever arising from or connected to, the accuracy, reliability, currency or completeness of any news material contained on this page or on any linked site. The material on this page may include the views or recommendations of third parties, which do not necessarily reflect the views of the program nor it's supporters, or indicate commitment to a particular course of action






This Shark Eats Grass, and No One Knows Why

29 June 2017, National Geographic


These sharks might be taking the expression “eating like a horse” a bit too literally.

Scientists have discovered that some sharks are eating a large amount of seagrass, as a significant part of their diet—but experts aren’t sure why the fish are deviating from their traditional carnivorous diet.

New research has shown that seagrass can make up more than 50 percent of a bonnethead shark’s diet. The small, shovel-headed sharks are closely related to the more familiar hammerheads.

It’s still possible that the sharks are just incidentally munching on seagrass as they feed on other prey, said Samantha Leigh, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, Irvine and a National Geographic explorer.

“Even if it is incidental, it is a very large amount of grass, so they have to be able to process that somehow,” said Leigh.

Leigh conducted a nutrient content analysis that showed bonnetheads were digesting 56 percent of the organic matter in seagrass, similar to young sea turtles.

But in order to be considered true omnivores, an animal must obtain nutritional value or energy from the plants they eat. Without knowing why bonnetheads are eating seagrass, it’s hard to know if this habit is purposeful, said Leigh, who is studying the shark’s digestive behavior. (Read more about the behavior of the rare ghost shark.)

“It’s very likely they have some sort of microbiome living in their gut that is producing some of the enzymes that they need to break down this plant material, which is something we commonly find in omnivorous and especially herbivorous species,” she said.

However, younger bonnethead sharks have been found to have more seagrass in their stomachs than adult bonnetheads, which could point to a learning curve as the sharks mature and understand how to feed without simultaneously eating seagrass, said Dana Bethea, a research ecologist with NOAA Fisheries in Florida.

“There’s a lot of prey handling learning that goes on in the younger life stages until they get to be bigger and really get their mouths around what they’re feeding,” she said.

Bethea’s research team hypothesized in her 2007 study that the seagrass found in the stomachs of bonnetheads is just a result of incidental prey capture. (Read about the peculiar diet of the Omura's whale.)

“That’s how we think they get the plant material in their stomachs,” she said. “We don’t think they’re out there eating salad.”

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species lists all species of the hammerhead shark as endangered, threatened or vulnerable, except for the bonnethead, which is listed as least concern. (See "5 Winners and Losers on New "Red List" of World's Rarest Species.")

Leigh thinks it’s a “definite possibility” that this could be related to their unique diet, though Bethea isn’t sure.

“They’re doing very well on their seagrass diet, apparently,” Leigh said.

More information: Click Here



Buoy system protects seagrass in St Joseph Bay

29 June 2017, Port St. Joe Star (USA)

Central Panhandle Aquatic Preserves manages the non-regulatory “Caution Shallow Seagrass Area” buoys in St. Joseph Bay. The purpose of the buoy system is to make it easier for boaters to remain in the natural deep-water channels, and therefore reduce the risk of damage to the seagrass.

The buoy system has been in place for over a year, and many boaters are using the buoys to navigate the southern end of St. Joseph Bay.

This project is the first phase of a Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) Seagrass Recovery Project that aims to restore two acres of seagrass in St. Joseph Bay.

Seagrass communities are considered to be the most productive ecosystems in the world. They are a vital component of Florida’s coastal ecology and economy. Seagrass habitat is an integral part of the St. Joseph Bay system and an important natural resource that performs a number of significant functions.

Seagrasses provide nurseries, nutrition and shelter for a wide variety of commercial and recreational fish and invertebrate species; they provide critical habitat for animals such as wading birds, manatees and sea turtles; and their extensive root systems stabilize sediments on the bay bottom, helping to improve water quality and clarity which in turn, keeps the bay healthy.

The health and status of many commercially and recreationally important seafood species such as shrimp, crabs, scallops, redfish, trout and mullet is directly proportional to the health and acreage of seagrass habitat.

One of the main threats to seagrass beds is propeller scarring from motorized boats. Prop scarring occurs in shallow water when a boat’s propeller tears and cuts up seagrass roots, stems and leaves, leaving a long, narrow furrow devoid of seagrasses.

This damage can take 8 to 10 years to repair, and with severe scarring, these areas may never completely recover.

Recovery time is different for each species and depends on the type of growth of each species, the degree of damage, water quality conditions, and sediment characteristics. The amount of destruction, depends on water depth and the size, speed, and path of the vessel. Some vessels create scars in areas at low tide that would not do so at high tides.

In order to reduce the risk of creating prop scars in the seagrass areas of southern portion of St. Joseph Bay, boaters can simply follow the numbered buoys to their destination, keeping in mind that they may have to double back to stay in the deep water channel.

Two “fringe” buoys are located on either side of the channel in some areas to further aid boaters to stay within the channel.

Three kiosks with a map of the buoy system, as well as information about seagrass, have been installed at three local boat ramps. A “Boating and Angling Guide to Gulf County” has been designed through a partnership with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and the buoy system, with coordinates, is included on the map portion of the guide; the public can obtain the boaters guides at the kiosks or the Gulf County TDC.

Informational brochures with a map of the buoy system will be available soon and will be distributed to local marinas and outdoor recreation vendors, as well as the Gulf County TDC.

For any questions about the buoy system, please contact Jonathan Brucker, Central Panhandle Aquatic Preserves manager, at (850) 670-7723 or

More information: Click Here



Dugongs starve as climate change destroys their food supply

28 June 2017, Cosmos (Australia)

The ocean has always attracted the curious, its hidden depths the subject of folklore and many adventurous tales. One marine creature that has captured the imagination are the sirens of the sea, better known as the dugongs (Order Sirenia). These mammals are quiet companions to shallow waters throughout the Indo-Pacific, including the northern coasts of Australia.

Dugongs are listed as vulnerable on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species. Their species decline is obvious from numbers along the Queensland coast; compared to about 72,000 in the 1960s, just 500 were recorded between Cairns to Rockhampton in 2011. So what has caused their decline over a relatively short space of time?

Scott Wooldridge is an ecological modeller and spatial (GIS) analyst. His research focuses on developing management-focused decision-support tools that assess the combined impact of local and global stress factors on the health and resilience of coral and seagrass communities. He has written a paper that investigates how impacts to water quality from river run-off are negatively affecting conditions for the growth of seagrass on which dugongs graze.

To determine water quality in the study zone – the Townsville region of the Great Barrier Reef, which is affected by run-off from the Burdekin River – he integrated remote satellite imagery measuring the depth of sunlight penetration and linked it to the abundance of seagrass recorded during field surveys off the coast. Traditionally scientists have dropped secci discs (devices that measure water clarity) to measure water quality, he says, “whereas in recent years we have been able to link those secci depth measurements with the observations from the satellite”.

The innovative technology provides an enhanced view of the Great Barrier Reef that will help marine scientists predict stressors to coastal waters and advise marine park managers how to reduce impacts to ecosystems. Seagrasses are sensitive to environmental disturbance, Wooldridge says, and a good proxy indicator species for water quality.

His study notes the sediment load carried into the lagoon by the Burdekin River is about eight times higher than before European settlement. The material produced from from agricultural, pastoral and development activities decreases coastal water quality markedly. This together with climate change leading to more extreme events is a bad combination for the seagrasses, and thus the dugong. The most direct effect of climate change on dugong populations is the damage to seagrass caused by floods, storms and cyclones. “The big events have the biggest influence on the declines of seagrass and associated declines on dugong,” Wooldridge says.

On average, about 75% of the fine sediment flowing into the Great Barrier Reef comes from the Burdekin (about 100 km south-east of Townsville) along with the Fitzroy River, which meets the ocean near Rockhampton, about 800 km south-east of Townsville. During a major flood event, you can imagine the devastating affect both rivers have on seagrass growing over 1,100 km of coastline, stretching from Rockhampton to Cairns.

Floodwaters scour the seabed and strip them of seagrass meadows and valuable seed banks, while the sediment that settles from the flood plume smothers the growth of established meadows. Seagrasses tolerate reduced light conditions for a short time but not over the long term. Similar to flowering plants, they require other seagrasses to cross-pollinate and grow. “Obviously as you get smaller and smaller seagrass beds because of poor water quality, the chances of that happening take longer,” Wooldridge says.

The species biodiversity of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park highlights the successful impact marine park areas have made to the replenishment of wild plant and animal populations. But interruptions to the growth of seagrasses may overwhelm those benefits for dugongs. The animals are slaves to the impacts caused by climate change and man-made activities that directly affect their only source of food. Even though they can migrate over long distances, the quality of seagrass in Cairns might be poorer compared to those growing in waters off Rockhampton.

