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Country to tap into rich blue carbon potential

27 July 2016, Jakarta Post (Indonesia)

The nation is set to take advantage of its blue carbon potential, estimated to be huge, as the country’s seagrass and mangroves account for 17 percent of the world’s blue carbon reserves.

Blue carbon is the carbon captured by the world’s oceans and coastal ecosystems. Mangroves and seagrass bind carbon dioxide and water, and, with the assistance of sunlight, is converted into sugars and oxygen to support their growth. The excess production of the plant is buried in the sediment, where it can remain stored.

As an archipelagic country located along the equator at the heart of the Coral Triangle, Indonesia is blessed with rich coastal ecosystems. Its warm climate makes it a suitable habitat for mangroves and seagrass.

According to Conservation International (CI) Indonesia, these coastal ecosystems could capture much more carbon than terrestrial ecosystems, such as rainforests, making it more valuable in mitigating the impact of climate change. For instance, a hectare of mangrove in Papua has the ability to absorb 2,500 tons of CO2 per year, more than a virgin forest in Java can capture.

“That amount of carbon is the same amount of carbon emitted by 20 luxury cars in Jakarta for 25 years,” CI Indonesia marine program director Victor Nikijuluw said.

It is also an equivalent of 296,050 gallons of gasoline or 2.8 million pounds of coal.

CI Indonesia is developing the blue carbon potential of the Kaimana regency in West Papua, focusing on the conservation of 50,000 hectares of its mangrove ecosystem.

“If we protect the mangrove ecosystem there, we could absorb the emissions of 1 million cars [for the next 25 years]. So the emissions of 1 million cars can be neutralized by mangrove in one regency,” said Victor.

Seagrass meadows also have tremendous blue carbon potential. Although they only take up a small percentage of global coastal area (about less than 0.2 percent of the world’s oceans), they are responsible for more than 10 percent of all carbon buried annually in the sea.

This high carbon storage suggests mangroves and seagrass meadows could play an important role in climate change mitigation. They could also be monetized through the carbon trading market.

Under carbon trading, countries that have more carbon emissions are able to purchase the right to emit more carbon into the atmosphere from countries with less emissions.

While Indonesia is home to rich coastal ecosystems, its blue-carbon ecosystems are also among the world’s most threatened. In the past 30 years, Indonesia lost 40 percent of its mangrove coverage.

About 3 to 7 percent of ecosystems are disappearing every year, with the worst conditions found on the northern coast of Java. The main reasons are dredging, degradation of water quality, deforestation and aquaculture activities.

With such high potential despite the rapid degradation, the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry is looking to develop the country’s blue carbon.

“We are still in the early stages of research. But we are moving toward that and it’s a coincidence that CI Indonesia has initiated a blue carbon project [in Kaimana],” the ministry’s conservation area management director, Andi Rusandi, said.

“In the next few years, we could start tapping into the blue carbon potential of the country,” he added.

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Less fertilizer good news for the Great Barrier Reef

26 July 2016, Science Codex (Australia)

James Cook University researchers have shown a way to potentially halve the amount of fertiliser dairy farmers use while maintaining pasture yields, providing improved protection for the Great Barrier Reef.

JCU's Dr Paul Nelson said nitrogen from fertiliser spread on fields can have significant environmental effects on creeks and coastal waters.

"Ensuring plants have sufficient nitrogen is important for profitable farming, but it must be balanced with the potential for losses to the environment.

"The enhanced-efficiency fertiliser we tested on a North Queensland dairy farm provides a means to improve this balance on dairy farms," he said.

The team applied a relatively new nitrification inhibitor - a chemical that slows the conversion of nitrogen to easily lost forms - that allows more time for the fertiliser to be taken up by the roots of the plant for which it was intended.

Just half the usual amount of fertiliser was needed to achieve the same amount of pasture growth in a one-year trial.

"This is good news for farmers and for the Great Barrier Reef," said Dr Nelson.

The researchers also found that most of the excess nitrogen from the paddock was lost via leaching through the soil. The loss in surface runoff was negligible.

"So it worth determining optimum rates of this new fertiliser as a way of reducing leaching of nitrogen while maintaining profitability," Dr Nelson said.

He said that although dairy pastures are a relatively minor land use in the tropics, the amounts of nitrogen-based fertiliser they use are large, so reductions in pollution could be significant.

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Seagrass in Indonesia at risk from human activities

23 July 2016, Jakarta Post (Indonesia)

A man fishes in a seagrass meadow damaged by sand mining in the Pari Islands, north of Jakarta.(Photo Credit: Wawan Kiswara)

Seagrass meadows in the country are turning into muddy wastelands as they are under widespread threat from human activities and are often overlooked in conservation, putting the fisheries industry in peril.

Seagrass helps keep oceans clean, protects sandy beaches and increasingly helps to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Loss of seagrass has been documented in places such as Lombok in West Nusa Tenggara, Manado in North Sulawesi, Wakatobi in Southeast Sulawesi and the Pari Islands, north of Jakarta, according to a group of Indonesian and UK scientists.

“Pollution is the biggest problem for seagrass in Indonesia,” Swansea University marine ecologist Richard Unsworth told The Jakarta Post, in reference to the country’s many polluted seas.

“What that means is that there’s no light for seagrass [as a result of pollution] because it’s essentially a plant that has adapted to living in the sea,” Unsworth said.

The second biggest threat for seagrass is coastal development. “So when people build houses on the seafront or claim lands to build ports or new development, this has a big impact upon seagrass,” he said.

In the Pari Islands, for instance, seagrass is being destroyed so that people can construct houses where the seagrass meadow use to be.

The third problem is overfishing, which significantly causes imbalances in the marine ecosystem. All these problems are killing seagrass meadows across the archipelago.

“Seagrass supports biodiversity and traps a lot of CO2 [carbon dioxide] from the ocean. Algae doesn’t do those things. So if the algae becomes dominant, it’s no longer a productive ecosystem,” said Unsworth.

By trapping emissions, he said seagrass meadows were important in mitigating the impacts of climate change because a large meadow of seagrass could trap a lot more CO2 than a forest and could store carbon in sediment, making seagrass more important than many forest types. The country has an estimated total seagrass area of 30,000 square kilometers, which potentially can harness 368.5 million metric tons of CO2.

Besides its benefit to the environment, seagrass meadows are also an important national resource that provides support for fisheries, according to Hasanuddin University researcher Rohani Ambo-Rappe.

“Indonesia is the world’s biggest fish producing nation and seagrass is critically important for supporting fisheries because baby fish live in seagrass and many types of fish spend their early years in seagrass as well. Healthy seagrass means healthy fisheries,” said Rohani.

Realizing that the nation’s seagrass meadows are in peril, a group of seagrass experts led by researchers at Swansea University, Cardiff University and Hasanuddin University recently gathered in Makassar, South Sulawesi, to collect evidence of the current status of seagrass, survey risks and develop conservation solutions.

