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Haven Beach breakwater proving inadequate for the job

29 June 2016, Gloucester Mathews Gazette Journal (USA)

Strolling along Haven Beach in Mathews County is a bit of a chore these days. Although the site looks promising from the parking lot, when a beachgoer crosses the dune, he or she is met with a muddy-looking sand bar and mounds of dead sea grasses that have to be walked around or through in order to reach a decent stretch of sand.

A walk to the south reveals a cleaner beach, but it’s narrower than it was in past years, while a walk to the north requires passing through small scrub growth and more mounds of sea grasses before reaching a wider, more pristine beach.

In September 2015, the smaller of two breakwaters at the site lost much of its sand during a storm, said Mathews Planner Thomas Jenkins. He said he suspects that the breakwater system is not adequate and that a larger system of breakwaters might be needed to protect the shoreline. The northernmost breakwater is 280 feet long and the southern one is 100 feet long.

Thus far, the county hasn’t made plans to replace the sand, which was trucked in during a $540,000 beach preservation project in 2005. That project, located at the end of Haven Beach Road, involved installing the breakwaters, adding beach nourishment, and building a parking area with trash and porta-potty facilities.

Edwina Casey, chairman of the Mathews County Board of Supervisors, said no one has mentioned the idea of putting more sand at the site, and that she suspects the Northeastern Beach Tiger Beetle could be a problem should the county undertake to do so.

Scott Hardaway, marine scientist supervisor and shoreline studies program director at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, said that the smaller breakwater was installed as a transitional structure to hold sand against the larger one, and that the larger one is “still functioning pretty good.”

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Seagrass a crucial weapon against coastal erosion

27 June 2016, Science Network Western Australia (Australia)

A SEAGRASS commonly found along WA’s coast could be an important tool in a decades-long battle against erosion in Albany, a preliminary study by UWA has found.

Middleton Beach lost most of its seagrass meadows during a storm in 1984, which has caused long-term erosion problems.

Seagrass beds help prevent coastal erosion in a number of ways, including by stabilising sediment in the ocean.

In April, 65 UWA students descended on Albany as part of their marine science studies.

Lecturer Dr Jeff Hansen’s group investigated the effect of surviving patches of Posidonia croiacea seagrass on wave height at Middleton Beach.

P. croiacea has long, thick, leathery leaves and is widespread along WA’s coast, particularly in areas with strong wave action.

“As waves move over the seagrass, the blades get moved back and forth, and that takes energy, which is removed from the waves,” Dr Hansen says.

“Over hundreds of thousands of seagrass blades, that begins to add up.

“Theoretically, as waves move over seagrass meadows, they should decrease in height – so that’s what we tried to test.”

Students calculated the average wave height in areas of dense and patchy seagrass by strapping a series of water pressure sensors to bricks and placing them underwater for 72 hours.

They were then able to compare the size of waves in dense and patchy seagrass meadows with areas that had no vegetation.

Dr Hansen says the data is still being finalised, but preliminary results found waves were 10-20 per cent smaller in dense seagrass meadows, compared to a bare seafloor.

Wave height was reduced by approximately 10 per cent in areas with patchy seagrass.

Dr Hansen says the erosion “buffering” capabilities of seagrass would be much larger if the meadows recovered to their former glory.

“The idea is that as the seagrass continues to recover as time goes on, there will be less wave energy breaking at the shoreline, which will potentially encourage less erosion,” he says.

Dr Hansen says another way seagrass helps prevent erosion is by creating a shoal-like effect.

It slows down the movement of ocean currents between the seabed and the tips of the blades of seagrass.

“It tends to trap sand and sediments so the bottom [of the ocean floor] becomes shallower as the seagrass spreads,” he says.

“As that area becomes shallower, the waves will break further away from the shoreline and that will then encourage less erosion of the shoreline during storms.”

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Great Barrier Reef group to get their day in court

24 June 2016, Noosa News (Australia)

A WHITSUNDAYS community group has one day in court to challenge a government decision to grant mining giant Adani's Abbot Point Terminal 0 expansion.

Brisbane Supreme Court has set down a hearing on October 7 to hear why Whitsunday Residents Against Dumping, based in Airlie Beach, has taken the Department of Environment and Adani to task over the approval.

Adani has labelled the move "another politically-motivated activist attempt to delay a centrepiece of Adani's plans to build a long-term future with Queensland".

WRAD spokeswoman Sandra Williams said the Great Barrier Reef was already in poor health and her community feared Adani's port project would cause further damage.

She said reef tourism was the backbone of the area's economy and people were worried about jobs if the reef's health suffered.

Ms Williams said an independent party needed to properly scrutinise the Queensland Government's decision to approve the expansion.

"Residents in our group have never taken legal action before, but we were forced to because of our worry that the approval of the port expansion, which will require damaging dredging and see hundreds of extra ships through the reef each year, was not lawful," the former tourism worker said.

Solicitor Jo-Anne Bragg said Environmental Defenders Office Queensland had been engaged to represent WRAD in court and scrutinise the government's compliance with the Environmental Protection Act.

She said they believed "there's been a bit of a tick-a-box exercise here, attaching conditions rather than genuine consideration of whether the project should be refused".

"We say the State Government has not complied with all the duties and criteria under the Environmental Protection Act so we're asking the supreme court, on behalf of our client, to declare that decision invalid which will mean it will have to be reconsidered according to law," she said.

A statement from Adani said a PwC report the company commissioned this week found activist-delays would have cost the state $3.9 billion in a reduction in Gross State Product through 2023-24, and 2665 jobs through 2023-24.

"This latest challenge is to a science-based approval that has now gone through three exhaustive state environmental approvals processes, and three exhaustive federal environmental approvals processes, and accompanying public consultation processes," the statement read.

"The impact of this activist-driven delay will be felt most keenly in Bowen, a community crying out for jobs and investment, with the port of Abbot Point long having been the lifeblood of the community."

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Turtle Dragged Out Of Sea, thrown Onto Shore, Beaten, And Stepped On By Tourists In Lebanon

22 June 2016, Inquistir (Lebanon)


Photo credit: Photo by Green Area International


Tourists severely abused a turtle that ventured a little too close to a crowded beach in Lebanon. The beachgoers dragged the poor creature out of the sea and threw it on the shore for photos. Thereafter, a few people even beat the turtle and put their toddlers on its back, injuring the helpless animal.

A routine swim to shore turned into a horrendous nightmare for a sea turtle. Taking advantage of the defenseless reptile, a couple of tourists pulled it out of the sea and slammed it on the beach for a few photos. The torture of the creature unfortunately didn’t end there. Evidently, many senseless parents placed their young ones on top of the creature for a piggyback ride.

According to Green Area International, which obtained the photos of the abuse, a loggerhead turtle was dragged out of the ocean at Havana Beach in Beirut, Lebanon, by a beachgoer. Thereafter people flocked to the frightened creature that lay there motionless in the sand. The tourists jostled to take photos and selfies with the creature. As if the torture wasn’t enough, the turtle was allegedly attacked.

According to eyewitnesses, the sea turtle was severely beaten by one of the beach-goers who removed it from the sea and threw it on the shore, just for the sake of entertainment and to take pictures of it. After the photos, a few parents even forced one of their kids to climb atop the reptile, reported The Dodo. While eyewitness accounts vary, a few say the kid wasn’t even ready to climb on the turtle but was forcibly placed there and made to stomp on it. The child appeared to be crying, but the parents paid no heed. Another person is believed to have hit the poor creature with a long stick.

Green Area International members, who are part of the local activists, rushed to the rescue of the turtle. Though they weren’t on the shore during the incident, the rescuers contacted the Lebanese civil defense’s maritime center in Jiyeh. Meanwhile, those who cared for the animal formed a protective barricade and stopped the abuse. They also helped get the turtle to a safe area said Jason Mier, executive director of Animals Lebanon.

Animals Lebanon, a local animal rescue group, was among the volunteers that were contacted. Members of the group assisted in stopping the abuse and helped assist the civil defense authorities, who transferred the abused sea turtle to their center in Al-Mina region. The organization confirmed that the turtle was treated for injuries. It added that the turtle was in “critical” condition.

According to a preliminary medical examination, the medical team concluded that the creature suffered extensively due to the beating it suffered on the beach. They added that it will need multiple X-rays to assess the internal damage to its bone structure and organs. Animals Lebanon have volunteered to provide the veterinary care the turtle needed. The team will try to return the sea creature to the ocean, added Mier.