Because of this, Wooldridge says, dugong populations are slowly starving to death. “In some terrestrial models, animals are declining because they’ve lost habitat and are being killed by other mechanisms, but this one’s a starvation thing.”

He hopes that improving land management practices can halt major mortality events like the one in 2011 that followed Cyclone Yasi. Other impacts causing dugong fatality, such as boat strikes and net drownings, are “low-hanging fruit”, simpler to manage and controllable through better regulation. But given the dugong is only able to produce just one calf every three to five years, the greater question is whether anything can be done to save the dwindling dugong population from the increased intensity of climatic events eroding seagrass abundance.

More information: Click Here



Scientists are growing reptile skin to help green turtles

27 June 2017, TCPalm (USA)

In an international collaboration, scientists reconstructed skin of endangered green turtles. According to a recently published U.S. Geological Survey study, it was the first time skin of a non-mammal was successfully engineered in a lab.

Scientists were then able to grow a tumor-associated virus to better understand certain tumor diseases, according to a news release.

The virus is called chelonid herpesvirus 5, or ChHV5. ChHV5. The virus is associated with fibropapillomatosis, or FP, a tumor disease that affects green turtles worldwide, but particularly those in Hawaii, Florida and Brazil.

MORE: Pollution suspected in tumor disease that kills Indian River Lagoon sea turtles

FP causes disfiguring tumors on the skin, eyes and mouth as well as internal tumors. The virus also harms turtles’ immune systems, leading to secondary infections, emaciation and often death, the news release says.

Half of the green turtles assessed in the Indian River Lagoon for decades have FP, which can kill them if it impedes their ability to see and eat.

Melbourne Beach field ecologist Llewellyn Ehrhart has been researching FP in lagoon turtles for 34 years.

"FP is much more prevalent in populations where the environment has been degraded," he said in May 2016. "It's almost nonexistent in areas where the environment remains pretty pristine."

More information: Click Here



Management plan to protect, recover dugong

27 June 2017, The Hindu (India)

The Wildlife Institute of India (WII), which was implementing dugong recovery project in Gulf of Mannar, would make ready the management plan to protect the endangered species in the Gulf of Mannar in three months, K. Sivakumar, head and scientist, WII, said.

Addressing the first stakeholders’ consultation workshop here on Tuesday, he said the management plan of Gulf of Mannar Marine National Park and Biosphere Reserve would be implemented jointly with Tamil Nadu Forest department and non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

The WII would make ready the management plan to protect and recover dugong, the endangered marine mammal, protected under schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 in the Gulf of Mannar region, he said.

As part of the recovery programme, WII proposed to protect and recover dugong in the Gulf of Mannar region and other endangered species such as Gangetic Dolphin in the Ganges and the Bramaputra and Great Indian Bustard in the western region.

“For the first time we have introduced incentive programme for fishermen who saved dugong if they were caught in their fishing nets,” he said.

Thanks to the awareness campaign launched by the Forest department under the Tamil Nadu Biodiversity Conservation and Greening project, fishermen in the region had released and saved dugong entangled in the fishing nets, he said.

The WII honoured the fishermen with cash award and merit certificates at the workshop, he added.

In a bid to sensitise the children of fishermen in the coastal areas to the project, the WII proposed to conduct competitive examinations on dugong and biosphere in the Gulf of Mannar next month and award ‘dugong scholarships’ for 50 children, he said.

The scholarship would be paid for two years and each selected child would be given monthly scholarship of ₹500, Mr Sivakumar said. “Next year, we will extend the scholarship programme to cover 50 more children,” he said adding the examinations would be open to class IX and XI students.

The dugong scholarship and fishermen incentive programmes had been designed to motivate the fisher folk in protecting and saving the endangered species, he said. The dugong recovery project would be implemented for five years in the first phase, he said. The workshop was attended among others by Deepak S Bilgi, Wildlife Warden, Gulf of Mannar Marine National Park, and scientists from various research institutions.

More information: Click Here



Marine species in Rakhine State threatened by illegal fishing methods, facing extinction

26 June 2017, Coconuts (Myanmar)

Ten species of marine animals that can primarily be found off the Rakhine coast are now facing extinction, according to a new report from the Department of Fisheries. The affected species include sharks, dolphins, and whales living near Sittwe, Manaung, Gwa, Kyaukphyu, and Thandwe.

Dr. Maung Maung Kyi, chairman of the Rakhine Coastal Region Conservation Association (RCA) told Eleven that fishermen in the region often catch their prey through blast fishing, cyanide fishing, or electrofishing, all of which can be detrimental to the local marine environment as well as harming rare fish species.

In blast fishing, explosives are used to stun or kill schools of fish, allowing fishermen to quickly capture large amounts of fish in a short period of time. With cyanide fishing, the poisonous substance is sprayed or squirted in a particular area of the water; the cyanide doesn’t kill the fish, instead stunning them long enough for an easy capture. Electrofishing involves the release of an electric current into the water in order to stun or kill fish; in Myanmar, fishermen often drop car batteries into the water to generate the current.

In recent months, several dolphins have washed ashore, many of them having died due to electrocution. In neighboring Thailand, a male dugong was found dead last November — allegedly the last remaining dugong in the Gulf of Thailand.

And because local fishermen don’t really care about the scope of the damage that is inflicted through these methods of fishing, oftentimes animals that they don’t necessarily intend to harm are also injured or killed.

Despite local efforts to fine and jail anyone who is found guilty of fishing via such illegal methods, the respective departments don’t have nearly enough vessels or equipment to regularly patrol the waters. Additionally, and perhaps more unfortunately, people also don’t seem to care enough about the damage that is being done.

Dr. Nyunt Wai, Head of Rakhine State’s Department of Fisheries explained: “We’ve made announcements and established rules, but no one follows them. They release poison, they shock the water. We have dugongs and sharks… and we teach people on how to help preserve them; we tell them that if they catch one [of these fish], they should release it back into the water. However, very few people actually listen.”

More information:Click Here



Great Barrier Reef 'too big to fail' at $56b, Deloitte Access Economics report says

26 June 2017, ABC Online (Australia)

INFOGRAPHIC: The Great Barrier Reef supports 64,000 total jobs in Australia, including 31,000 outside Queensland. (Supplied)

Deloitte Access Economics has calculated the economic, social and iconic value of the world heritage site in a report commissioned by the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.

Tourism is the biggest contributor to the total asset value making up $29 billion.

The Great Barrier Reef generates 64,000 jobs in Australia and contributes $6.4 billion dollars to the national economy, the report said.

It states the brand value, or Australians that have not yet visited the Reef but value knowing it exists, as $24 billion.

Recreational users including divers and boaters make up $3 billion.

"That's more than 12 Sydney Opera Houses, or the cost of building Australia's new submarines. It's even more than four times the length of the Great Wall of China in $100 notes," the report states.

The report does not include quantified estimates of the value traditional owners place on the Great Barrier Reef and it said governments should consider doing more to protect it.
Climate change remains biggest threat

It also references the back to back coral bleaching events which have devastated the reef and says climate change remains the most serious threat to the entire structure.

"We have already lost around 50 per cent of the corals on the GBR in the last 30 years. Severe changes in the ocean will see a continued decline ahead of us," the report states.

"Today, our Reef is under threat like never before. Two consecutive years of global coral bleaching are unprecedented, while increasingly frequent extreme weather events and water quality issues continue to affect reef health," said Dr John Schubert AO, Chair of the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.

Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators executive director Col McKenzie said the reef is crucial to the industry.

"We don't have an industry without the Barrier Reef being in good condition."

He said the negative coverage of the reef relating to the destruction caused by Cyclone Debbie earlier this year and the bleaching event is having an impact on visitor numbers.

Mr McKenzie said tourist figures are down 50 per cent in the Whitsundays and it is being felt along the Queensland coast.

"The majority of the operators in Cairns say this is as bad as it was during the global financial crisis," Mr McKenzie said.

More information: Click Here



Trump's budget would hit Florida Environmental Monitoring Programs

23 June 2107, WGCU News (USA)

Among the environmental programs on the chopping block under President Donald Trump’s proposed budget is a little-known grant program administered through the Environmental Protection Agency called the South Florida Geographic Initiative. The program funds efforts to monitor water quality in the Everglades and the Florida Keys as well as efforts to monitor the health of seagrasses and coral reefs. The proposed loss of that federal support has some environmental researchers in Florida on edge.

The South Florida Geographic Initiative provides grant funding for environmental monitoring efforts administered through the EPA’s Water Quality Protection Program. Among those efforts is the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Coral Reef Evaluation and Monitoring Program, or CREMP. Since 1996, that program has provided annual monitoring of 40 coral reef sites throughout the Florida Keys, making it the second longest ongoing coral reef monitoring program in the world. Since its inception, CREMP has relied on funds from the South Florida Geographic Initiative. Just since 2015, the program has received $540,000 dollars from the EPA grant program. Rob Ruzicka is a research administrator and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Principal Investigator for CREMP. He said the EPA program is critical to his work.