It was the first time such evidence has ever been collated. The evidence highlights that action is urgently required to minimize damage to seagrass and to make them resilient to rapid and global environmental change.

Conservation management strategies are required to address specific threats to seagrass, which then can be implemented across the archipelago.

For example, seaweed farming can be conducted in deeper waters away from seagrass where water clarity is higher, increasing seaweed growth. Furthermore, coastal development needs to operate in a manner sensitive to the local habitat and illegal sand mining on important beaches needs to be policed.

“The government in Indonesia can start by recognizing the importance of seagrass. It’s not just Indonesia’s problem, it’s a global problem.

“One billion people on the planet live within 50 km from seagrass meadows but most of those people don’t know that,” Unsworth said.

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Science forum in Brisbane to discuss the way forward for Reef water quality research

19 July 2016, My Sunshine Coast (Australia)

A Queensland Government initiative of nearly $12 million is putting practical, science-based tools into the hands of producers at the frontline of the battle to save the Great Barrier Reef.

Environment Minister Dr Steven Miles said the Reef Water Quality Science Program had produced a suite of science products that delivered valuable, knowledge-based, practical tools and information for landholders, advisors and government decision-makers.

Dr Miles said producers, policy makers and scientists would have an opportunity to discuss research findings and the way forward at a science forum in Brisbane tomorrow (Wednesday, 20 July).

“Since 2009, this investment of nearly $12 million has funded various trials, products, landscape analysis and catchment prioritisation to show where scientific and policy efforts should be focused,” Dr Miles said.

“We’ve concentrated on catchments that flow into the Great Barrier Reef with much of the research supporting the sugar cane, grazing and banana industries.

“The bottom line for each project is that it must deliver clear, practical benefits to producers and investors because improvements to farm management practices have a flow-on effect to the health of the Reef and to the Queensland economy.

“Results from the Reef Water Quality Science Program are helping guide our efforts to achieve our ambitious reef water quality improvement targets.

“This is critical work and underlines the Queensland Government’s commitment to ongoing water quality research to drive a continuous review of our strategic approaches and priorities to protect the Great Barrier Reef.”

It is proposed to run similar science forums in regional centres later in the year.

More information on the science products which make up the Reef Water Quality Science Program, including the summary publication Reef Water Quality Science Program 2009-2015 – our research investment is available at

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Seagrass Deterioration Threatens Indonesia's Fishing Future: Research

20 July 2016, Jakarta Globe (Indonesia)


Findings of a decade long research project shows the conditions of Indonesia's seagrass meadows is deteriorating at a fast rate, raising concerns about the country's commitment to its maritime future.

Richard Unsworth, the head researcher on the project, said that while Indonesia has a natural abundance of seagrass, research has found a loss over over half a square kilometer of seagrass, triggering alarms about the future of the fishery industry.

“Indonesia has a huge reliance on seafood and seagrass plays an important part of supplying resources for the fishery,” Unsworth told the Jakarta Globe in an interview via Skype on Sunday (17/07).

The research project, launched by Unsworth at the Swansea University in Wales 10 years ago, is a collaborative effort with researchers from Cardiff University and Hasanuddin University, Makassar, monitoring seagrass in sites around Southwest Sulawesi, Wakatboi, Lombok and Jakarta.

The team also conducted studies throughout the waters of Sri Lanka, Cambodia and the Philippines.

Seagrass — not to be confused with its algae counterpart seaweed — is a terrestrial plant adapted to live in the sea, produces flowers and seeds and undergoes photosynthesis.

The plant plays an important role in marine life, providing habitats for young fish hiding from predators and as a major food source. The grass stores carbon dioxide in sediment, helping to filter the water.

With a focus on stagnant seagrass development, Unsworth's PhD research in Wakatobia has found seagrass in the area is less healthy and less dense due to coastal development and disruptive fishing.

Wakataboi was designated a biosphere reserve in 2010 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco)'s Man and the Biosphere Program.

Unsworth believes that in order to stop the decline, a collaborated effort between local government, fishery agencies and the wider community must be introduced to educate on the importance of seagrass, repair rivers and replanting trees and ending the practise of ships and fishing boats anchoring in seagrass meadows.

Seagrass conservation

While marine conservation primarily focuses on coral reef preservation, Unsworth says the challenge is changing mindsets about seagrass preservation.

“Part of coral reef conservation is protecting the habitats that support coral reefs and seagrass meadows do that as it serves as a nursery for baby coral fish and it provides clean water for coral reefs to sustain,” Unsworth said.

“Seagrass is not as sexy and exciting as coral reefs.”

He said it is difficult to engage large environmental conservation organizations, like the World Wildlife Fund, in the issue as its difficult to sell to the public.

In an effort to raise awareness, Unsworth and his team conducted a series of events in Wakatobi with the local government, fishery managers, the NGO Forkani and local fishermen focusing on the importance of seagrass and marine preservation.

Workshops with fishermen have been conducted by Unsworth and his peers to teach them about irresponsible anchoring and fishing.

“It’s not about how much seagrass Indonesia has, but it’s about stopping the decline of seagrass population,” Unsworth said.

“The hardest part is that Indonesia is so big and there’s a limited pool of scientists to do this research.”

According to Unsworth, seagrass populations have decreased across the globe. While Europe is on the road to recovery, Indonesia is continuing its decline.

“It’s not always about trying to save the cute fish, it’s about trying to save the fisheries, which is key to Indonesia’s future,” he said.

Preserving Indonesia's seagrass should be a priority for Indonesia, he said, as many popular fish species found in local markets are closely associated with seagrass and are as such at risk of extinction, including the rabbitfish and emperor fish.

In order to stop the decline, Indonesia must adopt long term monitoring strategies and bring in experts form other countries which have dealt with the same environmental issue, such as Japan, Australia or the US, he said.

While he does not agree with Minister of Marine Affairs and Fisheries Susi Pudjiastuti's method of fish bombs, he supports her preaching of the country's future being tied to fisheries.

“She’s right to say that managing fisheries is important for the future,” he said.

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"We're lucky to live on such a lovely bit of coastline": Dorset volunteers join conservation campaign

14 July 2016, Dorset Echo (UK)

MV Freedom volunteers are taking part in the Community Seagrass Initiative's Sailing Into Science Programme. Photo Credit: Sommer Jakeman

VOLUNTEER crew members on MV Freedom are taking part in a scheme to monitor seagrass around the British coast.

The crew of the boat, which helps disabled people to explore the Jurassic Coast, is joining the Community Seagrass Initiative (CSI)'s Sailing Into Science programme to carry out crucial monitoring work around water clarity.

Clarity of the water is essential to nurturing seagrass meadows as it affects the amount of light that they are able to get to help them grow.

In areas where pollution is introduced into the water, this can make the surface murkier and limit the potential of seagrass to grow.