There have been quite a few incidents wherein sea creatures have been paraded for photos and selfies. According to the rescue group, this is the third turtle that was yanked out of the water by inhumane tourists. While this one survived the ordeal, some of the earlier ones didn’t make it.

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Man held with turtle carcass. Faces two years in jail

22 June 2016, Trinidad and tobago (Trinidad and tobago)


A man arrested after being found with the carcass of a turtle in his car trunk faces a maximum of two years imprisonment and a $100,000 fine if found guilty.
Game Warden II Steve Seepersad said officers of the Moruga Police Station were conducting a “stop and search” exercise on Sunday when the dead green sea turtle was found in the vehicle.

At around 2.30 a.m. the man was stopped in Moruga and the turtle was observed in the trunk of his car. Seepersad said officers contacted him.

“I am authorised under the Environmental Management Act to charge the man with the possession of an environmentally sensitive species,” said Seepersad.
He said he questioned the man who told him he got the animal from someone at the beach.

The turtle weighed approximately 11 pounds.

Seepersad said: “This is small in comparison to its usual size.”

The man was charged and apppeared before a Princes Town magistrate earlier this week who adjourned the matter until November 8, Seepersad said.

The green sea turtle is commonly found in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

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Seagrass down but coming back to Gippsland Lakes

22 June 2016, ABC online (Australia)

Seagrass in the Gippsland Lakes declined in 2013
Seagrass making a return to previously barren areas near South Metung

Seagrass nearly disappeared in this area of Raymond Island in 2013

Seagrass making a return to the shores of Raymond Island in 2016

A study of the Gippsland Lakes has revealed areas previously devoid of seagrass have come back to life.

Scientists from Monash and Melbourne universities have been working with the Arthur Rylah Institute to investigate seagrass in the lakes and compare it to the last comprehensive study that was done in 1997.

While overall levels of seagrass have declined over the past 19 years, a comparison of aerial photographs from 2013 and 2016 show some areas are coming back.

The study's lead, Associate Professor Perran Cook from Monash University, said areas around Metung and Raymond Island had seen "quite a remarkable recovery".

But he said there was not yet enough evidence to make any conclusions about long-term trends.

"If you just look at the small time window, 2013 to 2016, and it looks like there's been a huge increase but then if we look over a longer time period it looks like there's been a slight decrease in some areas," he said.

Associate Professor Cook believes the main driver behind seagrass growth was river flows into the lakes.

He hoped to continue monitoring the area over the coming years to confirm the research team's observations.
Flow-on effects

Seagrass is also a vital part of the lakes' ecosystem that provides food and habitat for fish species like black bream — a popular target for recreational anglers.

Associate Professor Cook said researchers had also been looking at the effect of fluctuating seagrass levels on fish populations.

"It's yet to be seen if there's a negative impact on the overall bream population in the lakes from that sort of decline that we saw in 2013, but you would expect that there would be," he said.

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What's causing the stench near Laguna Madre?

20 June 2016, KRIS Corpus Christi News (USA)


Seagrass Laguna Madre.

It's that's time of the year again where your nose is being assaulted with a strong smell from the Laguna Madre. That smell actually means something good is happening.

"Mmm kinda a stale maybe a rotting smell," that's how fisherman Tim Krebs describes the strong stench coming from the Laguna Madre.

What's happening is sea grass is dying off, and in the summer months bacteria will break down the dead grass releasing gasses that stink up the area. That process leaves us with a black muck which is what marine biologists say is good, because it's now food.

"It's really the foundation for all the food webs that ultimately support all the fish species we like to eat," said Dr. Kirk Cammarata, TAMUCC Biology Professor.

Some fisherman get to see this stuff in action.

"It brings in all the little bait fish that eat on them, the little crabs that eat one them. Then the big fish come and eat the bait fish and crabs and it just keeps everything going in a cycle," said Krebs.

So men like Tim Krebs enjoy the smell, because to him it just means it's a good day to be on the water.

"I smell the fish. It gets me excited, alright, here we go, let's go find some fish today," said Krebs.

While the smell is distracting, marine biologists say it's not harmful. Actually, it could be helpful.

"Because we work in the sea grass beds, one of the things I noticed is that when we get done working for the day our skin is really soft. So It's just like french spa treatments where they put that stinky mud all over you," said Dr. Cammarata.

But if you're not interested in a free spa day or fishing trip, biologists say the smell should go away once the weather cools down.

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Will Florida Bay survive the summer?

17 June 2016, Bradenton Herald (USA)


Audubon Florida biologist Jerry Lorenz holds a stalk of dead seagrass. Since last summer, about 40,000 acres of seagrass have died, wiping out critical habitat for the bay’s marine life. Photo Credit: Jenny Staletovich Miami Herald Staff

Record winter rain on the heels of a severe summer drought that withered acres of seagrass may not be enough to stem the fever ailing Florida Bay.

The seagrass die-off, which spread from about 25 square miles to more than 62 square miles through the winter, blanketed the central bay in a plume of yellow sulfide. While scientists say the die-off appears to have stopped for now, they worry that rising water temperatures over the summer could trigger a more lethal blow: algae blooms. Record highs have already been topped three times in the bay in recent months, they say.

“It’s kind of like the fuse to the bomb was lit last summer,” said Stephen Davis, a wetlands ecologist with the Everglades Foundation. “It either snuffs itself out, or the bomb is a large-scale algal bloom.”

Scientists fear higher summer temperatures will essentially cook what has become a soup of dead seagrass, where rotten plants soak up oxygen and produce even more grass-killing sulfide. So far, they have not seen any blooms, in part because the high salinity that lingered during a massive 1987 die-off has not occurred. Salinity is back to near normal, helped by an increase in water flowing through creeks emptying from marshes. But parts of the bay are weak, putting everyone on edge.

“Right now, it’s a wait-and-see situation,” said David Rudnick, science coordinator for Everglades National Park’s South Florida Natural Resources Center.

And unfortunately, with Everglades restoration work still incomplete, the tools don’t exist to fix it.

“We’re definitely making positive strides,” Rudnick said. “But at this point, there’s not much we can do about the damage that’s already been done to the seagrass community and the fact the bay is at risk of algal blooms.”

Unlike Florida’s other troubled waters — the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries muddied by water releases from Lake Okeechobee over the winter — the bay and its network of two dozen basins present a far more intractable problem. Once conditions worsen, it can take decades for things to get right again.

“When you start getting nutrients in the bay, it just takes a lot longer to recover from that because it can’t get rid of them as quick,” said Margaret “Penny” Hall, a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission seagrass expert leading an investigation of the die-off.

Next month, Hall’s team will return to the bay to expand their survey and take a look at hard-to-reach basins by kayak, where mud banks make it impassable for boats. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also plans to send up a drone in late July or early August for aerial mapping, a key tool in studying the vast, 850-square-mile bay, said spokesman John Campbell.

The last time a similar die-off hit the bay in 1987, it occurred in nearly the same locations but only included about 15 square miles. For two years after the die-off, the region got little rain. That helped fuel an algae bloom that coated some areas with a stinky pea-green slime that left a sport-fishing industry valued at $722 million a year reeling. The 94-square-mile collapse, which helped propel demands for Everglades restoration, took 20 years to recover from.

This time around, record rain hit the mainland, raising hope that freshwater flowing south would save the bay. In addition to water from creeks, the South Florida Water Management District moved about 69.2 billion gallons into Shark River Slough by June 1 to relieve flooding in vast conservation areas north of Everglades National Park.

But scientists say that while the water helped marshes in the park, it has done little for the bay.

“Because we had so much rain, it should have been plenty of water to provide to the bay, but it just points again to the fact that the infrastructure is not there,” said Audubon Florida biologist Jerry Lorenz. “It points to the inability of the Water Management District infrastructure to supply Florida Bay with its needed water supply.”

A century ago, water from the lake flowed south into the bay. Now the bay gets most of its fresh water from rainfall, leaving isolated pockets with little of the tidal flushing that can help freshen water when temperatures rise, evaporation increases and salinity spikes.

Last July, when rainfall at Garfield Bight was about 10 inches below average, salinity jumped to more than double the levels typically found in bay water, according to monitoring by Everglades National Park. Water temperatures hovered over 93 degrees in the bight for more than 77 days.
Normally, oxygen in the water increases during the day to keep plants breathing overnight. But with so much heat and salt trapped in the water, oxygen plummeted, essentially suffocating grass at night. Turtle grass, which had rebounded with a fury in the central bay, needs lots of oxygen. As it died and began releasing sulfide, it started a lethal reaction.