“I would say the bulk of it, maybe 75 percent to 80 percent of it has been through the EPA,” said Ruzicka. “If the Geographic Initiative’s program was eliminated within the EPA that would basically cripple the CREMP program and we would not be able to carry on our monitoring like we do now.”

Ruzicka said the two decades of data collected through CREMP draw attention to a concerning trend in Florida’s coral health.

“We’ve seen a roughly 50 percent decline in the coral cover at our sites,” said Ruzicka. “And while this can’t necessarily be extrapolated throughout the entire Florida Keys and through the entire Florida reef tract, what we’ve seen within our monitoring sites is a large reflection on the amount of coral that we have lost.”

The South Florida Geographic Initiative also provides critical funds for a Florida Keys Water Quality Monitoring project and a Seagrass Monitoring Project, both administered through Florida International University researchers. For 20 years, it has also provided funding for efforts monitoring the threats of phosphorus, mercury and other elements that can damage the Everglades.

Data collected for the EPA through the initiative was also key in a 2012 federal court settlement in which U.S. District Judge Alan S. Gold ordered the state to spend $880 million on an Everglades clean-up plan.

In April, more than 30 members of Congress, including U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Kendall, sent a letter to President Trump urging federal support for the EPA’s Geographic programs throughout the country.

See below for a detailed list of projects funded in recent years through the EPA’s South Florida Geographic Initiative:

1. Florida Keys Coral Reef Evaluation and Monitoring Program – EPA funded $270,000 in 2015 and $270,000 in 2016:

The health of the coral reef ecosystem in the Florida Keys depends on the quality of water in which the corals live. Even a slight deterioration in water quality can be stressful to the reef. To collect valuable information about the reef ecosystem, scientists from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission began systematically monitoring coral reefs throughout Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary in 1996. This research program, called the Coral Reef Evaluation and Monitoring Program (CREMP), studies various aspects of reef health at 40 sites throughout the sanctuary.

CREMP scientists look at the coral health as it relates to the quality of the water. Coral reef research and monitoring are especially important for tracking the effects of increasing seawater temperatures and sea level rise associated with the Earth’s changing climate.

2. Florida Keys Seagrass Monitoring Project – EPA funded $200,000 in 2015 and $200,000 in 2016; project lead is James W. Fourqurean, Ph.D., Marine Sciences Program, Florida International University

The general objective of seagrass monitoring in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS) is to measure the status and trends of seagrass communities to evaluate progress toward protecting and restoring the living marine resources of the Sanctuary. The scope and depth of this monitoring effort are without precedent or peer for seagrass ecosystems throughout the world. Specific objectives are: 1) To provide data needed to make unbiased, statistically rigorous statements about the status and temporal trends of seagrass communities in the Sanctuary as a whole and within defined strata; 2) To help define reference conditions in order to develop resource-based water quality standards; and 3) To provide a framework for testing hypothesized pollutant fate/effect relationships through process-oriented research and monitoring. In order to meet these objectives, we have developed these goals for the project:

Define the present distribution of seagrasses within the FKNMS

Provide high-quality, quantitative data on the status of the seagrasses within the FKNMS

Quantify the importance of seagrass primary production in the FKNMS

Define the baseline conditions for the seagrass communities

Determine relationships between water quality and seagrass status

Detect trends in the distribution and status of the seagrass communities

More detail at:

3. Florida Keys Water Quality Monitoring Project – EPA funded $415,000 in 2015 and $450,000 in 2016; project lead is: Henry O. Briceño; Southeast Environmental Research Center, Florida International University

The Southeastern Environmental Research Program at Florida International University operates a network of 340 fixed sampling sites distributed throughout the estuarine and coastal ecosystems of south Florida. The purpose of this network is to address concerns in regional water quality that cross and overlap political boundaries. EPA funds the water quality monitoring within the FKNMS. Healthy and productive seagrass and coral communities require clean, clear water that is low in nutrients. This Keys program has monitored the water quality since 1995, and is part of this larger network of monitoring projects that includes Biscayne Bay, Florida Bay, Whitewater Bay, Ten Thousand Islands, Rookery Bay, Estero Bay, and Pine Island Sound.

More detail at:

4. Special Projects – EPA funded $293,000 in 2015 and $250,000 in 2016. The following is a listing of the special projects that EPA funded in 2015 and 2016:

Florida Keys Water Watch Program – Monroe County working with Florida Extension; EPA funded $26,587 in 2016

- continued development of citizen monitoring program developed through a WQPP

- conducting monitoring/educational outreach within Monroe County

- strong leveraging of funds from other sources; >100% match

- new development, working with Lake Watch to collect nutrient samples

- working outside Sanctuary/Biscayne

- provide Best Management Practices messaging to homeowners

Assessment and mitigation of impacts from surface waters and land-based sources of endocrine disrupting compounds (EDCs) on water quality and coral reef communities of the Florida Keys - Mote Marine Laboratory and Nova University; EPA funded $112,830 in 2016

- scientific literature review of EDCs potentially impacting Keys, SE Reef Tract

- EDC monitoring at reefs, nearshore, canals, toxicity testing

- education and outreach, working with NSF RAPS program/research after school program for high school

- develop management strategies to mitigate EDC pollution

Improve Water Quality in Residential Canals Project – Monroe County; EPA funded $110, 582 in 2016

- reevaluate 306 canals not meeting Dissolved Oxygen (DO) standard; collect DO data and all fair and poor canals for confirmation

- collecting sediment cores for restoration potential and potential beneficial use of sediment

- develop conceptual designs for 15 canals

- one canal restoration project utilizing funding $1.7M from Monroe County

- significant leveraging of additional funds from other sources; >100% match

Everglades – funds go to the Everglades National Park Service; EPA funded $50,000 in 2015 and $50,000 in 2016

- These EPA funds to the Everglades are used to understand and maximize the removal of phosphorus in constructed wetlands before the water is discharged into the Everglades.

· Sponge Community Restoration, EPA funded $200,000 in 2015

· Florida Keys Water Watch, EPA funded $13,645 in 2015

· Monroe County Canal Improvement (Alternative technologies), EPA funded $73,909 in 2015

Other projects prior to 2015 (for more information on these see Steering Committee Presentations at:

•Effectiveness of Sponge Restoration and Importance of Biodiversity for Restoring Ecosystem Services, $73,000 (FY14)

•Florida Keys Watch and Canal Master Plan Education -Monroe County, $75,000 (FY14)

•Effects of Mosquito Control Pesticides and Pesticides on Non-Target Organisms (coral/lobster), $125,000 (FY14), (FY12)

•Canal Management Master Plan Database, Phase II –Monroe County, $110,000 (FY12)

•Everglades Mapping and Environmental Project (Everglades Project) $500,000 (FY12, FY13)

More information:Click Here



Turtle comeback in Cuba at risk from climate change

23 June 2017, Miami Herald (USA)

A loggerhead rescued by the Miami Sequarium was released from Key Biscayne in 2011. Photo Credit: Walter Michot Miami Herald Staff

Turtle conservation efforts in Cuba may be winning the battle only to lose the war.

A new study published this month in the journal Chelonia found that over the last 18 years, the number of loggerheads nesting in Cuba, a centrally located turtle nursery for the entire Caribbean, has increased. Scientists credit the jump to a local project to educate fisherman and nearby communities, where turtle meat is still consumed. Poaching fell by 80 percent.

At the same time, the number of eggs in clutches dropped and nesting seasons grew shorter, a troubling pattern likely linked to climate change.

“The hope is we’re seeing a conservation success story,” said Fernando Bretos, director of the Ocean Foundation’s Cuba Marine Research and Conservation Program, which has been monitoring the turtles with Cuban researchers.

But with mounting evidence that changing temperatures and sea levels hurt turtles, Bretos worries more work needs to be done to get a better read on what the future holds for Cuba’s loggerheads. Temperature determines turtle sex and Florida researchers have found nests have been producing more and more female hatchlings. A foot-and-a-half rise in sea level expected to occur between 2060 and 2100 could also wipe out a third of the Caribbean’s nesting beaches.

There’s also the problem of enigmatic turtles.

Scientists get most of their information about loggerheads from their habits on beaches, or when they turn up in fishing nets, said Bretos, who is also ecology curator at Miami’s Frost Museum of Science. Hardly anything is known about where they feed. The island’s better tracked and larger population of green turtles regularly head to miles of seagrass pastures near shore “like cattle.” But loggerheads, he said, also venture into deeper water where they are hard to track. And Cuba scientists don’t have access to satellite tracking technology used by scientists in the U.S., he said.