Volunteer crew member Andrew Harding said: "Our aim on MV Freedom is to help all less able people enjoy our beautiful coastline.

"We got involved with the seagrass monitoring to expand what we do to help life under the sea too.

"We’re lucky to live on such a lovely bit of coastline so we all have to do our part to look after it."

Seagrass is the world's only fully marine flowering plant and acts as an underwater rainforest, forming in large meadows.

These unique ecosystems provide homes for some of the most unusual and interesting species of underwater wildlife, including seahorses and cuttlefish.

Seagrass meadows can also improve water quality and reduce the effects of coastal erosion.

Jess Mead, Weymouth project officer for the CSI, said: "It’s amazing to have such an enthusiastic bunch of volunteers on board with our Sailing into Science programme and we’d love for more boat users to come forward to help us as well.

"The project provides all the training and equipment needed and the monitoring itself is very quick and easy so everyone can take part.

"All the information we collect is vital for understanding more about the potential threats to seagrass and working to reduce them."

The Community Seagrass Initiative is spearheaded by the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth and is being supported by a number of conservation organisations, including Weymouth Sea Life Adventure Park.

It was made possible by a £475,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

To find out more about the initiative and how you can get involved, visit

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Dead seagrass, groups headed to DC

13 July 2016, The News-Press (USA)

Environmental groups are sending a contingency to Washington, D.C., this week in hopes the federal government will put pressure on the state to buy agriculture lands south of Lake Okeechobee for Everglades restoration projects.

Under the Charlie Christ administration, the state was prepared to buy out all of U.S. Sugar and turn those lands into a storage and conveyance system that would take water flows from the lake and deliver them to the Everglades and Florida Bay, where the water naturally belongs.

Jennifer Hecker, with the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, collected dead sea grass from local beaches, along with a container of water filled at the Centennial Park boat ramp in downtown Fort Myers.

"We’re getting a mass of sea grass where it’s all washing up on the beaches and basically the scientists believe that the color of the water is so dark, that it is tricking the sea grasses into shedding their leaves," Hecker said Wednesday morning. "They’re not certain whether this will cause it to permanently die-off but they’re monitoring the situation and the beaches of Sanibel are coated now with this grass."

Hecker and others, like John Heim of Fort Myers Beach, are meeting with week with Rep. Curt Clawson, R-Bonita Springs, and Congressman Patrick Murphy, D-Stuart, and other lawmakers in Washington.

Their message: the federal government should work with the state to make sure agriculture lands south of Okeechobee are purchased, as was originally planned, and used to restore flows in the River of Grass.

The original deal with U.S. Sugar was $1.8 billion for 107,000 acres and other assets.

"I'm headed to D.C. to speak on behalf of our community to end the lake (Okeechobee) discharges, (to convince lawmakers) to buy the land and send water south again," Heim said.

The Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers were connected to Lake Okeechobee in order to drain the Everglades for farming and development. Neither received water directly from the lake, historically.

But in modern times the rivers act as a floodplain -- a way to artificially release water and prevent flooding.

Those waters, instead of flowing south to the Everglades and Florida Bay, now flow in massive volumes to the east and west coasts.

A large bloom on the east coast caused health officials to shut down several swimming beaches there, and some in Southwest Florida fear those conditions will soon be found in the Fort Myers-Sanibel area.

Water quality scientists say the bloom started on the east side of the lake, and that's why the Stuart area has seen so much damage. Also, the distance between Okeechobee and the Atlantic Oceans is much smaller than the route from Okeechobee to the Gulf of Mexico, so the St. Lucie River estuary can more easily be flushed out by the lake flows.

"When there’s a bloom in the lake, that would be a good time to cut off the flow and not send it our way," said Rick Barlteson, a former South Florida Water Management District scientist who now works at the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation. "But this year it wasn’t possible."

Water from the lake and local watershed have flown consistently to the coast nearly all year. Stopping the flows now would cause Lake Okeechobee to rise, which could cause a breach in the dam that could flood nearby towns and farm fields.

Gov. Rick Scott and the South Florida Water Management District have said in recent years the agriculture lands are not needed, that buying the company would be a waste of taxpayer dollars.

The sugar industry bankrolls the campaigns of many of Florida's most influential politicians, and some people and groups believe the state has only backed out of the purchase because U.S. Sugar no longer wants to sell its lands and assets.

Gov. Scott received more than $1 million in political campaign contributions in the last year alone.

Former Lee County commissioner Ray Judah scouted parts of the Caloosahatchee River Wednesday, saying there are visible signs of blooms in Cape Coral canals.

Judah, who lost to sugar-backed Larry Kiker, said talking with the federal government is great, but that the real focus should be on Tallahassee and the current crop of legislators.

"The state has jurisdiction over water quality, not the feds," he said while standing near the Centennial boat ramp. "Until we focus and pay attention to the blatant disregard of responsibility by the Legislature and the governor, this issue will never be resolved."

A recent look at political contributions shows the sugar industry steering nearly $58 million in direct and in-kind contributions to state and local political campaigns between 1994 and 2016, according to a review of state elections records by the Tallahassee bureau shared by The Miami Herald and the Tampa Bay Times.

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Manatee deaths resume in Indian River

13 July 2016, Orlando Sentinel (USA)

Manatee deaths linked to pollution have resumed in the algae-stricken Indian River Lagoon of Brevard County, according to state wildlife officials.

Since the end of May, eight manatee carcasses have been recovered, bearing signs of trauma that has killed more than 150 of the marine mammals in the past four years.

"We are still narrowing down the cause, but the hypothesis is still that the change of vegetation that the manatees are eating makes them to susceptible to complications in their guts," said Martine de Wit, lead veterinarian at the Marine Mammal Pathobiology Laboratory of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in St. Petersburg. "It gives them acute shock."

The mortalities began in July 2012 when the Indian River, already ailing from pollution, was crippled with an outbreak of microscopic algae, turning waters strikingly brown or green and wiping out sea grass on which manatees forage.

De Wit said 166 manatees, including eight recovered in recent weeks, have been found with little or no sea grass in their stomachs. Instead, their digestive systems were filled with a large type of algae commonly known as seaweed.

The specific cause of death isn't known, De Wit said, but the manatees typically succumbed so suddenly that they drowned.

Green and brown forms of algae invading the Indian River were subsiding gradually last year, and sea grass had begun to show signs of recovery.

After August of last year, no manatee's death was attributed to algae conditions until the resumption of deaths May 29.

Microscopic algae had flared up again early this year, smothering much of the Indian River in Brevard County.

Also plagued were other waters that are part of the lagoon system, including Mosquito Lagoon in Volusia County and the Banana River in Brevard.

That outbreak was followed by an enormous fish kill in March that left canals and open waters of Indian River reeking.