“That’s fuel basically for all these bacteria that decompose that organic matter, just like you’d have on a compost pile,” Rudnick said.

Ninety percent of the turtle grass in Rankin Lake and Rankin Bight — prime hunting grounds for redfish — died, leaving vast rafts of dead, floating grass. But what may be more worrisome is what’s trapped in the bay’s muddy bottom when the grass dies.

Sturdy turtle grass has deep roots to help it survive low light. If it grew in sand, the dead plant matter might get easily washed away. But this is Florida Bay, where the bottom can feel like quicksand.

“It’s like a wad of moist clay compared to a handful of sand,” Davis said. “Water can run through the sand, but it’s not going to pass through the interior of a ball of clay.”

On top of that, Rudnick said scientists believe the hot water stratified, preventing oxygen in the air from reaching the bottom. Because the seagrass is dying in nearly the same location, Hall said scientists are starting to look at what makes the basins so vulnerable. Along with the drought, they now suspect basins with a thicker blanket of grass and little flushing got hit harder.

“They increase their respiration rate just like you would breathe more on a hot day,” Hall said.

Which points to the problem of moving more water into the bay. Under historic conditions, the bay was like a lawn with a variety of grasses: shoal and widgeon grass grew in shallow, fresher water, while turtle grass grew in saltier conditions. Manatee grass filled patches in between. But with water from the north damned, parts of the bay became almost entirely turtle grass.

The park is now trying to move more water into Taylor Slough, Rudnick said. It’s not clear whether more water would ever entirely prevent a die-off, Hall said, but it would likely prevent a single species from dominating areas and keep a die-off from growing so large.

“Places like Rankin Lake are always vulnerable. But if there was more fresh water, it would take a longer period of drought,” she said.

The good news is that on their last trip out in May, Hall’s team was beginning to see signs of faster-growing shoal grass filling turtle grass meadows, which could help stabilize the sandy bottom, keeping water clear for more grass to grow.

What happens next has scientists split.

Lorenz worries that years of flood-control and climate change-projections for rising temperatures have created a “perfect soup” for years of poor conditions. Paul Carlson, an ecosystem biologist with the state’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute and one of the first scientists to document the toxicity of sulfide in sediment in the 1987 die-off, is more hopeful. The quicker return to more normal salinity may prevent a large-scale bloom that can kill fish and devastate marine life, he said.

“In the previous episode, it took several years for the salinity to drop back to normal, and we’re seeing that happen within a year,” he said.

That’s the good news. The bad news?

The bay “might take another 20 years to recover,” he said. “Or it could be as little as 10 or 15.”

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$3M lake restoration project backed by advisory panel

22 June 2016, Sun Sentinel (USA)

In a continuing effort to revive the county's Lake Wyman Restoration Project at Lake Wyman and James A. Rutherford parks, environmental activist Steve Alley asked Boca Raton City Council to back the plan and took issue with objections raised by neighbors.

The original $2.9 million plan called for restoring 50 acres of wetland by removing 11 acres of nonnative plans and restoring 4 acres each of sea grass and mangrove habitats. It called for constructing a six-slip day dock, 600 feet of boardwalk and an observation tower, and restoring a mile of over-silted canoe trails. The plan would stabilize the shoreline and create a walking path.

Although Lake Wyman wasn't specifically named, one of the city's new strategic goals is accessible Intracoastal Waterways and canals.

Council revived the 2011 plan last December, and the city's coastal manager Jennifer Bistyga presented council with three options at the April 25 meeting. They included proceeding with the original plan, developing a passive park or leaving the property alone and investigating other day dock locations.

"We're very excited this has come back to life," Bistyga said at the time.

Alley said he was acting in his role as chairman of the city's Environmental Advisory Board after he presented a detailed report to city council at the workshop meeting June 13. The board advises Planning & Zoning and city council on the environmental impact of proposed development.

"Why should we all be in favor," he said. "This was stopped for neighborhood concerns" and a petition asked council not to do anything harmful, he said. "We agree…but we have the opportunity to put this back on the map."

Alley showed details on why concerns about mosquitoes are unfounded and said a $50,000 study of tidal flow impact wasn't necessary. He showed other restoration projects by Palm Beach County's Department of Environmental Resources.

"They have done 49 successful projects," he said. Concerns about manatees are mitigated by having boats slow down in that area, he added.

The project doesn't go far enough and the area could be turned into an environmental and tourism magnet, said Christine Cherepy, a Golden Harbour neighborhood board member and former president who looked into the project in detail at the time.

She cited "some cool ideas such as water taxis, eco tourism and manatee viewing stations with clear materials that would allow people to view manatees eating sea grass."

"The ability to have an additional boat launch has been talked about by the mayor and others. It's so much bigger than Lake Wyman," she said. "This plan is limited. It attempts to do a lot of things on one F.I.N.D. parcel instead of taking advantage of Rutherford and Lake Wyman [parks]."

Both parks are underused, she said.

"Steve did a really nice presentation and I appreciate his service," she said after watching it on public access TV. "However, no amount of animation changes the concerns raised. An independent flushing study is essential. Let's avoid the muck and mosquitoes in this beautiful area.

"For less than 2 percent of the project cost, the city could avoid costly re-engineering and mitigation expenses that arise from unforeseen consequences," she said. "The other parties walk away upon completion, so the maintenance and cost of fixing future problems falls on the taxpayers of Boca."

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Book mapping oceans' benefits out

17 June 2016, SciDev.Net

The Atlas of Ocean Wealth is out — the world’s first-ever book mapping the benefits of ocean ecosystems to assist governments and businesses make informed decisions and investments for the sustainable growth of coastal and marine resources.

Oceans cover 70 percent of the planet, supporting a global seafood economy that accounts for US$190 billion yearly and provides for protein needs of 17 percent of the population. But research shows that fish catches are declining, ocean temperatures are warming, sea levels are rising, and extreme weather events are threatening coastal habitats.

A project of the environmental non-profit group The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the atlas compiles spatially explicit information on the benefits of coral reefs, marshes, mangroves, seagrass meadows and oyster reefs.

“Think of bundles of ecosystems generating bundles of benefits,” says TNC senior marine scientist and atlas co-author Mark Spalding about the book’s purpose to inform planning for economic development and conservation.

“If we could build a seawall that stops waves, produces fish, stores carbon and grows vertically over time with sea level rise. That’s what a mangrove can do, but even those benefits are enhanced if in front of the mangroves there are coral reefs and seagrass beds,” he notes.

The atlas illustrates how coral reefs provide some level of shelter along 150,000 kilometres of the world’s tropical coastlines, benefitting 63 million people in over 100 countries.

“For each of Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico and the Philippines, the annual expected benefits of reefs in coastal protection exceed US$450 million per year,” says Spalding. “In the United States, healthy oyster reefs used to filter and clean all the water passing through estuaries. In southern Australia, a single hectare of seagrass can generate 30,000 extra fish every year. Coastal wetlands have sequestered 9.6 metric gigatons of carbon dioxide, equivalent to all the emissions of France over the same period since 1990,” he adds.

Researchers gathered data using traditional sources and latest technologies, as well as Flickr photos and TripAdvisor reviews, to quantify and map the value of ecotourism and how much this is linked to coral reefs.

“We used the locations of photos uploaded in Flickr to help apportion tourism numbers, and then used underwater photos to help assign that spending to individual locations. This helped us estimate a global value of nearly US$38 billion from tourism and to pinpoint that value to particular reefs — and indeed to show that all this value is generated from just 30 percent of the world’s reefs,” explains Spalding.

Robert Brumbaugh, TNC’s director of ocean mapping and planning, further stresses the importance of putting social, ecological and economic development information in one place for economists, investment bankers and finance/treasury department decision makers to access easily.

“[A] shift in how coastal ecosystems are perceived will lead to a fundamental change in the way they are managed,” Brumbaugh says. “Countries have made commitments for conservation under the global Convention on Biological Diversity, which calls for increasing ocean protection to at least 10 per cent by 2020, with a particular focus on ecosystem services. Knowing where and how those services are produced will make it possible for nations to meet these commitments.”

Brumbaugh says the World Bank is now incorporating the TNC’s Mapping Ocean Wealth data directly into their own database, noting “this will inform billions of dollars of loans and grants focused on supporting smarter economic development in and along the oceans”.

“The private sector has a huge opportunity to put this information to work as well, both to sustain their business enterprises and to contribute meaningfully to social good,” he adds.

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Malaysia gets its largest marine park

13 June 2016, (Malaysia)


The Tun Mustapha park is located in the Coral Triangle bioregion, an extremely biodiverse, roughly triangular region of tropical marine waters off the coasts of Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste. Photo Credit: by The Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries, and Food Security, Public Domain.