For the study, the scientists gathered data from 18 years of nesting along 10 beaches across the island’s west coast, focusing on the southernmost point of the Guanahacabibes Peninsula, which is protected by a national park.

Cuba is the only Caribbean country with several large nesting beaches, where the number of nests regularly tops 100, the study said. While the beaches along Guanahacabibes don’t have the highest number on the island, the study found the area did have the longest sustained increase in nesting. That lead them to conclude conservation was making a difference, although turtle meat is still consumed and, Bretos said, available in private restaurants.

In Florida and across the U.S., laws are much stricter. It is illegal to even touch protected sea turtles and since 1989, shrimp trawlers have been required to use nets with turtle escape hatches.

On Thursday, to demonstrate the effectiveness of the special nets, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Florida wildlife officials released 215 captive-raised loggerheads into nets off Fort Pierce. After escaping the nets — the ongoing project is intended to improve the design — the turtles join local wild populations.

But increasingly, climate change may prove a bigger challenge. Since warmer temperatures produce more females, scientists worry the sex ratio of turtles could become lopsided. And if the narrow beaches along the U.S. disappear, turtles may head elsewhere. Cuba, which sits at the intersection between the Gulf of Mexico and U.S. east coast, is a possible destination. Already, Bretos said it’s likely turtles from Florida and south through the Caribbean end up in Cuba’s seagrass meadows, which remain among the healthiest.

“The big wild card is the feeding area” he said. “It’s a huge area...And so many areas are not getting research.”

More information: Click Here



Fragile seahorses under threat

21 June 2017, Times LIVE (South Africa)

The endangered Knysna seahorse, and the sea grass it depends upon, could be unlikely victims of the recent fires.

Safe from the heat of the infernos that ravaged the area, the seahorse could come under threat from the inflow of ash and eroded topsoil from the surrounding land, said the Endangered Wildlife Trust.

Just 12cm long, the seahorse lives in the estuaries at Sedgefield and Keurbooms, with its stronghold in the Knysna Estuary.

The organisation's Grant Smith said concern about the species is related to the health of the "eel grass" on which seahorses and 90 other estuary species rely.

"The seahorse holds onto the eel grass with its tail and feeds on small invertebrates that float past. The eel grass is already under pressure from the nutrient load in the estuary as a result of development and sewage spills," said Smith.

"The worry is that this new inflow of silt will increase the nutrient load on the eel grass, reducing its ability to photosynthesise and flourish as it needs to."

The trust will be working together with the authorities, the Knysna Basin Project, and the estuary management forum to implement solutions.

This will include stabilising fire-ravaged banks and installing traps to filter out the sediment inflow of topsoil, ash and other debris, said Smith.

The Knysna Basin Project's Louw Claassens said it was assumed that erosion and estuary sedimentation would occur because of the fires but critical areas now needed to be identified.

The Knysna Municipality is running this task with the help of the Endangered Wildlife Trust, SANParks and local NGOs.

"If the sea grass and especially eel grass habitat is lost as a result of the sedimentation it will have a direct negative impact on the seahorse and many other species including the critically endangered limpet Siphonaria compressa," said Claassens.

More information: Click Here



Dugong threatened with extinction in New Caledonia

21 June 2017, RNZ (New Zealand)

Continued poaching could destroy New Caledonia's dugong population, conservationists have warned.

WWF said urgent steps needed to be taken to stop the killing of the mammals because their numbers have shrunk to an estimated 800.

In a statement, WWF said surveys showed that many people admitted to occassionally eating dugong meat, though it is strictly forbidden.

It said if the poaching did not stop, the sea mammal would disappear.

Dugongs are cousins to the manatee, and are only found in the wild in shallow coastal waters of the Indian and western Pacific Oceans.


More information: Click Here


The importance of conserving of Kenya's seagrass meadows

20 June 2017, Geographical

In order to control the climate and mitigate climate change, carbon sinks are a vital part and process of the planet. This is due to their ability to absorb carbon dioxide and, after some time, slowly release it back into the atmosphere.

Now, a team of scientists from Edinburgh Napier University and East Africa, led by Professor Mark Huxham, has uncovered that underwater seagrass meadows, in southern Kenya’s Gazi Bay, absorb more carbon than other land-based carbon sinks, such as rainforests. Huxham and his team scientists discovered that ‘seagrass in Kenya locks in 50 per cent more carbon than is typical for seagrass meadows elsewhere.’ This indicates the important role that seagrass sites could play in the fight against climate change.

The seagrass meadows and mangroves found in Gazi Bay are ‘blue carbon sinks’ as they are living coastal and marine organisms. Seagrasses are easily mistaken for seaweed but are actually closer in relation to flowering plants found on land. They are known as being one of the most productive ecosystems on the planet due to the shelter they provide the animals that live within it and the services they provide to humans such as carbon storing.

The outcome of Huxham’s project, funded by Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation is that the seagrass meadows have the ability to absorb 35 times more atmospheric carbon than any land-based sinks such as tropical-rainforests. Furthermore, the meadows in Gazi Bay re-release the carbon at a much slower rate.

With great powers, though, comes great responsibility. Conserving the seagrass must become a priority locally and also globally. Huxham stresses this point: ‘conserving the seagrass bed is not only for nature’s sake. It is also about conserving that ecosystem to ensure sustainability of the fisheries and to improve people’s livelihoods in the long-term.’

Despite the fact that seagrasses are located in the Diani-Chale Marine Reserve and have a protected status, they are still under a degree of threat. The research indicates how human actions such as dragnet fishing, pollution, dredging and, specifically, the use of seine nets – fishing nets used to haul large quantities of marine life – have put the ecosystems under severe pressure. The buzzing tourism scene, which is encouraged due to the Marine Reserve, potentially exacerbates this degradation. This reveals some interesting yet relevant dichotomies in that the ‘eco-tourism’ industry is harming the environment the tourists are attracted to and the marginalised locals are having to protect this land from the richer visitors.

Huxham’s study highlights the importance of conserving the seagrasses and the other ecosystems in the Kwale District, in regards to the local population as well. Having a thriving ecosystem ensures that the marginalised and poverty-stricken locals have resources such as fish to buy and sell, thereby granting the community long-term food and economic security. With the new research released, Huxham has been talking to the local people about creating another Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) scheme, similar to the one that’s successfully maintaining and protecting mangroves nearby.

The existing PES scheme is called Mikoko Pamja meaning ‘Mangroves Together’ and was created as a joint initiative in 2013 between Gazi Bay villagers, volunteers, and institutions from the UK and Kenya. It relied on the villagers monitoring the growth and biodiversity in the mangroves and planting seeds four times a year. This kind of scheme appears wildly popular among the locals because they reap the benefits of better and bountiful fish stocks. For example, one villager, in an article for the Guardian, exclaims, ‘Since we started caring for the mangroves, we harvest more and more fish... Now, fishermen from as far off as Pemba [an island of the Zanzibar archipelago] come to fish here.’

The scheme also gives agency to the marginalised population because they choose how to spend the revenue, often investing in their children’s education. The prospect of having two projects within the Gazi Bay area that can help fend against climate change, as well as helping to develop the community, is therefore seen as an exciting one for bringing further benefits to the region.

More information: Click Here



On the trail of the dugong

20 June 2017, (Malaysia)

Our hunt for dugongs began at 6am. The air was heavy with salt and darkness as I trudged sleepily from the village homestay to the jetty.

I was on Pulau Tinggi, one of several islands off eastern Johor, with two marine scientists; and we were going to chug along in a large wooden fishing boat to Pulau Sibu Kukus, 45 minutes away.

Last October, seagrass expert Dr Jillian Ooi and coral reef ecologist Affendi Yang Amri, both from Universiti Malaya (UM), had accidentally discovered that a group of dugongs were regularly frolicking on the surface of the sea at dawn near Sibu Kukus, a small rocky island near the larger Pulau Sibu Besar. Would we see them again this year?

Why care for dugongs?

Our underwater buddies may be helping to ensure we have lots of seafood.

This is because dugongs are like the “cows of the sea” – they are marine mammals (like dolphins and whales) which feed mainly on seagrass.

While feeding, they are also “cultivating” large underwater beds of seagrass by recycling nutrients as they uproot whole plants to feed on them. An adult dugong can consume about 30kg of seagrass a day. Constant “trimming or pruning” by dugongs encourages the regeneration of more seagrass. The mammals’ faeces also act as fertiliser.

But why should the average Malaysian care about all that?

Research by Affendi and Ooi shows that there are six times more juvenile fish in seagrasses than in adjacent coral reefs. In contrast, coral reefs have five times more adult fish than the seagrass areas.

Their hypothesis is that seagrass meadows are probably a nursery and feeding ground for many juvenile fish, which then move over to coral reefs when they become adults.

