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Can local eelgrass help fight global ocean acidification?

30 August 2017,Los Angeles Times (USA)

Orange County Coastkeeper Marine Restoration director Katie Nichols, right, volunteer Brianna Bambic, far left, and intern Chase Woollett head out to collect samples near Back Bay Science Center in Newport Beach. Photo Credit: Kevin Chang/ Staff Photographer

Eelgrass growing in Newport Beach waters may help prove its importance in maintaining healthy water chemistry by keeping acidity down and making the water more hospitable to ecologically and economically valuable organisms.

On the idea that eelgrass removes carbon from the seawater, absorbing it through photosynthesis, university researchers are studying how the local long-bladed marine grass can mitigate widespread ocean acidification — caused by the sea taking in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere — and counter the effects of climate change.

Researchers from UC Davis and UC Santa Cruz, with help from the Orange County Coastkeeper environmentalist organization, are looking for some of the answers in Newport Bay.

Katie Nichols, the marine restoration director for Orange County Coastkeeper, said this research could show another benefit of preserving eelgrass in the ecosystem. As a foundation species, it provides habitat for birds, lobster and commercially important fish, such as sea bass, halibut and smelt. Elsewhere, it can provide a home for turtles and manatees.

It can also act as a filter. Like planting trees in the city to improve air quality, planting seagrass can make the water more favorable for sea life.

Melissa Ward, a doctoral student in ecology at Davis, was with colleagues Tuesday on the dock at the Back Bay Science Center, making final adjustments to the sensors they will deploy in a natural eelgrass bed in the Upper Newport Bay.

Over three weeks, the sensors will gather pH and oxygen levels, plus temperature and salinity levels inside and outside the grass bed. Sensors are also along the northern California coast, including the Santa Cruz and Bodega Harbor areas.

Ocean acidification is a widespread problem and difficult to manage, Ward said.

"It's from emissions worldwide. So the state of California is in a tough position to say, 'what can we do about ocean acidification on a local level if it's a global problem?' " she said. "This is one of the proposed solutions, to plant things that remove (carbon dioxide) from the seawater like seagrasses, and seagrasses are sort of particularly good at doing this."

The outcome of such research can be of high interest to the oyster industry, for example, because oysters and seagrasses are often in the same areas, Ward said. Oyster farmers could improve their strategy if they put their racks downstream of the water-enhancing grass.

In other words, seagrasses make good neighbors. The research can help explain why, how good and when.

Ward said development, mooring lines and shading from docks can wipe out eelgrass, but restoration efforts have been positive.

Locally, Nichols said Coastkeeper and the city of Newport Beach have been successful at restoring eelgrass, and the species is now stable in the area.

More information: Click Here



Dugong carcass sent for autopsy to know cause of death

30 August 2017, The Nation (Thailand)

The carcass of a female dugong that weighed 200 kilograms has been sent for autopsy to determine the cause of its death, Eastern Gulf Fisheries Research and Development Centre (Rayong) veterinarian Weerapong Laowetprasit said on Wednesday.

The carcass was found floating in the sea near Koh Samet, about five nautical miles off the Muang Rayong coast, on Tuesday afternoon.

The three-metre-long dugong had a wound in the abdomen area and was suspected to have died less than seven days before the discovery of the carcass.

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US federal appeals court reinstates Okinawa dugong lawsuit, plaintiffs' argument partly supported

23 August 2017, Ryukyushimpo (Japan)

On August 21 (local time), the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals dismissed the lower court's decision in the Okinawa dugong lawsuit in which environmental protection groups of Japan and the United States filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Defense.

The groups have been seeking to block construction of a new U.S. military base in Henoko, Nago, on the grounds that it will damage the habitat of the Okinawa dugong, an endangered marine mammal designated by the Japanese government as a natural monument.

The U.S. District Court in San Francisco dismissed the suit in 2015 because it was not authorized to order the suspension of construction work.

The U.S. Federal Appeals Court's ruling partly affirmed the plaintiff's argument that seeking suspension of the construction of the new base in Henoko is not a political issue.

The lawsuit will enter into substantive examination, including whether to cancel the construction of the new base.

Local citizens who are opposed to the new base's construction welcomed the ruling, saying, "the road has opened."