Last week, Malaysia formally established its largest marine park — the Tun Mustapha Park — off Sabah Province in Borneo.

The park is the result of more than 13 years of negotiations between government authorities, international partners, local communities, and non-governmental organizations, including WWF-Malaysia. At nearly 1 million hectares, the Tun Mustapha Park includes more than 50 islands and islets spread across Kudat, Pitas and Kota Marudu districts.

The park aims to protect coral reefs, mangrove, seagrass and productive fishing grounds in the Coral Triangle bioregion — a rich marine area that is home to more than 3,000 species of fish and three-fourth of the world’s coral species. The Tun Mustapha park itself has more than 250 species of corals, according to the WWF. It also harbors dugongs, endangered green turtles, and more than 300 species of fish.

The region is currently threatened by overfishing, blast fishing (a destructive form of fishing that uses explosives to kill hundreds of fish at one go), as well as pollution.

The park will not ban fishing, though. Instead, it will allow local communities and commercial fisheries to operate in designated regions in a bid to ensure “sustainable use of resources”. This management approach is essential, according to WWF, because the area supports more than 80,000 people in coastal and island communities, “generating around 100 tonnes of fish catch each day”.

“The establishment of Tun Mustapha Park will boost the conservation and biodiversity of this uniquely rich natural environment,” Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF International said in a statement. “This will also help ensure the sustainable management of the significant marine resources in the area that support jobs, livelihoods and food security. The park’s gazettement should act as a model and an inspiration for marine conservation in the Coral Triangle and worldwide”.

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Oil spill hits Moalboal shores

11 June 2016, Sun.Star (Philippines)

LOCAL residents, the Moalboal town government, neighboring towns and the Cebu Provincial Disaster and Risk Reduction Office (PDRRMO) joined hands in cleaning up the shores after an oil spill that started off Pescador Island in Barangay Basdiot, Moalboal last Friday.

Basdiot Barangay Captain Cirilo Tapales said the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) is investigating and checking on the ships that were scheduled to pass by Tañon Strait last Friday for the possible filing of a complaint.

As of yesterday, the clean-up was almost done, said Tapales.

PDRRMO head Baltazar Tribunalo Jr. said they were able to collect 80 to 90 sacks of oil-laden sea grass.

Also yesterday, 20 sacks of chicken feathers from Mandaue City arrived. These will be used to contain the remaining spill.

A fence of used cloth was already installed around the affected areas to stop the spread of the oil.


Personnel from the Barili and Dumanjug municipal disaster offices came to help contain the spill.

Personnel of beach resorts, led by incoming Vice Mayor Lingling Rozgoni, also helped in the cleanup.

Basdiot, one of the town’s 15 barangays, is famous for its white sand beach, a favorite destination of local and foreign tourists here in Cebu.

Tapales said the fishermen first saw the oil sticking on sea grass at 9 to 10 a.m. last Friday in Pescador, a small island in the southwest of the beach.

Passing ship

They believed it came from a ship passing between Negros and Cebu islands.

Later that day, the residue started moving toward the shores, prompting local residents and resort owners to launch the cleanup.

Moalboal Mayor Inocentes Cabaron immediately contacted the provincial government and neighboring towns.

Tribunalo, for his part, is worried as the dark sludge might affect the white sand, the corals and the neighboring towns’ mangroves.

He said that the ocean’s current these days is moving northward and if not prevented, the spill may spread farther and affect the towns of Ronda and Alcantara.

His team is now checking on this.

Tapales said the spill is not that massive as it was already controlled yesterday afternoon.

Tribunalo recommended to the local officials to have makeshift detachment built in Pescador Island to watch for passing ships.

His team left last Friday night and tasked Col. Lyndon Ruiz, Provincial Anti-illegal fishing taskforce head, to supervise the clean-up.

Tapales said that PCG personnel from Tangil Port already visited their shores.

For its part, the Coast Guard Station-Cebu (CGSC) yesterday said that its team failed to get the traces of the oil spill because the spill was already cleared by local residents.

Commander Agapito Bibat, the CGSC chief, said that at 5 a.m. yesterday, the coast guard seaborne patrol inspected the area near Panagsama Beach and they did not find any more traces of oil.

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Another Life: Refuge and nursery in our undersea meadows

11 June 2016, Irish Times (Ireland)

As June envelops the acre the view from my desk disappears. A rising wave of fuchsia has left me a hazy glimpse of Inishturk, a few last green fields, and enough of the ocean to take my thoughts seaward, where other meadows, too, are reaching the peak of summer.

In sheltered bays and inlets with shores of sandy mud or muddy sand, one small group of flowering grasses can live only in the sea. The tallest, Zostera marina, takes the plunge at the lower shore and marches on, its thin leaves floating in the water like a mermaid’s emerald tresses, perhaps a metre long or more. In clear water with strong light, it can form dense beds to about five metres deep, well below the tides.

A second species of seagrass, Zostera noltii – usually called dwarf eelgrass – lives between the tides and draws migrant flocks of brent geese to feed at Strangford Lough, in Co Down, in early autumn, and later at Merrion strand, on Dublin Bay.

In times long past Zostera fringed every sheltered coast on both sides of the north Atlantic, offering rich spawning grounds for fish and protective nurseries for myriad marine species. Building and dredging harbours and pouring out urban waste erased a good many of the most productive meadows.

Then, in the 1920s and 1930s, a natural wasting disease produced a catastrophic dieback of seagrass on both Atlantic shores. Its recovery has been slow and fragile, in beds still precious to the coastal ecosystem. Europe’s Ospar Commission, which protects the northeast Atlantic, finds them endangered and declining throughout the region.

Ireland has seagrass beds in more than 20 bays and estuaries, almost all of them protected under EU nature directives. In 2007 scientists at University College Cork studied sample beds at two sites, in the entry creek to the Lough Hyne nature reserve, in west Cork, and at Ventry Bay, in Co Kerry. Their focus was on natural dynamic trends in the growth of Zostera and the diversity of sea life living among the grass (, Irish Wildlife Manual 28) They listed 124 species in 81 families, including a multitude of amphipods, crustaceans and bivalve molluscs, along with sea anemones and brittlestars. Even this, they felt, was an underestimate, missing many grazing sea snails and sediment worms. Each site had about 40 species not found in the other, showing the value of a wide spread of seagrass beds to coastal biodiversity.

Their importance to any maritime nation is shown in a descriptive atlas just published by Spain’s institute of oceanography ( marinas).

Even without adequate Spanish, I find the marine photography in its 680-odd pages estupendo and its essay in English most enlightening. It’s not just the man in the street who needs to know what seagrass is, says Prof Cornelis den Hartog, but civil servants making environmental decisions.

Ireland may not have given “eelgrass” – as all our agencies call all Zostera – such handsome treatment, but we know where most of it is (142 hectares of beds, for example, in Clew Bay, where so much of our aquaculture is based). Recent discoveries, in at least three bays, have been made by volunteers for Coastwatch, the NGO led by the marine ecologist Karin Dubsky, of Trinity College Dublin. They drew local knowledge from fishermen and divers – and often from their memories of where eelgrass used to be.

One discovery is in Lough Foyle, where Z marina grows in wide beds and patches along 8km of the Donegal shore, ending just short of Greencastle. On a survey in the summer of 2012 the water at their seaward edge was full of small fish, and more flushed from the beds when they were approached from the shore.

One of them crossed the path of a proposed sewage-outfall pipe, raising issues of enrichment and erosion. Declining water quality, shellfish farming, fishery trawling and coastal development such as new marinas led the threats to Ireland’s Zostera reported to Ospar from within the wildlife service.

These are a familiar litany of risks to our coastal marine life. New ones have arisen in the arrival of smothering aliens, such as the Japanese seaweed Sargassum muticum, now widely present around our shores. Its floating mats shut out the sunlight that Z marina needs.

Climate change threatens more and worse storms to tear up the shallow-rooted seagrass, and sea-level rise could dim out the sun faster than the plants could travel back uphill. But a recent sequencing of the Z marina genome has yielded insights into the plant’s unique evolutionary persistence. It has adapted its life, three separate times, from the land into the sea. It seems to be one of Earth’s survivors – given, of course, enough time.

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Local leads most successful seagrass restoration in the world.

11 June 2016, Science Network Western Australia (Australia)

WHEN Geoff Bastyan noticed seagrass disappearing from harbours in Albany nearly 50 years ago, he would never have predicted his observation would lead to the most successful seagrass restoration in the world.