In addition, seagrass also filters out pollutants and bacteria that bring disease, thus creating healthier environments for coral reefs.

“Both kinds of habitat are important for the marine environment. We can’t just protect coral reefs without also protecting seagrass,” summed up Ooi. She explained that seagrass does not always occur near coral reefs, but Johor is lucky to have both types of habitat close to each other.

“Dugongs are like ecosystem engineers,” she explained. “If the dugongs become extinct, what would this mean for the seagrass meadow? We are not sure yet, but the meadow could be affected in a way that fish, crabs, squid and prawns that depend on it could also decline. This would hurt our source of seafood and the livelihood of Johor fishermen.”
Patriotic duty

But do we really need to justify protecting dugongs based on how much seafood and profit we can extract from the sea? What about basic human compassion for these loveable gentle giants?

Isn’t it our patriotic duty to protect our national living heritage?

If Africa is proud of its giraffes, lions and hippos, shouldn’t we be proud of our dugongs? Sure, neighbouring Singapore may have its famous zoo and aquariums, but Johor has the real thing in the wild!

“It’s a matter of national pride that Malaysia has a wealth of wildlife,” said Ooi.

“Every species should matter to us, especially one as iconic as the dugong.”

Johor happens to be blessed with two major areas of seagrass. There is one off Gelang Patah in southern Johor, but it has been damaged by land reclamation and other development work and the number of dugongs there have dropped.

Luckily, the second expanse of seagrass off eastern Johor is still largely intact. This will be the site of a proposed dugong sanctuary including all islands from Pulau Rawa (in the north) to the Pulau Sibu groups of islands (in the south). It will also stretch right up to the mainland in Mersing.

Media reports have noted that it will soon be gazetted as the Sultan Iskandar Marine Park – that would be a royally fitting way to conserve and celebrate our marine heritage.
Robinson Crusoe

So there I was, in a wooden fishing boat off tiny Pulau Sibu Kukus. By now, I was fully energised by the chilly winds of our boat trip just as the first rays of the morning sun peeked out of the horizon.

“Sssshhhhh,” Affendi reminded us – dugongs are very sensitive to noise and we didn’t want to scare any away.

Everyone – including Ooi, Affendi, five other research assistants and the boat crew – focused their eyes or binoculars on the calm morning sea.

Suddenly, there was a little splash, but no … it was a sea turtle coming up to catch its breath before diving back down. We kept scouring and scanning the sea with laser-like attention … hmmm, were those just little waves in the distance? Or the faint marks of dugong activity? But after an hour, we only saw more turtles.

“We know the dugongs are around because we’ve seen their feeding trails in the seagrass,” explained Ooi.

“But we are not sure why they are not surfacing at dawn like last year. Had the last monsoon season changed the dugongs’ habits? We need to do more research.”

In fact, Ooi and Affendi plan to become like Robinson Crusoe “hermits” for at least six months on Pulau Sibu Kukus to monitor dugongs, seagrass and corals in the surrounding seas.

To this end, they surveyed the only (tiny) beach on the island to see where they could set up work and sleep areas, a kitchen and that most crucial thing – a toilet.

“Well, luckily we’ve not seen any scorpions or centipedes here yet. Only kerengga ants (which have painful bites!),” smiled Affendi. “We also have to watch out for sea snakes that may return to the island at night.”

We then clambered up the slippery slopes of a small hill, to be rewarded with a glorious panorama of the surrounding seas and islands.

“From up here, we can constantly look out for dugongs,” quipped Affendi.

After the land survey, it was time for a marine survey. I had a chance to kayak round the small island (it took about 20 minutes) and could see how wild and rugged it was – most of it was rocky.

Then we all donned our masks and fins to snorkel among the seagrass.

“The seagrass has decreased compared to last year,” reported Ooi.

Before we left the island, we had one more spotting session from the boat. With every eye peeled and every ear opened, we waited … and soon enough, we saw little tell-tale splatters with our binoculars – the dugongs had showed up!

The kayak was promptly lowered into the sea and Affendi paddled out to have a closer look.

As for me, I was just savouring the scene from the boat, ah … this was the frontline of scientific research and conservation. Why, it was like being in a National Geographic episode!

Hopefully, the dugongs and seagrass will continue to be a national treasure.

More information: Click Here



Protection areas to be set up following death of dugong in Phuket

19 June 2017, The Phuket News (Thailand)

Officials assist the badly injured dugong. Photo Credit: Mu Koh Phi Phi National Park

An official from the Phuket Marine Biological Centre (PMBC) has stated that protected areas will be introduced for dugongs following the death of one of the animals at the PMBC this morning.

The call for the protected areas come after an injured dugong was found on a beach at Phi Phi Island last night and died today whilst being cared for at the PMBC this morning (June 19).

The dugong, which was two metres long and weighed more than 40 kilograms, was found by residents on a beach at Phi Phi Island in Krabi by local residents who said that it has a large wound on its tail.

Officials from the PMBC were called to the area where they administered antibiotics and a saline drip before bring it back to the PMBC where this morning it was pronounced dead.

Director of PMBC, Dr Kongkiat Kittiwattanawong, said “We tried to help the dugong as much as we could, but we were unsuccessful.

“We believed the dugong had been cut by something sharp, perhaps a boat engine propeller something similar,” he said.

“It had been sick for a while and became so weak it was unavailable to swim. It was brought to the beach by a wave.

“We will now conduct an autopsy to see if its organs were infected and to find the cause of death.

“There are a large number of dugongs dying and there numbers are decreasing. Most of those dead have been killed by propellers and fishing nets.

“It is now time for us to set up dugong protection areas starting in Trang province. We have asked fishermen for cooperation,” he added.

More information: Click Here



Neighbors fed up with trashed canal in Cape Coral

14 June 2017, NBC2 News (USA)

The water off Southeast 21st Avenue near Hancock Bridge Parkway is almost completely covered by dead sea grass with debris building up on top of it.

Neighbors in Cape Coral are fed up after trash continues to build up in a canal near their homes.

The water off Southeast 21st Avenue near Hancock Bridge Parkway is almost completely covered by dead sea grass with debris building up on top of it.

We found old shoes, small liquor bottles, and even dead fish all littering the water.

"It is a very sad state of affairs," said Estelle Sanchez-Marrero, whose husband filed a complaint with the city's public works department in May.

"I know nature has its way at some point, but I do believe that there are things they can do to clean up this mess," she said.

A city spokesperson says a crew did collect some of the trash last week but says there were some items they were unable to reach.

They say it's up to another agency – the Lee County Hyacinth Control District – to clear out the dead sea grass.

Officials there say there is only one public boat ramp near the canal making it difficult for crews to bring in the equipment needed to help clear the dead grass.

They say they will continue to monitor the canal every week. They're hoping the rainy season will improve the flow of water in the canal and help wash away that debris.

More information: Click Here



Strange beach balls explained

11 June 2017, Otago Daily Times (New Zealand)

 Donna McPherson was surprised to be find seagrass balls on Caroline Bay last Wednesday. Photo Credit: Otago Times

Mysterious balls which appeared after high seas on Caroline Bay have been identified by a botanist.
Donna McPherson supplied The Courier with photos of balls on the bay after visiting the beach earlier this week morning.

The Courier sent the images to the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and their botanist conferred with Landcare Research in identifying the objects as seagrass balls. Ms McPherson said she visited the beach on Wednesday morning and had seen the "amazing sight".

"I walked halfway down the beach and saw about 100," she said.

"One I saw was about as big as a softball and the rest were a bit smaller than my hand."

Ms McPherson said she had never seen anything like them before. MPI acting manager surveillance and incursion investigation Mike Taylor said the structures were seagrass balls, also known as neptune balls or fibre balls.

"The ones in your pictures are likely from a land grass species [such as marram grass] washed into the sea by erosion and shaped into balls," he said.

The balls had been found before in Invercargill and posed no threat to security, he said. Ms McPherson said the balls looked and felt as if they were made from pine needles.

"There had been strong seas and a high sea the night before, and a very low tide," she said.

More information: Click Here



Rising sea temperature impacts seagrass beds in Lagonoy Gulf

10 June 2017, Rappler (Philippines)


Seagrass exposed at low tide, Lagunoy Gulf. Photo Credit: Rhaydz B. Barcia/Rappler

As soon as the waters of Cagraray Island in Bacacay town recede at low tide and bare the seagrass bed beneath, Marcy and her 10-year-old son can be seen rushing to the shore.

Toting eco bags and bolos, Marcy, 53, and son Jeric search the seagrass – called bariw-bariw here – for seashells which they sell for a living.

Low tide lasts for about two to 3 hours, enough for mother and son to do their work. They sell a medium eco bag filled with different seashells to villagers and local tourists for P60.