Charles Jacoby, a St. Johns River Water Management District scientist, said his agency has seen small declines during recent months in the intensity of algae infesting Mosquito Lagoon, Banana River and Indian River in north Brevard County.

Jacoby said sea grass can still be found in the usual areas but has thinned significantly.

"The system is trying to right itself," Jacoby said.

Although it is called a river, the Indian River is a shallow finger of saltwater, stretching 156 miles from New Smyrna Beach to Jupiter and aligned just inland from the Atlantic Ocean.

The ongoing environmental disaster in Volusia and Brevard counties has been overshadowed recently by an unrelated eruption of toxic algae in polluted Lake Okeechobee.

Federal managers of the lake have been protecting its aging dike, as well as nearby sugar cane operations and communities, from disastrous flooding by flushing torrents of lake water into the Treasure Coast's St. Lucie River and portions of Indian River.

That lake water contains fertile chemicals of sewage, fertilizer and storm water, feeding an explosive growth of algae that has washed ashore as rotting ooze at pricey waterfronts and popular beaches.

Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for St. Lucie, Martin and Palm Beach counties.

The noxious mess there hasn't yet killed wildlife on the scale that has been seen in Brevard portions of the Indian River.

In recent years, that stretch of Indian River has been a killing field for brown pelicans, bottlenose dolphins, many species of fish and manatees.

State agencies and local conservation groups have acknowledged that stopping the Indian River's cycles of harmful algae will involve a long battle to reverse decades of injury from pollution.

Katie Tripp, director of science and conservation at Save the Manatee Club, said the failing health of the Indian River should be a "clear message" to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The agency is considering reclassifying manatees by shifting them from the category of endangered to the less-dire status of threatened.

"Their habitat is far from secure, which means their ability to recover is far from certain," Tripp said.

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Restoration resolution questions water flow rule

13 July 2016, (USA)

Monroe County and the village of Islamorada have each drafted resolutions that urge state and federal officials to expedite Everglades restoration efforts that will deliver more fresh water to Florida Bay, which suffered a massive seagrass die-off in 2015. The county proposal will go before its board later this month, while the village resolution was unanimously passed on June 30.

One of the key components in the Islamorada resolution revolves around the South Florida Water Management District’s Minimum Flows and Levels rule as it relates to the bay.

The resolution concludes that the MFLs are not sufficiently protective to prevent significant harm to the bay.

Since 2006, the district has been required to maintain at least a net discharge of 105,000 acre-feet of fresh water into the northeastern part of the bay over a 365-day period. This is to ensure that salinity levels do not rise above that of normal seawater and threaten seagrass. Past die-offs have fueled devastating algae blooms that feed on the nutrients released by decaying seagrass.

Freshwater flow is measured by gauges at the head of five bodies of water in the Everglades. East to west, they include McCormick Creek, Taylor River, Mud Creek, Trout Creek and Halfway Creek.

The district has violated the MFL rule twice over the past 10 years, with the first in 2008-09 and the second in 2014-15. For a violation to occur, according to district Director of Water Resources Terrie Bates, at least one salinity exceedance must happen on back-to-back years.

During the most recent violation, the flow dropped to 78,000 acre-feet in August 2015 — the lowest level since 1996. A massive die-off occurred about the same time, wiping out at least 22,000 acres of seagrass. Some estimates place the damage closer to 50,000 acres.

When a violation occurs, Bates said the district looks at the cause and evaluates how to go forward. Bates pointed out that many water delivery projects have been put in place since the first violation and the second one was due to uncontrollable weather conditions.

“When rainfall is so far below [normal] that’s a huge factor,” Bates said. “It [the second violation] is definitely associated with it.”

However, Everglades Foundation biologist Stephen Davis says the district should increase its minimum flow requirements if one violation can create such havoc.

“It’s not preventative enough,” Davis said. “When it dipped below Florida Bay started to die. You don’t know what [the appropriate] level is until you reach problems.”

Davis suggested that talks with the district about adjusting the MFL need to happen. He also says a greater buffer zone needs to be established with the 105,000 acre-feet of water mark to act as a sort of alarm system.

However, the district isn’t onboard with a change.

“We wouldn’t adjust that [105,000] level,” Bates said. “It is how much flow we need to prevent significant harm.”

The district is also cautious about raising the water level too high as it can cause flooding in the large agricultural area to the east of Everglades National Park.

Davis believes the main factor for the district’s violations and subsequent die-offs lie not with periods of drought but in the disconnected water supply.

And, according to Davis, it won’t be long before the decaying seagrass spawns a massive algae bloom. Based on previous large-scale die-offs, he believes such a bloom could strike the bay in 2018 or sooner.

“It’s just a matter of time,” Davis said.

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How Growing Sea Plants Can Help Slow Ocean Acidification

02 July 2016, Yale Environment 360 (USA)

Stephanie Smith stands in a bed of Zostera marina seagrass in Netarts Bay with the CO2 sensor she designed while a graduate student at Oregon State University. Photo Credit: George Waldbusser/OSU

Researchers are finding that kelp, eelgrass, and other vegetation can effectively absorb CO2 and reduce acidity in the ocean. Growing these plants in local waters, scientists say, could help mitigate the damaging impacts of acidification on marine life.

Oregon’s picturesque Netarts Bay has long been known for its oysters. But Netarts, like the whole west coast of North America, is getting more acidic. And the oysters don’t like it.

Since the Industrial Revolution, carbon dioxide in the air has seeped into ocean waters and boosted acidity by 30 percent. Globally, the oceans’ pH has dropped from 8.2 to 8.1, and could drop another 0.4 units by the end of the century. The problem is worse off the west coast of North America, where acidic bottom-waters are brought up to the surface by onshore winds. Corrosive waters like those suck up the building blocks for shells, and can literally eat away at the skeletons of corals.

Last summer, Oregon State University marine ecologist George Waldbusser and his team boated around Netarts Bay planting baby oysters to see how they would fare. The only ones that thrived were those protected by beds of eelgrass, which seemed to swallow up enough carbon dioxide during the peak of each day to give the oysters a break from acid and a window of opportunity for growth.

“Basically nothing outside of those beds survived,” says Waldbusser, who hasn’t yet published the work. Meanwhile, the Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery in Netarts Bay has started only pulling water into their tanks in the afternoon, when photosynthesis peaks and the water is less acidic.

Waldbusser is part of a small team of scientists now exploring the idea that seagrasses, kelps, and shell beds might be able to counteract the rising tide of ocean acidity in local hot spots, making life a little easier for struggling animals. He and other experts on the West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Science Panel, which released its first report this April, recommended that scientists and managers push forward such strategies to suck CO2 out of the water.