Mr Bastyan noticed a decline in the distribution and health of Posidonia australis and P. sinuosa seagrass, commonly known as ribbon weed, in Oyster and Princess Royal harbours in the late 1970s.

Seagrass is vital to healthy marine ecosystems – it provides food and habitat, improves water clarity and reduces coastal erosion by stabilising sediments, filters nutrients, oxygenates water and absorbs carbon dioxide.

Mr Bastyan was determined to document its disappearance, so he started self-funded monitoring programs of both harbours in 1981.

Back then, GPS technology was still being developed, so he spent countless hours scuba diving both harbours to record changes in seagrass species and density at different depths by hand, and also used aerial photography.

By 1988, Mr Bastyan’s monitoring showed substantial seagrass losses of 80 per cent from Oyster Harbour and 90 per cent from Princess Royal Harbour.

Oyster Harbour was overloaded with agricultural nutrients from surrounding farmland, while Princess Royal Harbour had high levels of industrial waste and sewage.

Mr Bastyan’s research prompted the Albany Harbours Environmental Study, a report to the Environmental Protection Authority, in 1988 and 1989.

The study found if agricultural and industrial pollutant loads continued, most of the remaining seagrass would be lost from Princess Royal Harbour within five years and Oyster Harbour within 10 years.

Mr Bastyan began seagrass transplant trials in 1994, in spite of the prevailing view that degraded seagrass meadows could not be rehabilitated.

His efforts to painstakingly relocate hundreds of plants across 2.6 hectares throughout the 1990s disproved this theory, with a 97 per cent survival rate making his work the most successful seagrass restoration project in the world.

Mr Bastyan has received international recognition as a seagrass restoration pioneer and accolades for his contribution to the understanding of seagrass ecology.

Last month, he was awarded the Great Southern Development Commission medal, which celebrates natural resource management best practice and includes a $12,000 grant.

The humble 58-year-old says he felt honoured and doesn’t expect awards for doing what he loves.

“It’s very humbling,” he says.

“We do what we do for the love of the environment.

“It’s stimulating to try and understand the natural processes in the ocean – it’s a great office.”

Mr Bastyan plans to use the grant to finish documenting the seagrass’ natural regrowth and restorative effects on the harbours.

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Scientists: No quick fix for removing algae
09 June 2016, TCPalm (USA)

As blue-green algae blooms keep popping up in the St. Lucie River, so do calls to get rid of the sometimes-toxic slime ... and proposals for how to do it.

The blooms threaten the river's ecology by shading and killing sea grass and oyster beds. The algae can be toxic to humans and their pets, harming not only those who touch it but water-related businesses as well.

There's no "quick fix," said Ed Phlips, fisheries and aquatics professor at the University of Florida.

The problem is scale, said Phlips, who studied blooms in the Indian River Lagoon and the St. Lucie River for five years, including 2005 when blue-green algae blanketed the river.

"If you've got algae in a 20-acre pond, there are a number of ways to get rid of it," he said. "But when you've got a body of water the size of the St. Lucie estuary, I don't think any of them would be feasible."

Here's a look at some of the proposals for getting rid of algae.

Proposal: Algicides

A number of chemicals, including copper sulfate and hydrogen peroxide, have been used for many years to control algae and parasites in freshwater farm ponds and aquaculture operations. It's available from several companies in liquid and crystal forms.

Problem: Algicides are made for killing algae in freshwater, not salty or brackish water, said William T. Haller, director of the Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants at the University of Florida.

"Plus, products using hydrogen peroxide wouldn't kill sea grass or small aquatic animals," Haller said, "but it's way too expensive to use in a large area like the estuary. And copper products, besides killing fish and other animals, isn't even effective on blue-green algae."

Even if all it kills is algae, algicide has problems, Phlips said.

First, the dying algae cells will release their toxins into the water, causing a threat to people and small marine animals.

Second, the sudden death of all the algae cells will cause a feeding frenzy by bacteria in the water. The bacteria remove oxygen from the water; and a lot of bacteria can suck it all out.

That's what caused the massive fish kill in the Banana River section of the Indian River Lagoon in March.

Proposal: Add salt

Blue-green algae can't survive in water with even moderate amounts of salinity, about 10 parts per thousand.

Normally, that's not a problem in the St. Lucie River Estuary, which naturally is a mix of saltwater and freshwater with a salinity ranging from about 15 parts per thousand where the north and south forks merge up to more than 30 parts per thousand close to the St. Lucie Inlet.

But the massive Lake O discharges, plus water pouring in from canals, have dropped salinity in the river to nearly nothing above the Roosevelt Bridge and along downtown Stuart.

Suggested applications range from simply dumping blocks of rock salt in the water to bringing in ocean saltwater by boat or pipeline.

Problem: "You'd need an enormous amount of salt," Phlips said.

Raising salinity enough to kill algae in the 6-square-mile area of the estuary where discharges have more or less removed saltiness would require about 548 million pounds of salt. For just one application, that's the combined weight of 433 Airbus A380 airplanes, the world's largest passenger airliner. More salt would be needed as more fresh lake water is discharged into the estuary.

Also, as with algicides, the dying algae cells would release their toxins in the water; and all the suddenly dead algae cells would provide a feast for bacteria that suck oxygen out of the water, causing fish kills.

Proposal: Algae-eating fish

A number species of fish are commonly used to keep algae under control in ponds and lakes. Several types of catfish and carp and even good-tasting tilapia will eat blue-green algae.

The idea is that these fish, if introduced to the estuary, would eat all the blue-green algae or at least keep it from spreading.

Problem: Finding the right fish without unintended consequences.

"I'm sure there are fish that will eat blue-green algae, but I can't think of any that would eat it in the amount needed to keep the algae in check," said Zack Jud, a fish expert at the Florida Oceanographic Society in Stuart.

It would have to be a species that eats only blue-green algae or it will start eating other plants necessary for the estuary's ecosystem.

Unintended consequences are common anytime foreign species are introduced to an ecosystem to control another species. For example: Chinese grass carp were imported and stocked in Florida lakes in 1972 to control hydrilla. It worked, but too well. Once the carp ate all the hydrilla, they started eating other water plants; and now water managers can't get rid of the carp.

Plus, fish can swim away.

"You're not operating in a closed system like a pond," Phlips said. "Even if you get all the fish you'll need, and you'd need a lot, they could simply go somewhere else where they're not needed and could be a nuisance."

Proposal: Skimmers

Much like oil spills are removed from water, the idea is to scoop up algae using specially designed skimmer boats.

Weedoo Boats of West Palm Beach builds boats designed primarily to pick up water weeds such as hydrilla and water hyacinth, but Chief Operating Officer William Perez said Weedoos have been adapted to suck up algae "in all kinds of waterways all over Florida."

A Weedoo boat equipped to scoop up algae would cost "under $45,000," Perez said.

Problem: The Weedoo works only when the algae "clumps up" and forms green mats on the water's surface, said Bruce Richards, the company's chief scientist.

"When the cyanobacteria is in a single-cell form, when it turns the water that pea soup color," Richards said, "no, the Weedoo skimmer boats can't do anything about that."

So the skimmer won't solve the toxicity problem posed by the algae, but getting rid of large amounts of algae before it dies keeps the dead cells from becoming a feast for bacteria that will suck all the oxygen out of the water and lead to fish kills.

Proposal: Stop the discharges

"That's really the only way to get rid of (the algae)," Phlips said. "Once the discharges stop or are greatly reduced, tides will flush out the estuary, salinity will return and the algae will be gone."

Problem: The discharges probably aren't going to stop any time soon.

The Army Corps of Engineers, which decides when and how much Lake O water to send to the St. Lucie, would like the lake to be around 13 feet elevation in late June so it can take on water from the summer rainy season and any tropical storms without a threat of the Herbert Hoover Dike breaching. As of Thursday the lake stood at 14 feet 4 3/4 inches, and rain is in the forecast.

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Seagrass recovery project in place for bay

09 June 2016, Port St. Joe Star (USA)


A buoy system aimed at protecting seagrass in St. Joseph Bay

A buoy system aimed at protecting seagrass in St. Joseph Bay has been completed in time for the busy summer season, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection announced last week.

The buoy system is the major componenent of a region-wide seagrass recovery effort funded with over $2 million of National Resource Damage Assessment fine monies stemming from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Seagrass is the lifeblood of St. Joseph Bay, which is itself the wheel around which so much of local tourism and economy, from boating to kayaking to fishing and shrimping, rolls ahead, in the case of tourism, at a record-breaking pace.