Sarad, kudkud, and other seashells can be found on Lagonoy Gulf's seagrass garden, which feeds and shelters different marine species.

Residents of Barangay Buang and adjacent viillages Uson and Salvacion have been collecting seashells since the 1960s.

The seagrass garden used to be vast and dense but it began to thin out and shrink over time because of the rising sea temperature.

The villages of Uson, Buang, and Salvacion face the Pacific Ocean. Big waves hit their coastline from July to February.

The big waves from the Pacific Ocean and sea acidification due to climate change created the Wara-Wara sandbar, which used to be covered with seagrass, according to Salvacion resident Louie Bonaobra, 40.

Over 3 decades, the sandbar expanded from just a tiny area of white sand to almost 3 hectares. Wara-Wara sandbar can be found between the islands of Cagraray, the famous white beaches of Bacacay, and San Miguel in Tabaco City.

Warning signs

Senator Loren Legarda, chair of the Senate committee on climate change said that oceans have absorbed about a third of global carbon dioxide emissions, causing acidification. This has also resulted in coral bleaching.

Legarda said in a statement that vital action to protect the oceans is critical to limit global warming and safeguard the world’s oceans.

“Ocean acidification is causing irreversible damage to coral reefs. With global warming of up to 2°C, 98% of coral reefs will die by 2050. A World Bank study shows that this would cause decrease in marine fish capture by about 50% in the southern Philippines by the year 2050,” she said.

“For an archipelagic country like the Philippines, this unravelling scenario is a nightmare due to threats of inundation, decrease in fish catch, and weak tourism in marine environments. Rising sea surface temperatures and ocean acidification are projected to cause major damages to coral reef systems,” the senator added.

The lawmaker explained that reefs are complex ecosystems that are vital to the continuity of life in the sea as it protect coastlines from wave and storm erosion and function as nurseries and habitats for thousands of marine species.

They are ultimately connected to mangrove forests, seagrass beds, and countless other ecosystems. She said that carbon emissions reduction is crucial in protecting our oceans.

Restoration of mangroves, seagrass beds and marshes, which absorb up to five times more carbon than tropical forests, will help alleviate ocean acidification. These coastal ecosystems likewise serve as buffers for storm surge and tsunami.

“We have relied so much on the oceans for our existence – for food, for employment, for energy and for recreation. However, global warming, rapid population growth along with unsustainable marine practices such as overfishing, waste dumping, oil spills, among others, have seriously damaged marine habitats and life in the sea over the years,” Legarda stressed.

Legarda urged the public to adopt responsible fishing practices and sustainable marine management.


Oceans cover two-thirds of the earth's surface and are the very foundations of life.

UN Secretary General António Guterres said in a statement sent to Rappler that the problems of the ocean – all created by human activity – can all be reversed and prevented with decisive, coordinated action.

Guterres warned that the special relationship between people and the ocean is under threat as never before. (READ: UN chief: Save oceans to avert 'global catastrophe')

“Oceans are a testing ground for the principle of multilateralism,” he said. “The health of our oceans and seas requires us to put aside short-term national gain, to avoid long-term global catastrophe. Conserving our oceans and using them sustainably is preserving life itself."

The UN reported that the global marine protected area target of 10% by 2020 has increased nearly twenty-fold since 1993, and has more than doubled since 2010.

This target was agreed upon by parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in 2010. It was also adopted by UN member states as part of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG)14.

The call for action stresses the need to implement SDG 14 and also addresses its interlinkages with other SDGs. In the call for action, countries agree to implement long-term strategies to reduce the use of plastics and microplastics, such as plastic bags and single-use plastics.

Countries also agree to craft and implement effective adaptation and mitigation measures on ocean and coastal acidification, sea-level rise, and increase in ocean temperatures; and to address the other harmful impact of climate change on the ocean.

More information: Click Here


Reclamation, destructive fishing threaten Indonesian seagrasses

10 June 2017, Jakarta Post (Indonesia)

When we are on a seaside vacation, we often step on seagrasses without realizing their worth to the lives of various organisms, ranging from human beings to critically endangered species like the green turtle and dugong.

Seagrass is the only flowering plant that can live in the sea and often grows in what scientists call “meadows” found in shallow waters. A seagrass meadow can harbor multiple species of living organisms for the plants can produce a vast amount of oxygen for the inhabitants.

In Indonesia, seagrass meadows cover around 150,000 hectares in the sea. There are at least 15 species of seagrass that have been discovered in this archipelago, with scientists expecting more species to be discovered in the country that has some of the richest marine biodiversity in the world.

A recent study by the Indonesian Institute of Science (LIPI), however, has found that most of the shallow sea in Indonesia has seagrass meadows that are in bad condition, which could potentially threaten the survival of various organisms that could lose their habitat.

The study, released on Wednesday, monitored the condition of seagrass meadows in 423 locations across the country, mostly in its eastern part, concluding that only 5 percent of them had seagrass meadows in excellent condition, such as in the shallow sea by the Biak Numfor regency in Papua province.

The deteriorating condition of seagrass meadows could threaten the ongoing efforts to tackle the impacts of climate change, LIPI argued, as one of their environmental services is the ability to absorb carbon dioxide from the air and ocean.

A seagrass meadow can absorb 394 to 449 grams of carbon per square meter per year, a service that could “significantly contribute to withstanding the rate of global climate change,” said LIPI marine scientist Udhi Hernawan, who was involved in the study.

Seagrass is also an important link in the food chain, with hundreds of species feeding on it, such as crabs, fish and the aforementioned green turtles and dugongs.

In 2004, the Environment Ministry issued categorizations for the condition of seagrass meadows.

A “healthy” category is given to a shallow seabed covered 60 percent or more by an excellent seagrass meadow, while “not so healthy” and “unhealthy” are given to any areas covered 30 to 59.9 percent and zero to 29.9 percent by excellent seagrass meadow, respectively.

In 2016, 37.58 percent of Indonesia’s shallow seabed areas monitored by LIPI were covered by seagrass meadows, a decrease from the 2015 figure of 46 percent.

According to a 2009 estimate, seagrass meadows are also diminishing at a rapid rate globally, with the world losing an area of seagrass equal to a soccer field in every 30 minutes.

“The decreasing condition of seagrasses generally was caused by the intense pressure from human activities,” said LIPI Oceanography Research Center head Dirhamsyah.

Udhi said massive reclamation, construction in coastal zones, global warming and destructive fishing were among the major drivers of the decrease of seagrasses in Indonesia.

Reclamation removes mangrove and other coastal plants that can absorb sediment. The more sediment polluting the sea, the more difficult it is for seagrasses to grow, Udhi said.

Rising sea temperatures also contribute to the disappearance of seagrasses.

The study also found seagrass meadows in “not so healthy” condition in conservation areas, such as in the world famous scuba diving spot of Wakatobi in Southeast Sulawesi.

The cause there is somewhat natural: Seagrasses in Wakatobi have absorbed an excessive amount of nutrients, such as nitrogen, which stimulates the growth of algae, an epiphyte of seagrass, thus disturbing the photosynthesis process in the host plant.

One means to heal the condition of seagrasses, Udhi said, is through transplantation, either growing new seagrasses in a damaged meadow or by creating new seagrass meadows.

More information: Click Here



The State of Florida's Seagrass

07 June 2017, Florida Sportsman Magazine (USA)


Scientists monitoring the health of seagrass. Photo Credit: Tampa Bay Estuary Program

Florida’s seagrass woes can be illustrated by understanding another familiar, American ecological disaster: the Dust Bowl. Demand for grains boomed in America after WWI and Midwest farmers plowed under native grasses to meet that demand. When the Depression hit, demand fell, and they abandoned those lands. Prolonged drought followed and when the winds hit those soils without the native grasses, the soils literally blew away. The resulting calamity caused mass migrations and economic devastation.

Florida’s agricultural and waterway architects have constructed a similar scenario for our state. Instead of land, we have sea. Instead of wind, we get water. Instead of dust, we get algae. It’s happened on various scales for the last 50 years in the state with the replumbing of the waterways and Lake Okeechobee, and now it’s threatening the health not only of estuaries to the west and east of the lake, again, but also Florida Bay.

In a recent report on changes in the state’s seagrass coverage from scientists guided by the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI), The Seagrass Integrated Mapping and Monitoring Program details mixed results. Tampa Bay’s success in recovering seagrass acreage is a bright spot, a model to follow. Other regions, including Florida Bay, the southwest coast, the Treasure Coast, Choctawhatchee Bay, the Upper Indian River Lagoon and Mosquito Lagoon have not fared well. While seagrass remains stable in central and southern Biscayne Bay, northern Biscayne Bay has recently suffered a severe loss of seagrass coverage in Tuttle basin of grave concern. The report estimates that Florida’s approximately 2.2 million acres of seagrasses “provide ecological services worth more than $20 billion a year,” such as fishing, ecotours and other water recreation.