The idea is a smaller, gentler cousin to grander schemes of geo-engineering. There have been proposals to soak up the ocean’s excess acid by throwing iron, limestone, or olivine into the water, boosting plankton growth, adding the building blocks for shells, or chemically absorbing CO2. But the general response to such plans usually ranges from head-shaking disbelief that they might be feasible or effective, to widespread concern about the possible ecological side effects. The energy needed to mine and distribute rocks, and the unpredictable shift in food webs, have made these schemes unappealing on a global scale.

On the local scale, however, lower-cost, lower-risk ecological restoration might have the dual benefit of giving threatened sea creatures both a better place to live and a refuge from ocean acid.

Oysters would not be the only creatures to benefit. Derek Manzello manages a long-term ocean acidification monitoring site at Cheeca Rocks in the Florida Keys, as part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Coral Reef Monitoring Program. That particular patch of coral is one of the only reefs in the Florida Keys that is still growing; in other reefs, most corals have died from disease and bleaching since the early 1980s. This is odd because Cheeca Rocks, like other near-shore spots in Florida, sees high temperature swings and large amounts of soil and nutrients dumped into the water, which should limit coral growth. There are several possible explanations for Cheeca Rocks’ resistance to these problematic conditions, including that the corals there might be genetically adapted to thrive in harsh conditions. But another possible explanation is that they are living in a low-acidity refuge created by nearby seagrass beds.

In 2012, Manzello showed that Florida’s inshore waters, including where Cheeca Rocks sits, are packed with dissolved aragonite, the material that corals need to grow. Acids in the water decrease the aragonite saturation value; if it gets below 1, corals and shells start to dissolve. In pre-industrial times, these inshore waters typically had a saturation value of 4.6. Today, most reefs in Florida and the Caribbean have been eked down to 3.8. But Florida’s inshore waters have a happy 4.7.

“This is a huge difference,” says Manzello. The reason is the banks of seagrass growing in Florida’s inshore waters, like turtle grass and manatee grass, that suck up CO2 as they photosynthesize — particularly in the spring.

Another study out that same year showed the same effect in the tropical Indo-Pacific. Seagrass meadows there have the potential to increase aragonite saturation by up to 2.9 units, and the pH by 0.38. That should give corals about an 18 percent boost in growth, making seagrass a potential tool for marine park managers, the authors write.

The potential is huge. Plants in the ocean, from seagrasses to plankton, add up to just 0.05 percent of the plant biomass on land, but are so pervasive and efficient at sucking up carbon that they cycle through roughly the same amount of carbon every day as all the land-based plants. Yet seagrass ecosystems are being wiped out, thanks to everything from pandemic disease to water pollution and coastal construction projects. The rate of loss has skyrocketed from less than 1 percent of global seagrass cover per year in the 1970s to 7 percent annually in the 2000s, making seagrasses one of the planet’s most threatened ecosystems. Efforts to restore or farm such plants could have a host of benefits, including soaking up atmospheric carbon.

Waldbusser cautions that many scientists don’t yet know about the effect of seagrasses on ocean chemistry. Some breeds, like the invasive Zostera japonica eelgrass in Oregon, tend to shed their leaves in the winter, and the degrading plant matter boosts carbon dioxide levels in the water rather than lowering them. And if the water is swift flowing, then any patches of water made less acidic by plants will likely be swept away before they have a chance to benefit local shellfish or corals.

Seagrasses aren’t the only possible solution. Kelp is also well known for soaking up excess nutrients and making waters cleaner for shellfish. Most academic papers looking at the benefits of kelp don’t even mention acidification. But it didn’t take much for Nichole Price of the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Science in Maine to put two and two together. “The biggest challenge in land-based kelp nurseries is keeping the pH low enough because they consume so much CO2,” says Price, who wondered how those same photosynthetic algae were affecting ocean waters.

Price teamed up with Ocean Approved, North America’s first commercial kelp farmer, to put instruments inside and outside of its kelp farms to see what was going on. In as-yet-unpublished work, they show that the aragonite saturation level is half a unit to a full unit higher within the kelp farm. “That’s bigger than the change we expect from ocean acidification,” she says. Next year they plan to map the extent of the impact, and test the effect of the kelp on a mussel farm around the corner. That farm, says Price, has already started growing kelp based on these preliminary results.

The key, says Price, is to harvest the kelp so that the carbon it extracts gets removed from the ecosystem. It’s hard to compete with Asian kelp suppliers, but local kelp could be dried and used as food or fertilizer, adding a layer of economic diversity to a struggling coastal economy. “There’s a lot of potential for shellfish aquaculture, but people are really hesitant [because of acidification],” says Price, who now heads up Bigelow’s Centers for Venture Research. Pairing up with seaweeds might be the trick to buy new businesses a bit of insurance against future conditions, she says.

This autumn, researchers will start the first large-scale project to intentionally plant and grow kelp to suck up carbon dioxide. The Puget Sound Restoration Fund, based in Bainbridge Island, Washington, won $1.5 million from the Paul G. Allen Ocean Challenge in April 2015 to investigate the potential for sugar kelp to reduce acidity in local waters, where the pH can hit 7.8. Plans call for starting farming an acre of kelp this October.

Ocean waters can be buffered against acids by non-living material, too. Instead of soaking up carbon dioxide, the strategy here is to add more carbonate to the water. That shifts the aragonite saturation point and, again, makes it easier for shells to grow.

Nearly every estuary that once had a thriving oyster industry hosts an effort to put old shells back into the water, says Waldbusser. Most, if not all, of these projects are focused on giving the oysters or other shellfish something to grow on — their babies prefer to sit on piles of old shells, rather than getting buried or choked by mud. The fact that these shells help to buffer water acidity is an added bonus.

The Chesapeake Bay, he notes, has seen the largest oyster reef restoration effort to date and also possibly the largest (and unintentional) ocean acidification buffering experiment. About 196 million bushels of dredged oyster shells were put back into Chesapeake Bay from 1960 until 2006, before the project coordinators ran low on shells. They’re still about 100 million bushels short of where the Chesapeake’s ecology would have been had oysters not been extracted for centuries, notes Waldbusser, and the effects on the bay’s complex water chemistry have so far been hard to track. But that doesn’t mean that shells can’t shift pH significantly under different conditions.

In previous work off the coast of Maine, Waldbusser’s team, led by Mark Green of Saint Joseph’s College of Maine, mixed old ground-up shells with ocean sediments and replanted them. They then looked to see how that affected oysters. Three times as many oyster larvae settled in the shell-rich soils as in the non-shelled soils, they found. The reason, Waldbusser thinks, is because of a change in water acidity within the pores of the sediment.

“You have this incredibly hostile environment in the pore water, which is generally more acidic than the overlying water,” says Waldbusser. “Mix shell in and it’s a little less hostile.”