Seagrass plays a vital role in the health of the bay and sustaining all those activities, providing habitat and food to a host of marine life in the bay.

With approximately 10,000 acres of seagrass, the bay is also home to one of the few remaining scallop populations in the state.

Scallops require healthy seagrass for spawning and survival to adulthood.

While the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has cited a red tide event last fall as the primary culprit in the lack of juvenile scallop recruitment in advance of the 2016 scallop season, some locals have questioned whether one significant issue would be the health of seagrasses.

The scallop population has been considered vulnerable since 2011, according to the FWC, as adult populations have declined every year since that bountiful season.

FWC researcher Stephan Geiger said during a recent public workshop that scallops must have clean seagrass leaves to cling to as they mature from larvae to adulthood.

Charter captain Mark Howze said during the same workshop he had seen evidence of water quality issues impacting the pristine nature of seagrass.

“I wonder if that isn’t part of the problem (with the scallop population),” Howze said.

And resident Dusty May, an avid boater, has been pushing local governments for more than two years to act on concerns of propeller scarring of seagrass in the bay, adding that elected officials must do all they can to protect “the goose that continues to lay the golden eggs.”

He warned, more than two years ago, that the FWC could come in and shut the bay down if locals didn’t get a handle on damage due to propeller scarring.

“This is something that is important for saving what we have,” May said in June 2014. “Without running people off we need to get control of our bay and protect what we have.”

According to the FDEP, scarring from propellers posed a significant threat to seagrass communities.

The first phase of the seagrass recovery project was to map the scarring in Alligator Harbor, St. Joseph Bay and St. Andrew’s Bay.

The mapping showed significant stretches of scarring in St. Joseph Bay, though FWC researchers emphasized during the recent workshop that seagrass beds, primarily turtle grass, remain extensive and, generally, healthy in St. Joseph Bay.

But, depending on the severity of the scarring, full recovery can take as long as 10 years, according to the FDEP.

The next step in the recovery project was the installation of sediment tubes across two acres of scarred seagrass and the placement of bird stakes in the project area to protect and aid restoration.

Just completed was the third phase, which installed new “Caution Shallow Seagrass Area” buoys around the bay, in more than 30 stations, to aid in steering boaters away from shallow water and into the deeper-water channels.

The goal is to reduce the potential for boats to run aground and damage seagrass beds.

“We are committed to protecting and restoring the vital seagrass communities of St. Joseph Bay,” said Jonathan Brucker, manager of the St. Joseph Bay Aquatic Preserve.

“The addition of these buoys will better educate boaters on what’s going on under the surface as well as protect the variety of wildlife that depend on these ecosystems for their health and habitat.”

In addition, brochures with a map showing buoy locations will soon be distributed to local marinas, the Gulf County Tourist Development Council Welcome Center and the St. Joseph Bay State Buffer Preserve.

Kiosks at local boat ramps will also feature maps of the new system and educational material concerning protecting the seagrass of St. Joseph Bay.

A “Boating and Angling Guide” to Gulf County, produced in partnership with the FWC, will also feature the new buoy system in St. Joseph Bay.

Meanwhile, another NRDA Phase III project could also provide dollars to assist in restoration of the scallop population in St. Joseph Bay.

A scallop enhancement project earmarked $2.8 million for scallop restoration efforts in Bay, Escambia and Santa Rosa counties.

However, FWC researchers have indicated that some of those efforts may now be diverted to St. Joseph Bay to avert a long-term collapse of the scallop population.

The goal would be to “farm” adult scallops in off-site locations to spawn, with the juvenile scallops returned to the bay with a protective cage to ward off predators.

The hope is that researchers will be able to bring those scallops directly out of the bay during the adult population survey which is ongoing.

The results are to be made public during a second public workshop on Monday.

If not, those scallops could originate in St. Andrew’s Bay or St. Marks, researchers indicated.

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Researchers release 'ultimate guide' to coastal habitat rejuvenation

09 June 2016, UQ News (Australia)


The cost and feasibility of marine coastal restoration


Researchers have distilled 40 years of coastal marine restoration studies into a set of powerful guidelines for anyone hoping to rejuvenate coastal habitats.

University of Queensland Global Change Institute postdoctoral research fellow Dr Elisa Bayraktarov said the new review was backed by 40 years of research, and could help stakeholders and decision-makers improve their conservation planning in all things marine coastal restoration.

The review addressed uncertainties about restoration, cost and feasibility, which can hinder decision-making, she said.

“Our study has been released at a time when the world is grappling with the realisation that coral reefs, seagrass beds, mangroves, saltmarshes and oysters are rapidly disappearing – this before even adding climate change into the mix,” she said.

“Owing to factors such as urbanisation, changing land practices, pollution and unsustainable fishing, more than 60 per cent of the world’s coral reefs are under immediate threat.

“Climate change has led to a natural disaster for the Great Barrier Reef with more than half of the corals dying in some regions after unprecedented mass coral bleaching in 2016.

“Mangrove forests are being removed across the tropics for conversion to aquaculture and forest clearing, agriculture and urban development are also having a devastating impact.”

Dr Bayraktarov said although it was clear the world desperately needed to better manage its coastal regions, this was the first time scientists had assessed the cost and feasibility of coastal restoration programs on a global scale.

“We reviewed and analysed results from 235 projects and made nearly 1000 observations for restoration of coral reefs, seagrass, mangroves, saltmarshes and oyster reefs,” Dr Bayraktarov said.

“This information will be made available to support decision-makers, planners and researchers in evaluating the cost and feasibility of marine coastal restoration.

“It’s important for local authorities to realise that even the most basic coastal restoration will have a median cost of US$80,000 per hectare.

“Tremendous benefits come from knowing what has worked best in the past and how to avoid restoration failures in the future.”

The researchers found that restoration success often did not depend on the amount of money spent but rather on ecosystem type, site selection and technique used.

“Investment in restoration projects in developing countries can achieve up to 30 times more unit area of habitat than in developed countries for the same cost,” Dr Bayraktarov said.

“People in developing countries often depend entirely on coastal marine ecosystems for food and other ecosystem services they provide. It was surprising to find a dearth of data on restoration projects there.

“Most marine and coastal restoration projects have focused on developed countries and in particular Australia, Europe and USA.

“Data from developing countries are urgently needed, in particular for seagrass, saltmarsh and oyster reefs, given that large numbers of people rely directly on the goods and services provided by these systems.”

Research links:

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Remember Gracie the Dugong?

08 June 2016, The New Paper (Singapore)


CELEBRATION: A trainer holding a birthday cake topped with sea grass for Gracie the dugong at the Underwater World Singapore in 2009. Photo credit: TNP, ST FILE PHOTOS

Gracie the dugong is dead.

It died two years ago but it was only yesterday that The New Paper got the confirmation from the Underwater World Singapore (UWS).

In an e-mail reply to TNP, a UWS spokesman said: "The dugong named Gracie at UWS died from complications arising from an acute digestive disorder in January 2014."

There was no additional information.

Gracie was only a baby when it first made headlines in 1998.

It was rescued off Pulau Ubin, where its mother had drowned from being entangled in a fishing net.

A post-mortem revealed that the adult female dugong was lactating and the authorities decided that the suckling calf should be cared for by UWS - the orphaned calf would not have survived in the wild without it mother to care for it.

A dugong is a large plant-eating mammal, often called the "sea cow" for its habit of grazing on seagrass meadows.

Related to the manatee, the dugong has a two-lobed tail, cleft upper lip and arms resembling flippers.

A young dugong remains close to its mother for about 18 months.

Gracie became a local celebrity in 2001. It had its own cove in the display tunnel of UWS and visitors could interact with it at $70 per dive.

It hobnobbed with stars like actor Pierre Png and made its film debut on Animal Planet with former model Nadya Hutagalung.

Gracie celebrated its 12th year at the aquarium in 2009 with a cake made of seagrass.

But in 2014, it disappeared from the public eye. No one seemed to know where it was.

It was last year that British computing science professor Paul Harrald tweeted "What has happened to Gracie the dugong? #wheresgracie?"

Yesterday, we got the answer: Gracie had died.It was only 19.

According to Animal Diversity Web, an online database of animal natural history, distribution, classification and conservation biology at the University of Michigan, dugongs have and average life span of 70 years in the wild.

They are difficult to keep in captivity because of their specialised diet - a specific type of seagrass - which is difficult to grow.