In 2003, the plaintiffs, including the Japan Federation of Environmental Lawyers (JELF) and the Biodiversity Center, filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction against the construction of the new base, arguing that the Department of Defense has an obligation to protect the dugongs based on the National History Preservation Act of the United States (NHPA).

However, the district court dismissed the plaintiff's suit on the basis that it had no legal authority to order suspension of the construction work, which the Japanese and the U.S. governments have been conducting based on a diplomatic agreement.

The plaintiffs were dissatisfied with the ruling and appealed in April 2015.

Following the federal appeals court ruling, the Department of Defense has to negotiate with stakeholders including the Okinawa Prefectural Government, local residents, and environmental protection groups. The ruling asks the government to provide effective conservation measures for dugongs.

As of now, the Department of Defense has not given a view on the ruling.

The plaintiffs' group asserted in a statement that dugongs cannot survive under the current base construction plan, and praised the appeals court ruling saying that it would be a lifeline for the dugongs.

Takaaki Kagohashi, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said, "The U.S. judiciary has confirmed it will strictly watch the administration's power."

Kagohashi spoke of his expectations, saying, "The way has opened towards suspension of the construction."

Kagohashi pointed out the possibility of the U.S. government to appealing to the Supreme Court, and he said, "We will prepare our strategy to block the base construction with the support and understanding of the Okinawan people and U.S. citizens."

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Seagrass build-up prompts beach closure at Jurien

23 August 2017, The West Australian (Australia)

Authorities have temporarily closed the beach at Jurien Boat Harbour because of health concerns.

The Department of Transport issued a statement today saying seagrass accumulation in the harbour had caused deterioration in water quality.

The department, which manages the harbour, recommends people not swim in the water or consume fish caught in the marina.

It warns pet owners not to allow contact with dead or decomposing fish in the water or onshore.

The department's general manager of coastal infrastructure, Steve Jenkins, said contractors would remove the seagrass from the beach.

"The Shire of Dandaragan has erected warning signs on the harbour beach, and in conjunction with the Department of Health is monitoring water quality levels," he said.

"The department will continue to maintain a clean shoreline."

More information:Click Here



Seagrass: Rainforests of the sea

22 SAugust 2017, The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper (USA)

The seagrass meadows that surround Anna Maria Island are mostly hidden from view and are only exposed on extreme low tides during the full and new moons. Magical and mysterious like a tropical rainforest, they harbor and support a tremendous array of life. And while we have a limited understanding of this web of life, it is responsible for much of the beauty and diversity of the area.

Seagrasses are flowering plants that serve a number of important functions. Since they flower, they require sunlight and are limited to clear, shallow waters. They produce oxygen, bind sediments and baffle wave action, while cleansing coastal waters.

Seagrass roots, their leaves, and the epiphytes and microalgae that cling to them, clean water by converting dissolved nutrients into plant matter. Besides giving us clean air and clear water, seagrasses are home to a vast array of organisms that provide food and shelter for fish, crustaceans, shellfish, manatees and wading birds.

While there are 52 species of seagrasses worldwide, only seven are found in Florida. Locally they include turtle (Thalassia testudinum), shoal (Halodule wrightii) and manatee grasses (Syringodium filiforme). The loss of these species has been extensive throughout Florida.

At one time Tampa Bay had lost 81 percent of its historical cover, Sarasota Bay 35 percent and Charlotte Harbor 29 percent. Poor watershed management (storm water run-off and sewage disposal) dredge and fill operations and scaring from boats have taken a heavy toll on Florida's seagrasses.

Fortunately, the influence of citizens through organizations like Sarasota Bay Watch, Tampa Bay Watch, the Tampa Bay National Estuary Program and the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program have instituted programs that are beginning to turn the tide on water quality. The increase in water quality has led to a resurgence in local seagrass coverage. In Tampa Bay, sea grass coverage has reached 41,655 acres, surpassing a goal of 38,000 acres set in 2014.

Anglers, from experience, are aware of the importance of these seagrasses. They experience first hand the myriad interactions that produce fertile fisheries. They may not understand the intricate web of existence that proceeds from the microscopic level to the fish on the end of their line, but they reap the benefits none the less. Government scientists (NOAA) consider seagrasses to be of such importance, that they have adopted a no net loss policy to manage them. Despite this noble pronouncement, seagrasses remain under assault.

The loss of valuable seagrass beds must be a higher priority. Fortunately watershed management, replanting, avoidance of direct impacts to existing grasses and mitigation are helping to approach those lofty and critical goals.