Waldbusser is familiar with other proposed ways of shifting ocean pH. He wrote a proposal to use the waste CO2 emitted from a hatchery to dissolve calcium carbonate rocks and bubble the products back into the ocean, helping to buffer acidity in much the same way as is done in home aquariums. But it didn’t get funded. “There are lots of technologies that exist and things you can do, but it comes back to scalability and unintended consequences,” says Waldbusser. Using rocks to buffer ocean water, for example, involves using energy to treat the minerals beforehand so they dissolve, and then you have to worry about toxic levels of nickel or cadmium hitching a ride along with the rocks.

In the end, says Waldbusser, “I always come back to restoration.” Replanting the seagrasses or shell banks that used to exist in an estuary is much safer, and often easier, than some industrial schemes. And, he adds, it probably comes with “built-in benefits that we don’t even recognize.”

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Seagrass species in danger

10 July 2016, Gold Coast Bulletin (Australia)

CLIMATE change has been identified as the biggest threat to the Gold Coast’s seagrass ecosystems, followed by coastal development.

These findings have been made in a scientific study into Gold Coast waterways released by the Gold Coast Waterways Authority.

Chief executive Hal Morris said the report provided valuable information about the seven seagrass species that grew in local waterways. It also identified the stressors and activities which might have an impact on them and their ability to respond to change.

Mr Morris said the study found that dredging was a relatively low threat to seagrass, largely due to a relatively limited ‘footprint’ of dredging in the city’s waterways and its infrequency, which allowed seagrass to recover between dredging programs.

The study was led by Professor Rod Connolly, of Griffith University, and a panel of representatives from two other Queensland universities, an international university and Healthy Waterways. Mr Morris said a further study to review seagrass nourishment and mitigation projects was being carried out to better understand how to maintain and regenerate seagrass in the city’s waterways.

He said marine plants such as seagrass were important for the ecological sustainability of Gold Coast waterways. “They provide food for dugongs and turtles, as well as habitat for fish and other species,” Mr Morris said.

They were also vital for stabilising the shoreline to help control erosion, filtering nutrients out of the waterways and capturing carbon.

However, boats, foreshore development, changing land use, waste water, fishing pressure and dredging could all have an impact on seagrass.

“Interestingly, grazing by dugong and turtles, as well as disturbance of the sea bed by animals such as stingrays, can also affect seagrass,” he said. The study developed minimum stressor thresholds for each species of seagrass to make sure their health, abundance and distribution were not negatively affected. “This research will help us optimise the way we manage the waterways, our nourishment activities and lead the way in regenerating seagrass communities,” Mr Morris said.

Loss and degradation of seagrass communities is a recognised issue around the world.

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Editorial: IUCN proposed recommendation will add to international pressure to stop Henoko base

05 July 2016, Ryukyushimpo (Japan)

The issue of alien species invasion feared to occur due to soil being brought in from other parts of Japan as part of the new Henoko base construction will be discussed at the General Assembly of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in September. Having received a proposal from the Nature Conservation Society of Japan and other organizations, the IUCN General Assembly will vote on a proposed recommendation to the Japanese government.

Six Japanese environmental conservation organizations have been criticizing the plan to relocate U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to Henoko, calling for the conservation of the dugong, sea turtle, coral, and other rare life forms, as well as the natural environment.

The IUCN, which is the international authority on environmental conservation, made a recommendation to the Japanese government that the dugong be protected three times, in 2000, 2004, and 2008, but the Japanese government turned its back on international opinion regarding nature conservation and is moving forward aggressively with the Henoko base construction.

2,100 cubic meters of soil, enough to fill the Okinawa Prefectural Office 70 times, is planned to be used to fill in the sea in the Henoko land reclamation. Reclamation of sea areas alone is destructive to marine ecosystems, and the additional issue of the impact of alien species mixed into the soil brought in from other parts of the country is also garnering attention.

The reclamation plan involves shipping soil to Okinawa from seven locations and six prefectures around the country. These locations are confirmed to be home to nine animal species that are poisonous or likely to exterminate native species, such as the Argentine ant and the redback spider. If these species invade the environment, they could have a devastating effect on native ecosystems.

In November of last year, an ordinance that restricts bringing in soil containing alien species came into effect, but there are doubts as to its effectiveness. It may not be possible to conduct an infallible check of every inch of the massive amount of soil needed to reclaim a vast area of sea in order make sure none of it contains any microscopic harmful organisms.

Three villages in the northern part of Okinawa were just designated as Yambaru National Park, and that area is now a likely candidate for designation as a World Heritage nature site. If alien species are allowed to invade the nearby Henoko area, it could have an impact on the unique flora and fauna and the biodiversity of the northern Yambaru region.

In 2010, Japan served as the chair at the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity. It is the responsibility of the Japanese government to sincerely address the discussion on the proposed recommendation regarding measures to deal with alien species to be deliberated by the IUCN General Assembly.

World Heritage nature sites are designated based on a recommendation by the IUCN. The way in which the government addresses the issues of alien species and impact to the dugong caused by the Henoko base construction could end up crucially affecting Yambaru’s designation as a World Heritage nature site.

Nago Mayor Susumu Inamine will be attending the IUCN General Assembly in September. A representative from the Okinawa prefectural government ought to attend as well. It is hoped that the Nature Conservation Society of Japan and other organizations in Japan and Okinawa will join together and work to increase international pressure to stop the ill-advised plan to build a new base in Henoko.

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Drop in turtle numbers on Great Barrier Reef a concern

05 July 2016, ABC Online (Australia)

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: There are concerns for the wider health of the Great Barrier Reef, with reports that turtle numbers are dropping.

The Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre is looking for new larger premises to cope with the increasing number of turtles brought to them suffering injuries from fishing nets and boat strikes.

The centre has nursed injured turtles back to health for the past 16 years. These days though a growing number are being brought to them on the brink of starvation.

Nance Haxton reports.

JENNIE GILBERT: So, this is Bella.

NANCE HAXTON: Marine biologist Jennie Gilbert knows each of the turtles here by name.

JENNIE GILBERT: Bella's an Olive Ridley turtle. She was caught entangled in discarded fishing net, so we had to amputate the front flipper because it's so badly, they come down with such badly damaged flippers that you just can't save them.

NANCE HAXTON: She's the co-founder and director of the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre.

She's surrounded by tanks of water like mini above ground swimming pools, each with an injured turtle inside recuperating from horrendous injuries.

They released one turtle back to the wild recently, which took three and a half years of daily care to recover.

And what will happen with her with one leg gone? What's her long term prospects?

JENNIE GILBERT: We'll release her. They're actually really resilient. She'll go back out into the wild, and they do quite well with three flippers. They're very clever.

NANCE HAXTON: Jennie has a team of hundreds of volunteers, who help her care for the injured turtles and feed them squid and prawns.

The food bill alone for the centre is more than $85,000 a year.

Tracey McEachern is a chef in Cairns by night, and turtle carer by day.

TRACEY MCEACHERN: Some of them can be pretty devastating when they get here. It's not always pretty.

NANCE HAXTON: But is it good to see the end result after their rehabilitation?