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Great Barrier Reef: Survey off Townsville finds increase in coral despite recent bleaching

08 June 2016, ABC Online (Australia)


An AIMS scientist surveys Rib Reef off Townsville. Photo Credit: AIMS Long Term Monitoring Program

A survey of reefs off north Queensland has found an increase in the amount of coral despite the recent bleaching event on the Great Barrier Reef.

Scientists from Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) examined 12 reefs off the Townsville coast, between Northern Hinchinbrook and Cape Bowling Green.

AIMS found 11 reefs had continued to recover since being damaged by Cyclone Yasi in 2011.

Scientists also found coral cover on seven of the reefs were at its highest levels since they were first surveyed 30 years ago.

Recent surveys carried out by James Cook University found 93 per cent the Great Barrier Reef had been bleached to some extent and that 35 per cent of coral in the northern and central parts had been killed.

AIMS spokeswoman Dr Britta Schaffelke said there were signs of coral bleaching during their surveys, but it was not as bad as other parts in the World Heritage Area.

"The most bleaching is actually north of Port Douglas and those reefs will experience probably quite high mortality," she said.

"Coming back to the Townsville reefs, all of the reefs have experienced some bleaching and some have experienced some mortality, but it's very low.

"Because those reefs were not experiencing the really hot waters so they actually could continue their recovery and that's why they look so spectacular."

Dr Schaffelke said the surveys had not found signs of the coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish on the reefs.

"It's not an outbreak yet, so there are some crown-of-thorns and some juvenile crown-of-thorns and we're expecting those number will increase over the next few years."

She said the coral reefs could continue their recovery if left alone.

"If reefs are not disturbed by anything then they do recover and we have seen that in the southern parts of the GBR [Great Barrier Reef]."

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Longest stay sea turtle returns to Great Barrier Reef

08 June 2016, The Cairns Post (Australia)


Ella was struck by a boat three years ago off Yorkeys Knob and left with severe cuts to her shell.

THE longest-term patient at the Far North’s sea turtle hospital has finally been delivered back home.

Volunteers from the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre farewelled Ella, a 25-year-old green sea turtle, who was released back onto the Great Barrier Reef on Sunday.

The marine reptile was struck by a boat three years ago off Yorkeys Knob and left with severe cuts to her shell.

Centre co-ordinator Jennie Gilbert said it was touch and go at times. “You could see right down into her lungs,’’ she said. “I didn’t think she was going to survive.

“Many a night her and I spent hand-to-flipper, while she was in the loungeroom.”

Ella has made a miraculous recovery, with her shell slowly regrowing. It now sports a satellite tracking beacon, which has started transmitting data about her movements, after she was released at Flynn Reef, courtesy Silverswift Cairns Reef Dive Tours.

“This gives us some insight into her life,’’ Ms Gilbert said.

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Video: Manatee found in woman's yard during storm, munching seagrass

07 June 2016, WWSB ABC 7 (USA)

A manatee was caught on film eating sea-grass in a woman's yard.

A storm surge had pushed the water from a canal above the sea wall and into the woman's yard.

The hungry manatee later swam by the property, stopping in Nancy Smith's yard for a quick snack.

While Manatees are a common sight in her neighborhood, Smith says this is the first time one has taken a swim and snack in her yard.

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CNMI: Let us harvest green sea turtles

T08 June 2016, Pacific Daily News (Northern Marianas)

In a clash of federal law and cultural practice, the Northern Marianas government is reviving its more than decade-long quest to be allowed to harvest a limited number of green sea turtles.

Green sea turtles are listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Northern Marianas acting Gov. Victor Hocog brought up the issue at a Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council meeting Monday in Saipan.

The council stated in a press release that while Hocog clarified he isn’t fond of eating turtle, he said: “It is sad to hear we have so many turtles around, yet our people cannot even harvest one for ceremonial use.”

The turtles that hatch in the CNMI travel to the Philippines, where they are eaten, while the CNMI people are told to “stay back and don’t touch,” the council quoted Hocog as having said at the Saipan meeting.

Green sea turtles also are listed as endangered in the Philippines, where certain islands have been designated as green sea turtle habitats, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

Hocog told the council the Carolinian people in the CNMI have rituals attached to turtles.

Twelve years ago, the CNMI government asked federal authorities to be allowed to catch turtles for certain cultural activities, such as teaching seafaring traditions and hosting fiestas.

There have been low levels of green turtle nesting in Guam, American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands and other U.S. island territories, but the green sea turtle population has been increasing in Hawaii over the past two decades because of efforts to protect them in the Aloha State, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Hocog also raised concerns that the military’s air and sea bombing exercises at the CNMI island of Farallon de Medinilla have become more frequent, and local fishermen have fewer chances to catch fish.

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Our unknown marine heritage

06 June 2016, Tehran Times (Tehran)

The dugong (Dugong dugon) is the only herbivorous mammal that is strictly marine, and is the only extant species in the Family Dugongidae. It is listed as vulnerable to extinction at a global scale by The World Conservation Union (IUCN).

The dugong has a large range that spans some 37 countries and territories and includes tropical and subtropical coastal and inland waters from East Africa to Vanuatu, between about 26° north and south of the Equator.

The dugong was known to frequent the southern shores of the Persian Gulf, and had long been suspected of occurring in Iranian waters, with unconfirmed sightings in the bay of Gwater. However, only recently its presence has been confirmed in Iran, with several sightings in the Hara Protected Area in the Strait of Khuran and a single sighting of two individuals in the Mond estuary.

Survey on dugongs

In most countries in the dugong’s range, knowledge of dugong distribution and abundance is known only from anecdotal information. In ten or so countries, some information on dugong distribution and abundance has been obtained from spatially and temporally limited surveys generally conducted parallel to the shoreline.

These surveys provide minimum counts only. Extensive quantitative aerial surveys using transects across the shoreline depth gradient have resulted in a more comprehensive knowledge of dugong distribution and abundance in the coastal waters of most (but not all) of the dugong’s range in northern Australia and the Persian Gulf region.

However, even in these regions, the information is not comprehensive enough to establish trends in abundance for most areas, especially as there is increasing evidence that dugongs undertake largescale movements.

Distribution in Persian Gulf

It is generally believed that throughout much of its range, the dugong is represented by relict populations separated by large areas where its numbers have been greatly reduced or it is already extirpated. However, the degree to which dugong numbers have dwindled, and their range fragmented, is not known for any country in its range in Persian Gulf. It is believed that dugongs are still present at the historical limits of their range although there is evidence of a reduction in the dugong’s area of occupancy within this range.

Extensive quantitative aerial surveys using transects across the shoreline depth gradient have resulted in a more comprehensive knowledge of dugong distribution and abundance in the coastal waters of most (but not all) of the dugong’s range in the south of Persian Gulf.

Abu Dhabi is saving the dugong

The Persian Gulf is home to about 5,300 dugongs, of which almost 75 per cent live off the Abu Dhabi coast. It is the second-largest population in the world after Australia (including Papua New Guinea), which has up to 95,000.

Dr. Dona Kwam and Himansu Sekhar Das are two experts who work on conservation of dugongs in south of Persian Gulf. Dr. Kwan operates out of the CMS-Abu Dhabi office, which has been hosted by the Environment Agency — Abu Dhabi (EAD) for the past five years.

The office represents a major collaboration between CMS and the UAE to conserve vulnerable migratory species such as dugongs. Unfortunately Iran till now has not any similar plan for dugongs in its coastlines.

Dr. Sekhar Das is EAD head and also works on Marine Threatened Species and Habitats, Terrestrial and Marine Biodiversity. The author had an interview with Dr. Sekar Das about a year ago. At that time, he mentioned that “an estimated population of 5700 dugongs occurs within the Persian Gulf and there are Marine protected areas (MPAs) covering dugong dense areas in the range states, namely, UAE, Qatar, Bahrain and Saudi Arab.”

“The MPAs are managed by the respective states, besides, all the dugong range states of the Persian Gulf are signatory to UNEP-CMS dugong conservation MoU (Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation and Management of Dugongs) and are obliged to implement actions under the MoU to protect dugongs locally and regionally,” he added.

Some basic points

Some studies has been done by archeologists in Persian Gulf. The life history of dugongs is being studied by researchers working within the region by undertaking research and monitoring of the species and its habitats.

Traditionally, dugongs were hunted for food by local people and even appeared in the south of Persian Gulf fish markets in the 1970s. Dugong tusks have been used as sword handles and, in 2009, an archaeological dig on a small island off the coast of Umm Al Quwain unearthed dugong bones, believed to have been used for ceremonial purposes.