Specific causes of the die-offs vary from region to region. Localized factors may include prop-scarring from boats or disturbances from tropical weather systems that churn waters and smother seagrass with sand or suspended particulates. The big killer of seagrasses is over-nutrification of waters from a variety of sources including runoff, septic tank leakage and phosphorus and nitrogen from land sources. Over-nutrification leads to abundant algae growth, and sustained algae growth can block sunlight necessary for seagrass survival.

“In 2013, we lost about 75 percent of the seagrass with the discharges in Lower Indian River by the St. Lucie Inlet,” says Mark Perry, executive director of the Florida Oceanographic Society on Hutchinson Island. “Whenever we get the freshwater discharges, we lose the seagrass. Not only is there a temporal loss, but there is a longer-term decline in the overall coverage. In one area, it’s gone from about 400 acres of coverage in 1970 to about 335 in 2004 to 218 acres in 2016. A lot of the areas that I knew as a kid as lush seagrass are now bare sand bottom.”

Discharges from Lake Okeechobee are also at the heart of Florida Bay’s woes, according to Dr. Larry Brand, professor of marine biology at University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School. The bay lost about 50,000 acres in the last few years.

“Phosphorus was a problem in the Everglades, but not the main problem in Florida Bay, which was nitrogen, and that’s not being pulled out by the stormwater treatment areas. It’s getting into the water flow because the soil in the northern Everglades is rich and has high levels of nitrogen, but when there is natural water flow, the nitrogen stays trapped in the soil. When that soil was drained for sugar cane production, the nitrogen is released from the soil when it gets reflooded, and that nitrogen causes the algae blooms that kill the seagrasses. The nitrogen is from the soil, not from fertilizer. “The problem you have now is the water is murky, sediment is anaerobic, and the seagrasses can’t stand the higher salinity in the late summer, whereas if the water was healthy they could.”

In short, instead of land we have sea. Instead of wind, we get water. Instead of dust, we get algae.

“In my view,” Brand continues, “to truly restore the Everglades, you have to flood the northern third of the Everglades. Stop subsidizing the sugar industry and you’ll stop the release of nitrogen and phosphorus.”

In the northern Indian River Lagoon and Mosquito Lagoon, the last few years have also seen a severe crisis. “We had generally improving extent and distribution of seagrass from the late ‘80s up until 2007,” said Duane De Freese, Executive Director of the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program. “Then weather events—Tropical Storm Faye in ’07, and then 2010 and ‘11s freezing winters, combined with the impact of chronic problems, caused the super bloom in ’11. After the El Nino year of ’1516, we had a huge bloom, more seagrass loss and a massive fish kill. It’s been in recovery mode in 2017, but we’re not out of the woods.”

That fish kill mobilized the region’s residents. In November of 2016, Brevard County residents passed a half-cent sales tax increase which will produce revenue of about $300 million to be dedicated to Indian River Lagoon restoration.

“The reality is that until we put this system on a severe nutrient diet, we won’t see a real recovery,” De Freese said, while noting restoration projects underway in the region, including muck removal, septic to sewer conversion, stormwater reduction and oyster restoration.

Tampa Bay has made a big recovery, meeting and surpassing the Tampa Bay Estuary Program’s own goals for improvements in seagrass acreage, says Nanette O’Hara of the organization. According to the state’s report, Tampa Bay enjoyed a 10 percent increase in seagrass acreage between ’12 and ’14, when the latest surveys were assessed. The accomplishments were achieved through municipal, industrial and residential reductions in nutrient outflows to the bay since the 1970s.

“Decades ago, Tampa upgraded its sewage treatment plant, and St. Petersburg rebuilt its reclaimed water system to reuse sewage and waste water for irrigation,” says O’Hara. “Tampa Electric Company invested 100s of millions in technology to reduce emissions from their power plants. The fertilizer industry made improvements like covering their conveyor belts where they’d move their products from ships into factories so it wouldn’t blow into the water. Then we have, really, the strictest regulations for use of residential fertilizer in the nation in Tampa and Pinellas County, where it cannot be used or for sale in the summer.

“We still have work to do,” O’Hara says. “Our improvements will be determined by how clear and clean we can keep the water. It’s going to take an effort equal to what we’ve made in the past to do that.”

Scientists across the state have for years had success rebuilding damaged and destroyed seagrass beds. Scientists at Florida Oceanographic Society’s FOSTER program are developing a new technique which does not require removal of any existing healthy seagrass. They regrow blades of seagrass washed up on beach shorelines and fabricate them into plantable mats. The mats, made of biodegradable materials like coconut thatch, have already been shown to reroot, grow and thrive in test locations in the Indian River Lagoon.

“We use a previously unused resource of seagrass fragments,” says Dr. Vincent Encomio, Director of Scientific Research at FOS. “What we have growing in our lagoon at FOS is lush and healthy. We can use it for replanting, but we plan to continue our citizen-science project with our volunteers.”

More information: Click Here



Petition to make Dugongs the prefectural animal for Okinawa

07 June 2017, Ryukyushimpo (Japan)

On June 6, a petition to the Okinawa Prefectural Government (OPG) was started in hopes of making Dugongs the prefectural animal for Okinawa. The petition is organized by seven people, including singers Tokiko Kato and Misako Kojya. The organizers hope to collect signatures in the tens of thousands within this year and will appeal to the OPG to make Dugongs the prefectural animal for Okinawa. They also plan to request the prefectural assembly to establish protection laws for Dugongs, including designating October 5 as Dugong Day, which is a play on words in Japanese. Representing the group, Kojya said, “Dugongs are a precious treasure, which [our] future generations should be able to see and enjoy. [We] hope to gain many people’s support.”

Besides Kato and Kojya, the organizers of the petition include: marine mammal scientist and Professor Ellen Hines from San Francisco State University, biology Professor Mitsuru Moriguchi from Okinawa University, picture book authors Seizo Tashima and Shoumei You, and underwater photographer Kensuke Yokoi. Going forward, the organizers hope to collect a wide variety of petitions from in and outside of the country using the internet. They hope to create English and Korean versions of their petition.

Kojya held a press conference at the prefectural office on June 6. With the shore protection works underway for the new Henoko base construction in Oura Bay of Nago City in mind, she said, “There are few feeding grounds for Dugongs. There is [only] one ocean, so [we] don’t want [them] to reclaim any more land from the sea.” Professor Moriguchi said, “Dugongs were once familiar animals to Okinawa people. (Through protecting Dugongs) [we] should re-appreciate interacting with nature.”

More information: Click Here



Diplomats Plant Seagrass to Celebrate World Environment Day

06 June 2017, Voice of America (USA)

To celebrate the June 5 World Environment Day, diplomats from more than a dozen foreign embassies and international organizations Monday joined the U.S. State Department to plant underwater seagrass in the Potomac River, a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay.

Diplomats told VOA their participation in “green diplomacy” is to help raise awareness of the challenges of clean water here and at home.

Underwater grasses growing in shallow waters of the Chesapeake Bay add oxygen to the water, provide wildlife with food and habitat, absorb nutrient pollution, trap sediment and reduce erosion, according to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Representatives from China, Costa Rica, Finland, Germany, Indonesia, Iraq, Malta, Pakistan, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates, as well as the European Union and the World Bank, have been growing seagrasses in their chanceries or ambassadors’ residences since January 2017.

After six months of grow-out, diplomats gathered at the Mason Neck State Park in Lorton, VA to plant their grasses to bolster grass populations and help restore the Chesapeake Bay.

Nursing the grasses is a challenge.

“My gosh, it is very difficult,” Anggarini Sesotyoningtyas from Embassy of Indonesia’s Economic Affairs office told VOA.

“It’s not just like regular plant ‘cause I think it really needs a careful maintenance and care,” said Sesotyoningtyas, adding that the first few days were making sure grass-growing kits were set up correctly, then checking constantly that the seeds were growing.

By working with the CBF’s “Grasses for the Masses” program, diplomats are demonstrating the commitment to environmental protection.

“Underwater grasses are great to protect the natural ecosystem. They offer a lot of benefits for the water. One of the neat things about grasses is they provide shade for some of the river critters or the bay critters. They also provide oxygen to the water, bring in more oxygen, they help trap pollution,“ said Rebecca LePrell, Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Virginia executive director.

Addressing the challenge of clean water is part of the State Department’s green diplomacy initiative.

“It’s certainly something that many other countries, most other countries, struggle with as well. And so it’s something that we share in common and can work around a simple product that can be taken to other countries to use. Just simple six months of growing grasses makes a huge benefit to waterways,“ the State Department’s Office of Foreign Missions director Cliff Seagroves told VOA.