TRACEY MCEACHERN: Absolutely. Miss Penny in the corner there, you know, she's just a classic example of how rewarding it can be. She's very feisty, she's a fighter and still got some open wounds so she's got a long way to go.

NANCE HAXTON: While there is plenty of support in sponsorship from the local community, Jennie Gilbert is concerned that the number of turtles in the wild appears to be decreasing, and more turtles are being brought in for help.

JENNIE GILBERT: Turtle numbers are definitely decreasing, especially up in the north. I think the southern population is not doing so bad but in the northern population definitely, turtle numbers are definitely dropping up here.

NANCE HAXTON: The seabeds on which the turtles rely for food have not fully recovered from a series of cyclones.

JENNIE GILBERT: So this one was a classic starvation case. Absolutely. When it came in I have no idea how this thing ever survived.

NANCE HAXTON: Why are you finding starvation? What's causing that?

JENNIE GILBERT: We're still got the sea crust beds from Townsville north really haven't recovered that well.

NANCE HAXTON: That combined with boat strikes and entanglements in abandoned fishing nets, means the turtle rehabilitation centre is constantly under pressure.

JENNIE GILBERT: It really is a problem. I mean we've had a couple of turtles that have died. We've opened them up and they're full of fishing line.

You know, some fishermen are really responsible and some aren't, and what they do is if they get their line snagged they just throw it overboard and they don't think of the consequences.

NANCE HAXTON: What is needed, do you think?

JENNIE GILBERT: People taking responsibility for themselves. It's your decision whether you throw a piece of rubbish in the bin or if you throw it on the ground. It's your decision if you throw fishing line into the water or not.

And I think people have got to say, got to take a step back and say let's dispose of this responsibly and let's do this before we actually lose so many animals that we may get to a stage of extinction.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Marine biologist Jennie Gilbert ending Nance Haxton's report.

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Seagrass die off due to hyper salinity

01 July 2016, Florida Keys Weekly (USA)



It started last summer during the drought and was only exacerbated by the continued blockage of freshwater flowing southward through the Everglades. A large section of seagrass (between 30,000 and 50,0000 acres affected) has died off in the Florida Bay, and things could be getting worse. “The expansion of algae overgrowth needs to be stopped,” says Steve Davis, staff ecologist with the Everglades Foundation.

On a recent tour of Florida Bay, and its affected basins, the Weekly observed firsthand the effects of the recent algae bloom prior to a public meeting on June 21 on the issue. Members of The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, South Florida Water Management District, the Florida House of Representatives, the Everglades Foundation, local officials, and Florida Bay Forever (a Monroe County based conservation group) were present to learn and discuss solutions.

The hypersalinity in the Florida Bay is a result of fresh water not being able to flow south through the Everglades. But the problem actually originates further north: dating back to the 1940s, a system of levees, dykes, and waterways have been constructed to redirect the overflowing waters of Lake Okeechobee’s south end for agricultural and construction projects. The draining of the Everglades started then and has continued, the only change being Floridians’ regained appreciation for our unique ecosystem.

Florida Bay is irrigated naturally by fresh water through two primary locations: Taylor slough and Shark River slough. Shark River slough has more volume, and dischargers into the western basin. The eastern basin, home to various mangrove regions, has seen a third of its usual freshwater flow, resulting in stagnant and salty water. “The die off originally began north of Whipray basin, but in the last two months has extended south,” says Xavier Figueredo, local captain and co-founder of Florida Bay Forever.

The result has been what experts are calling a “near catastrophic” seagrass die off, with the Rankin basin being the epicenter. Since the passing of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan of 2000, which allocated more than $8 billion to project restoring the Everglades, less than a third of the 68 scheduled projects have been completed, according to Florida Bay Forever.

“Right now there’s is a lot of attention, effort, and energy surrounding water storage, flow, and Lake Okeechobee. From my perspective, continuing the bridging of Tamiami trail (U.S. 41) is important and finishing the projects we’ve started,” said state Rep. Holly Raschein. “In the words of Adam Putnam, we need to have more ribbon cuttings and less ground breakings.”

The Army Corps of Engineers have finished construction on one of five bridges on the Tamiami trail designed to increase the flow of freshwater, and say the second bridge will be completed in three years. “The passing of the Florida Legacy Act during the last session was a step in the right direction,” said Raschein. “Over the next 10 years it devotes a minimum of $200 million just for Everglades restoration. It has goals in water management and land acquisitions, all of which work towards the number one goal −being restoration.”

There are things we can be doing right now to help the problem, however, says Bill Horn, former assistant secretary of the federal Fish and Wildlife (Department of Interior), and board member of Bonefish and Tarpon Trust. He said if the government is willing to relax the phosphorus standards, water flow from Lake Okeechobee could increase, thus helping salinity levels in the Everglades and also the Keys backcountry.

“One thing we can do short term is build more STAs (Stormwater Treatments Areas). They take water, store it, and work like sponges and get rid of the high levels of phosphorus. Water in Lake Okeechobee is loaded with phosphorus, causing the levels to be roughly 100 parts per billion. To be able to move that water south, it needs to be brought down to 10 parts per billion. With that being said, if the State and Federal government agreed to lower the standard, knowing it might have some adverse effects on Conservation area 1, I believe they could get some water down there to avoid the looming catastrophe.”


The hypersalinity problem in Rankin Basin is critical. How bad is it? Steve Davis, wetland ecologist, recently tested the water and discovered the levels were at 83 parts part thousand. To compare, he said, “So going back to the ’40s we don’t have records of salinity above 70 to 80 parts per thousands. So, in that regard, it’s a record. But then when we look at the paleo-record and try to piece together what salinity was like in the natural pre-drainage Florida Bay, it was nowhere near that level of hyper-salinity.”

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Seagrass meadows to be saved around Scottish coasts

01 July 2016, Scotsman (UK)

Seagrass is found in large quantities around the west coast of Scotland

Seagrass may be the less glamorous cousin of the coral reef but major work is now underway in Scotland to document and preserve this life-giving force of the ocean.

Project Seagrass is currently extending its research programme to monitor the health of Scotland’s vast seagrass meadows which are chiefly found on the west coast.

The meadows are seen as key to sustaining the lives of species such as seahorses as well as young fish, such as Atlantic cod, starting out their lives in shallow waters.

Some seagrass species are known to capture and store carbon dioxide.

Dr Richard Lilley of Project Seagrass said: “Because it is not as colourful as coral reef, seagrass tends to be missed out of the conservation agenda. We are hoping to change all that.

“Seagrass has many qualities. For example, baby fish, before they are big enough to head deeper into the ocean spend their formative years in seagrass meadows. It is also a very important habitat for sea horses.

“The UK is a bit behind the times in knowing where the sea grass is. One of the reasons we are moving up in to Scotland is that we know there is a lot of sea grass on the west coast, but we don’t know exactly how much.