It is a foregone conclusion that development will continue to impact coastal areas and their seagrass resources. It is vital that decisions are made that will allow needed development while forming policies that will protect the quality of our most valuable local resource, the Gulf, bay and its seagrass beds. To reject proper growth management is to squander the birthright our children and future generations. Enlightened citizens, anglers and their interest groups must take part in this decision-making process.

Cost considerations often eclipse concerns for seagrasses, but research reveals the true value of these resources. A study (Virnstein and Morris 1996) conducted in the Indian River Lagoon estimated the value of seagrass to be $12,500 per acre, per year, based solely on economic values derived from recreational and commercial fisheries.

Having established the importance both ecologically and economically of seagrasses, it is crucial that we develop rules and procedures that assure we maintain (no net loss) the current standing stock. A wiser decision would be to enact management policies mandating an increase in these rainforests of the sea.

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Tagged pinfish released into Indian River Lagoon to enhance seagrass

17 August 2017, TC Palm (USA)

Live Advantage Bait at Florida Oceanographic Society is leading a pinfish study in the Indian River Lagoon, where 1,800 pinfish were released Aug. 17, 2017, in Stuart. Photo Credit: LEAH VOSS/TCPALM

As a 5-gallon bucket empties into the Indian River Lagoon, about 100 small pinfish with tiny tags slowly pour out into their new home.

One hundred down, 1,700 to go.
The 1,800 baitfish were released Thursday morning behind the Florida Oceanographic Society Coastal Center on Hutchinson Island in Stuart as part of study that could benefit sea grasses, game fish and, of course, pinfish throughout the lagoon.

The study is based on a mutually beneficial — scientists call it "symbiotic" — relationship between pinfish and sea grass: The fish eat epiphytes, that gunky stuff you often see growing on the grass blades. Keeping the blades clean and green allows the plants to turn sunlight into food and stay healthy.

Nicole Kirchhoff, CEO and founder of Live Advantage Bait in Jupiter, wants to see if the pinfish stocked in the lagoon Thursday will stay on their new sea grass bed home and help it grow.

If they do, it would make sense for sea grass restoration projects along the 156-mile-long lagoon to stock pinfish to help make sure their work succeeds.

And Kirchhoff's wholesale bait business would be more than happy to provide them.

Cradle rocked
Sea grass beds are the cradles of life in the lagoon. Not only do young pinfish live in them, so do juvenile game fish: snook, tarpon, redfish and sea trout.

Healthy sea grass beds make for a healthy lagoon, but both have been having a tough time lately.

Massive discharges of water from Lake Okeechobee every few years have wiped out some beds in the southern lagoon. Algae blooms have destroyed about 47,000 acres of sea grass in the northern lagoon; and the loss has been tied to the deaths of hundreds of manatees and pelicans and dozens of bottlenose dolphins, mostly in Brevard County.

That's why Florida Oceanographic Society is involved, said Mark Perry, the nonprofit's executive director.

"We have a very active sea grass restoration program," Perry said. "We're all for anything that enhances sea grass growth in the lagoon."

Stocking game fish is nothing new; stocking bait, such as pinfish, "has never been done before," Kirchhoff said.

Of the fish stocked Thursday, 900 were raised at the Florida Oceanographic Society and given black tags; 900 were caught near the Sebastian Inlet and given white tags. Part of the experiment is to see which type sticks around and contributes to sea grass growth by seining the sea grass bed every two weeks or so for the next three months.

As another 100 or so fish pour into the lagoon, Kirchhoff said the fish were being released gradually to keep from attracting predators.

Within minutes, a checkered pufferfish in the shallow water grabbed a pinfish, shook it and, like a cat toying with a mouse, slowly ate it.

One down, 1,799 to go.

More information: Click Here



Marine ecologist takes helm of national federation

15 August 2017, FIU News

James Fourqurean spoke about the importance of and threats to Biscayne Bay at the 2017 Biscayne Bay Marine Health Inaugural Summit.

FIU marine ecologist James Fourqurean has been elected president of the Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation.

Fourqurean will lead the organization, which is comprised of people who study and manage estuaries, with a plan to educate public officials about coastal science and resilience in a changing climate.