Some diplomats say the U.S. decision to leave the Paris agreement will affect their partnerships. Instead of country-to-country relationships, they will instead focus on cooperation with local governments and communities.

“My job here at the embassy is environmental cooperation with the United States.That might take a different form going forward. We might focus more on state local actors, on the business community who have been very loud in their opposition to the pulling out with the Paris agreement and want to continue to fight climate change,” said Anton Hufnagl from the Germany Embassy.

By helping restore seagrass in the Chesapeake Bay, the State Department said it aims to raise awareness of the challenge of clean water, both in the Washington, DC metropolitan area and around the world.

It also is an opportunity for the U.S. to work with the foreign diplomatic community to address an environmental challenge that people face globally.

More information: Click Here



Great Barrier Reef report shows water quality objectives will not be achieved by 2050 target date

03 June 2017, ABC Online (Australia)

Queensland is struggling to meet its water quality targets for the Great Barrier Reef, a new report from the United Nation's World Heritage Committee says.
The committee's draft decision on the state of conservation of the reef was released in Paris overnight.

It said despite the positive achievements in the Reef 2050 Plan to reduce pressure on the reef, progress towards achieving water quality targets had been slow, and the most immediate water quality targets would not be achieved within the foreseen timeframe.

It also highlighted the need to enforce reef regulations and the need for land clearing reforms.

The Palaszczuk Government's bid to tighten land clearing was blocked by the LNP and some crossbench MPs last year.

Environment Minister Steven Miles said the committee's overnight decision would send a signal to the Opposition to support new regulations or put the reef's World Heritage status at risk.

"It was the previous LNP government who dismantled reef and land clearing protections and who planned to dump dredge spoil on the reef," Mr Miles said.
"Labor has reversed some of that damage, but we can't achieve our targets while the current Parliament blocks sensible laws."

World Wildlife Fund's head of oceans and sustainable development Richard Leck said the reef may only be a few years away from being declared endangered.
"If the reef was placed on that endangered list, it's inevitable that the tourism industry would suffer as a result," Mr Leck said.

The Queensland Government said it was committed to protecting the reef and had committed $100 million over the next five years to water quality projects.

More information: Click Here



Dugong tracking project halted in face of opposition

03 June 2017, The Nation (Thailand)

A dugong tracking project has been scrapped after complaints from local environmentalists, as the group claimed the tracking device harmed the mammals.

The National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA), the sponsor of the project, stopped funding it following opposition from the community. However, a leading veterinarian said that the GPS tracking devices are safe and the study result is crucial for dugong conservation.

NSTDA cluster and programme management office director Rangsima Tantalekha said that as the project to study the mammals’ behaviour and habitat faced criticism from local fishermen and environmentalists, they decided to cease funding.

“NSTDA funds the project for one year on a budget of Bt1 million, but we decide to stop the funding, because we see that the project is causing conflict in the community and we want to work with every stakeholder. The NSTDA will invite the experts to advise local fishermen on the proper method to remove the tracking devices from dugongs,” Rangsima said.

Andaman Foundation coordinator Pakpoom Withantirawat said that local people did not agree with the project and the group had sent a letter to the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry to reconsider the project.

Rangsima said that to remove the tracking devices, local fishermen would chase the dugongs to exhaust them and catch them later to lessen the risk of injury.

In April, Hat Chao Mai Marine National Park chief Manote Wongsureerat started the project by installing GPS tracking devices on three dugongs that live within the national park.

Manote said that the research would be used to set up a protected perimeter in the area where dugongs live and graze on sea grass. Fishing activities will not be allowed in the area.

Dr Nantarika Chansue from Chulalongkorn University’s Veterinary Madical Aquatic animal Research Centre, who assisted on the project, said that the tracking devices are harmless to the mammals and the research was crucial for dugong conservation.

“This tracking device has been tested on dugongs in Australia, having been designed and produced in the US. It is proven that it is not dangerous to dugongs or interferes with its living conditions,” Nantarika said.

“The devices are also small compare to the size of a dugong, as the weight of the device is only three kilograms, but the average dugong weight is around 300 kg.”

She said that because of the project, researchers now know where the studied dugongs live and authorities can set up the safe zone, which is essential for the dugong conservation effort. She said that 90 per cent of dugong deaths were from fishing equipment.

Nantarika also said that efforts to chase and catch the mammals to remove the tracking devices would harm them.

“I totally oppose the effort to catch dugongs by chasing them, as it will surely harm the animal and I am concerned that the operation will end in the death of dugongs,” she added

More information: Click Here


Medications, pesticides, found in blood of sea turtles on Great Barrier Reef

02 June 2017, ABC Online (Australia)


Turtles could be used to monitor chemicals entering reef waters and the health of marine life.. Photo Credit: ABC News: Stephanie Zillman

Heart and gout medications, pesticides, herbicides and other industrial chemicals have all been found in the blood of green sea turtles in the Great Barrier Reef, according to researchers.

The discovery was made as part of project led by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which compared samples from turtles in urban areas to the more remote locations.

Environmental chemist Amy Heffernan from the University of Queensland said she was surprised to see the chemicals in the sea-going turtles.

"What you put down your sink, spray on your farms, or release from industries ends up in the marine environment and in turtles in the Great Barrier Reef," Dr Heffernan said.

Chemical exposure has been linked to stress and other side effects in wildlife, and the indications of inflammation and liver dysfunction were found in some green turtles.

Dr Heffernan said a cocktail of unknown chemicals present in the turtles' systems was even more concerning.

"The worrying thing is there are more chemicals we could not identify than chemicals we could," she said.

Dr Heffernan said it was impossible for researchers to understand exactly what chemicals were going into the environment at any given time.

"Humans are putting a lot of chemicals into the environment and we don't always know what they are and what effect they are having, we need to be conscious of that," she said.

"There is one new chemical registered for use every six seconds, so the libraries and the databases that we use to identify these chemicals just can't keep up."

The researcher believes turtles could be used to monitor chemicals entering reef waters and the health of marine life.

The blood samples were collected from green turtles at Cleveland Bay in Townsville, Upstart Bay at the Burdekin River and the remote Howicks island group of Cape York.

Across the three sites, the researchers found indicators for hundreds of thousands of different chemicals present in turtles.

Dr Heffernan is part of joint University of Queensland and Queensland Health team responsible for analysing samples for the Rivers to Reef to Turtles project, but she said it was one element of a much larger project.

"WWF is also working with farmers and people from industry so that we can all responsibly manage the situation and the environmental impact," she said.

More information: Click Here



Sea cow carcass washed ashore

01 June 2017, The Hindu (India)

Perhaps for the first time, carcass of a 15-year-old female sea cow (Dugong dugon) was washed ashore on the beach between Koottappanai and Kooduthaazhai on Monday.

The fishermen, who spotted the carcass on Monday, informed Department of Fisheries and Coastal Security Group, which, in turn, alerted A. Venkatesh, Chief Conservator of Forest and Field Director, Kalakkad – Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve about the animal’s death.

He dispatched a team of officials comprising forest veterinary surgeon A. Sukumar, Associate Professor of Pathology, Veterinary College and Research Institute, Tirunelveli, Forest Range Officer, Tirunelveli, Saravanakumar, for an on-the-spot inquest.

“The animal, weighing about 400 kg, had suffered painful death due to the huge tumour in the intestine that led to septicaemia,” Dr. Sukumar said on Tuesday.

He said Dugong dugon, a Schedule I animal under Wildlife Act 1973, could be seen in the Gulf of Mannar Biosphere between Ramanathapuram and Thoothukudi.

“For the first time, the herbivore marine mammal has been washed ashore in Tirunelveli district,” he said.

The nine-feet-long carcass was buried on the seashore after the post-mortem.

More information: Click Here


Seagrass-Watch HQ monitors the quality of the information available on this web site and updates the information regularly.  However, Seagrass-Watch HQ does not guarantee, and accepts no legal liability whatsoever arising from or connected to, the accuracy, reliability, currency or completeness of any material contained on this web site or on any linked site.  Seagrass-Watch HQ recommends that users exercise their own skill and care with respect to their use of this web site and that users carefully evaluate the accuracy, currency, completeness and relevance of the material on the web site for their purposes. This web site is not a substitute for independent professional advice and users should obtain any appropriate professional advice relevant to their particular circumstances. The material on this web site may include the views or recommendations of third parties, which do not necessarily reflect the views of the program nor it's supporters, or indicate commitment to a particular course of action


Copyright © 2006-2015 Seagrass-Watch HQ. 228pp. Disclaimer: The views expressed on this site are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the program's supporters.
Seagrass-Watch HQ
Address: Northern Fisheries Centre
PO Box 5396
Cairns Qld 4870
Phone: [07] 40 350 100