“One of the first things we need to do is find it and record it so over time we will know how it is being impacted by coastal fishing and other activities.”

Research by Dr Lilley’s colleague Richard Unsworth, of Swansea University, has found some 30,000 km2 of seagrass - known as Zostera marina - has disappeared over the past two decades, about 18% of the global area.

One hectare can produce 100,000 litres of oxygen per day, can support 80,000 fish and 100m invertebrates – and absorb ten times as much CO2 as a pristine area of Amazon rainforest.

Scottish Seagrass, now set up by Dr Lilley, aims to mobilise a team of volunteer ‘seagrass spotters’ who can photograph sea grass meadows on their smartphone before sending the pics for identification using a specially built map.

Using the GPS tag on the image, it is hoped researchers can build up an accurate map of where Scotland’s seagrass meadows lie.

Dr Lilley said he hoped he could create a new movement of “citizen science” by boosting public interest in seagrass and its important role in marine biodiversity.

He said there was an “infectious” mood in Scotland over citizens engaging with environmental management and pointed to the work of the Community of Arran Seabed Trust (COAST) which has set up a “no take zone” - which bans fishing and removal of any natural resources - around Lamlash Bay to improve marine biodiversity.

Dr Lilley stressed the importance of seagrass to Scotland’s fishing communities and added: “So many coastal fishing communities are dependent on coastal health. To put it simply, if there are no baby fish, there are no adult fish and if there are no adult fish, there is no fishing industry.”

Dr Lilley said it was likely a wasting disease killed off seagrass meadows during the 1930s with it now essential to build a fresh record of the species in Scottish waters.

He added: “It’s really about trying to find out what we are dealing with, getting a baseline and knowing what we have to protect.”

A series of seagrass mapping dives with Scottish Seagrass intern Lauren Clayton, a postgraduate student at Glasgow University, and Deborah McNeill of Glasgow University Sub Aqua Club, assisting the project.

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Dead dugong raises concerns over fishing practices in Great Barrier Reef

01 July 2016, The Guardian (Australia)

Dead dugong found off Saunders beach, north of Townsville. Photo Credit: Shane Dickeson

A dead dugong, with injuries researchers say are consistent with entanglement in a fishing net or line, has been found near Townsville, raising concerns about lack of oversight over fishing practices in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

Found on Wednesday last week near Saunders beach, just north of Townsville, the dugong had scratches on its back and belly, and a deep laceration around its tail.

Isabel Beasley from James Cook University, who discovered the dead animal, told Guardian Australia the injuries were consistent with the dugong becoming entangled and drowning.

“It might be a leader rope or any kind of fishing rope – it can get entangled around the body of the animal, and then slip down to the narrow bit around the tail area,” said Beasley, who said that was commonly seen with dolphins.

She said it would be impossible to say what killed the animal without a necropsy. Beasley said the carcass had no signs of decay when she found it, and all its organs appeared intact. Inspection of the animal’s lungs would have revealed if it had drowned.

“Based on what we observed, it had definitely been caught. And it had definitely been entangled in something – either a rope or a net,” Beasley said.

No necropsy was performed, and a spokeswoman for the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection denied the injuries were consistent with entanglement.

“The injuries to this dugong were not consistent with entanglement in a net,” she said.

The spokeswoman said no necropsy was performed due to “the advanced stage of decay”. But Beasley said it appeared to have died the day she found it.

She alerted the department, which examined the animal. By the time the department reached the carcass it had been mauled by a shark, but the Guardian understands most of the body was still intact.

It is not the first time large marine mammals have been found in the area, at this time of year, with signs of entanglement.

In June 2010, a dugong was found in Bowling Green bay, just south of Townsville, with injuries suggesting it had been caught in a fishing net. A department spokesperson told the ABC at the time the dugong looked as though it had been tied up by the tail and weighed down, with fishers attempting to hide the carcass.

The same thing happened in July 2011 to a pair of snubfin dolphins in Two Mile creek, also near Townsville. Snubfin dolphins are listed as “vulnerable” under Australian law, and as “near threatened” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Mandatory GPS tracking of commercial fishing vessels would help avoid such deaths and help identify their causes, said World Wildlife Fund Great Barrier Reef fishing policy manager, Jim Higgs.

Both the Coalition and the ALP have told WWF they will institute electronic tracking of commercial fishing vessels in the reef.

Higgs said that would allow the department to know which boats were in the area when an incident occurred. That would motivate fishers who accidentally caught dugongs and other marine life – which is not illegal – to report the incidents, as they are required to do.

“The benefit for industry is, if we had this tracking ... we would automatically be able to rule out that it was a legal commercial net that caused the problem,” said Higgs. “The big issue at the moment is that there hasn’t been a report, as far as I’m aware.”

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Protecting marine coastal habitats cost-effectively

02 June 2016, Decision Point Online

Posidonia oceanica seagrass meadows in the Mediterranean Sea. (a) Healthy meadow in the study region, (b) meadow impacted by fish farming, (c) meadow impacted by anchoring, and (d) meadow impacted by trawling. (Photo Credit: by Yiannis Issaris/

Marine coastal habitats, such as seagrass meadows, provide valuable ecosystem services including food provision, carbon sequestration, and coastal protection. But coastal areas are also the focus of human settlement. They concentrate many human activities, both land-based (eg, coastal development) and ocean-based (eg, fishing). Therefore, conserving coastal habitats requires actions that abate multiple threats.

Environmental agencies charged with conserving coastal habitats must decide which threats to act on and where to take actions to abate those threats within their region. To achieve the greatest benefits for conservation, agencies should take the actions that are predicted to conserve the desired amount of habitat for the least cost.

A first step towards that direction is to categorise threats as ‘stoppable’ (eg, fishing) or ‘unstoppable’ (eg, climate change) based on how easily a threat can be abated within a particular time period (eg, 20 years). This will enable environmental agencies to realistically prioritise actions for conservation under a specific budget or conservation target (eg, protecting 30% of the habitat distribution).

An important next step is to combine data on the distribution of habitats and threats, with information on the cost and expected benefits of conservation actions which are easier to manage within the particular time period. Such an approach will lead to cost-effective solutions. On the other hand, prioritisation of actions based on habitat maps and/or threat maps alone can lead to less effective and/or more expensive solutions.

Our study demonstrated this approach for seagrass meadows.

It selected the most cost-effective actions to abate stoppable threats (trawling and anchoring), while avoiding areas affected by threats that are more difficult to manage, such as coastal development. The relative improvement in cost achieved by using the proposed approach was examined by comparing with other common prioritisation criteria that do not consider cost, including choosing sites based on threat level or habitat cover alone.

The establishment of anti-trawling reefs (in the study region in the Mediterranean) was found to be the most cost-effective action to achieve the European Union conservation target for the protection of seagrass (Posidonia oceanica) meadows.

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