The future for dugongs in Persian Gulf region is uncertain but appears bleak. Populations appear extremely small and fragmented. Pressures from gill netting, shark netting, and habitat destruction may lead to the extirpation of dugongs. There is an urgent need to convert current fishing methods to sustainable practices.

It is highly unlikely that the dugong population in the region can survive (let alone recover) unless immediate and effective actions are taken towards their conservation, and these actions are adopted by the local authorities and communities.

Advance research in Persian Gulf region includes aerial survey to estimate population, satellite tagging to understand dugong biology including migration, genetic study to ascertain population structure. Genetic analysis to determine the population structure and the closeness (near-neighbor) to other dugong population is being studied under an UNEP-CMS program.

The Future of Dugongs

With regard to effectively addressing threats to dugongs in Persian Gulf, conservation plans must be noticed more. Projects could include seagrass conservation, developing tourism projects or controlling the use of destructive fishing practices such as moving people off nets to using hook and line.

Protecting the dugong’s seagrass meadows (their main source of food) in sheltered shallow water is essential because if there is not enough to eat, the dugong does not breed normally. The seagrass beds are also nurseries of fish, turtles and other marine life.

in an interview with Gulf News Dr. Kwan said “the challenge is to design projects where the local people don’t lose anything in terms of food so the benefits of changing the way they fish outweighs what they are currently doing, including the seagrass ecosystem as well sends out a much stronger message to local people struggling to make a living.”

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Wildlife Institute of India to conserve marine herbivore dugongs

04 June 2016, Times of India (India)

The National Board for Wildlife under the chairmanship of prime minister has constituted a committee to develop guidelines for threatened Species Recovery Plans. The committee has chosen Dugong as one of the species in the first phase. Dugong also called as Sea Cow is the only existing species of herbivorous mammals that lives exclusively in the sea. The population of dugongs in India is expected to be less than 250 individuals in highly fragmented conditions.
Wildlife Institute of India (WII) has been the implementation of dugong recovery program for which the Centre has also allocated fund of Rs 23.58 crore for a period of five years.

According to WII Scientist Shiv Kumar said, that in order to conserve and manage the dugongs at global level, the 7th meeting of the CMS ( Convention on Migratory Species) had passed a resolution and urged all dugong range countries to cooperate among themselves to develop an action plan for the conservation of the species throughout the species range. Government of India had signed this memorandum of understanding in 2008 to strengthen the ongoing conservation program of dugongs and their habitats in Indian water with the support of international community.

The environment ministry has also constituted a task force which will facilitate for a leading role in the South-Asia sub -region in this regard. This project aims at implementing the national action plan for dugong conservation in India jointly with various stakeholders such as state forest departments, other agencies and local communities to recover the population and habitat of dugong in India in two decades.

Dugongs have been classified as 'Vulnerable to extinction. They are now limited to Andaman and Nicobar islands, Gulf of Mannar, Palk Bay, Gulf of Kutch ad Lakshadweep islands. Fishing and pollution are major threat to their existence so their distribution range has decreased by 85%.

Shiv Kumar said, "Dugong is protected under schedule-1 of Wildlife Protection Act 1972. They have also been declared vulnerable by International Union of Conservation of Nature. However still it is declining. Several reasons have been attributed to dugong population decline some of which include sea grass habitat and degradation, netting , disease, chemical pollutants , consumptive use and hunting."

He said, WII in collaboration with the state forest department of Gujrat, Tamil Nadu and Andaman& Nicobar, Indian Coast Guard, Indian Navy, NGOs' and local communities would carry out detailed population and habitat surveys. Intensive aerial surveys using aircrafts and drones would be conducted with these agencies. The information collected will be used for successful restoration of dugongs and their habitat. Further advanced monitoring methods like drones will be used in monitoring. Ten dugongs will be tagged and monitored. The habitat requirement of dugongs and its associated fauna would be studied to better their habitat management. Besides this, extensive campaigns for spreading awareness on dugong conservation will be conducted to seek help of local communities in their conservation.


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Moreton Bay's mud problem threatening sea life, could drive away dugongs, turtles

02 Jun 2016,ABC Online (Australia)

A map showing how the area of mud in Moreton Bay has changed over time. Photo credit: University of Queensland

Moreton's Bay's iconic sea life is being threatened by an increasing amount of mud settling in the water, Brisbane researchers say.

A survey conducted by a team of researchers from the University of Queensland has found the area of mud in the bay has more than doubled in the past 45 years.

It now covers 800 square kilometres or more than 50 per cent of the bay's floor — a significant jump from the 400 square kilometres observed during the last major survey in 1970.

UQ researcher James Lockington said the extra mud was suffocating the abundant seagrass in the bay, which is responsible for attracting some of the region's larger marine life, such as turtles and dugongs.

"[The seagrass] needs nice clean, clear waters to get the light it needs to grow," he told 612 ABC Brisbane.

"These fine silts come in and cloud the water column so the light doesn't penetrate and they also settle on top of them and suffocate the plants."

Mr Lockington said the seagrass beds located close to the Port of Brisbane were most affected.

"We used to have seagrass beds [there], but now we're finding large amounts of mud and the seagrass has effectively disappeared," he said.

Floods, land clearing likely responsible

The significant floods in 1974 and 2011, as well as land clearing, likely contributed to the increased amount of silt in the water, Mr Lockington said.

"Because we've had so many [flood events] since the last survey, we can't be sure how much [of an effect] each event had," he said.

"But we do know that from these events, mud was exported in the bay."

A map developed as a result of the team's survey of 220 sites across the bay, shows the mud spreads from just south of Bribie Island right down to the Gold Coast.

"The main mud body is just out from the mouth of the Brisbane River, but we also see it building up in the mouths of the smaller rivers, such as Caboolture and Logan," Mr Lockington said.

He said removing the mud would be challenging, as the water in the bay was complex.

"Our main ways to improve the situation would be to move out the thicker deposits when we can through dredging, or by stopping it from entering the river and then the bay in the first place," he said.

That would require rehabilitating the region's main catchment areas.

"Because when we've historically stripped land there, we've now allowed rain to hit the surface, run straight off and just pour sand and silts into the river," he said.

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Green turtles found laying eggs at midday

02 Jun 2016, The Star Online (Malaysia)

The unusual event of green turtles coming ashore to lay their eggs in broad daylight was likely due to environmental disturbances.

Universiti Malaysia Sabah’s Borneo Marine Research Institute senior lecturer Dr Pushpa Palaniappan said green turtles usually came ashore to lay their eggs from dusk to dawn.

For these creatures to land during the day was definitely unusual, said Dr Pushpa, a marine reptile specialist.

She said there were various possible reasons why two green turtles were spotted laying their eggs just before noon at Pulau Libaran off Sandakan for two days from May 24.

Noting that green turtles were sensitive to movement and light while nesting, she said that the creatures would return to the sea immediately if they were disturbed.

As it needs to release its eggs, a female turtle may be forced to go ashore during the daytime to lay them, Dr Pushpa told The Star.

She said there were occasions when the egg laying process took too long because sand conditions were unsuitable.

During the extremely dry weather between March and May, the turtles faced difficulty nesting at Pulau Selingan, Gulisan and Bakungan Kecil, which make up the Turtle Islands Park off Sandakan, Dr Pushpa said.

The turtles were found to have dug many egg chambers only to have them collapse, as the sand particles were too dry to stay in place, she said, forcing the turtles to dig body pits and egg chambers repeatedly until they finally manage to lay their eggs safely.

Turtles tend to go ashore with the high tide to avoid having to make a long crawl to the beach during low tide, Dr Pushpa said.

If the high tide occurs during the early morning, and a turtle is unable to complete nesting by dawn, then she may still be found on the beach during daylight hours.

Also, if the turtle is unable to lay her eggs on the first night, she may return to the beach during the next night to finish nesting.

If the turtle fails to deposit its eggs in its nest on the beach, she may release them on the surface of the sand or at the water’s edge, Dr Pushpa added.

She said an adult female turtle would carry between 500 and 800 unshelled eggs in its body at the start of its breeding cycle.

After the mating process, where the female is able to store sperm from more than one male to fertilise her eggs, about 100 eggs then form shells in about 10 to 14 days.

The female then goes ashore to deposit its eggs in a clutch and this process is repeated until all the eggs are laid and the turtle returns to her foraging area, Dr Pushpa explained.

Pulau Libaran honorary wildlife warden Harun Willam said he was taken aback at seeing a green turtle laying up to 80 eggs at the island at about 11am on May 24.

It then came ashore at about 11am the following day and laid 61 more eggs, he said.

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