"Distrust of scientists seems to be at an all-time high when scientific understanding is really important to help us face the coming challenges of a changing environment," said Fourqurean, director of FIU's Marine Education and Research Initiative. "I hope to ease the dialog between elected officials and scientists so we can share ideas to ensure a better future."

Fourqurean's agenda has a three-pronged approach. He plans to promote research in estuarine and coastal ecosystems. He plans to support education of scientists, decision-makers and the public. And he hopes to facilitate communication among all of these groups.

Coasts are made up of different ecosystems from beaches and coral reefs to estuaries, mangroves and seagrasses. Estuaries, places where rivers meet the sea, are home to diverse plants and animals. They filter pollutants in the water, including herbicides, metals, nutrients, pesticides and sediments. They also act as buffers, protecting coastal communities from flood and storm damage. But the delicate ecosystems are threatened by pollution, urbanization and climate change.

Fourqurean has dedicated his career to studying seagrasses, conducting research in Florida Bay, Australia, Bahamas, Indonesia, Mexico, the Mediterranean and the United Arab Emirates. Seagrasses form extensive meadows that purify water, protect against coastal erosion, and are home to commercially and recreationally important fish. They also act as carbon sinks capable of storing as much carbon dioxide as forests. The biological sciences professor has made presentations worldwide and testified before the European Union championing Blue Carbon, a global initiative that allows regulated sources to buy credits for greenhouse emissions, helping restore and preserve seagrasses for mitigation.

As an undergraduate in the University of Virginia, Fourqurean attended his first scientific meeting with the Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation. He walked away inspired by scientists at different phases in their careers who encouraged him to pursue a career in marine and seagrass ecology.

"I have rarely missed a meeting since, and I have watched my role models in the field take their turns in the leadership of the organization," Fourqurean said. "I am tremendously honored to lead the federation and to follow in the footsteps of the scientists I have always admired."

Fourqurean has served as the principal investigator of more than $25 million in research grants and contracts at FIU. He has published more than 120 papers in peer-reviewed journals. The Marine Education and Research Initiative, housed in FIU's Institute of Water and Environment, is dedicated to research, higher education, K-12 educational outreach, and community engagement in the Florida Keys. It features the Medina Aquarius Program which houses Aquarius, the world's only underwater research laboratory.

The Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation is an organization of people who study and manage estuaries and the effects of human activities on these fragile environments. They serve as a source of advice by responding to requests for information from legislative and management organizations. It is open to researchers, public sector managers, teachers, consultants and students.

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Dugong attracted to Sim Sim water village for food

14 August 2017, The Star Online (Malaysia)

A dugong stranded in shallow waters off Sandakan appears to be healthy and is attracted to the Sim Sim water village for food.

The adult animal was seen nibbling moss growing on the posts of the houses in the village.

Sabah Wildlife Department ranger Awang Basah who has been monitoring the dugong said the animal had been elusive and was occasionally spotted around the village over the past three days.

"It would come close to shore during the high tide and go out to sea when the low tide comes," he said.

He said the Wildlife Department had been reminding villagers there against throwing any type of food to the dugong as this could harm the animal.

Awang said that although dugongs have been spotted in the Sulu Sea off Sandakan, it is unusual for one to come so close to shore.

Villagers first spotted the dugong at about 8.30am on Friday.

Since then, the Wildlife Department had dispatched its rangers to monitor the animal while awaiting the arrival of Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) Borneo Marine Research Institute experts.

The dugong is protected under the Conservation of Wildlife Enactment 1997.

More information: Click Here

Related Article: UMS marine researchers to visit dugongs in Kampung Sim-Sim : Click Here


"Dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico is biggest ever

11 August 2017, CBS News (USA)

Gulf of Mexico dead zone, July 2017. The map shows an area nearly 400 miles (643km) across. Photo Credit: N. Rabalais, LSU/LUMCON

Each summer, a large part of the Gulf of Mexico "dies". This year, the Gulf's "dead zone" is the largest on record, stretching from the mouth of the Mississippi, along the coast of Louisiana to waters off Texas, hundreds of miles away. Around 8,776 square miles of ocean, an area the size of New Jersey or Wales, is almost lifeless.

John Muir, the famed naturalist and early conservation campaigner, once said that: "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe." His point was that everything in nature is connected, and that no part of our ecosystem exists entirely independently from any other.

It is perhaps no surprise then that ultimate cause of the Gulf of Mexico's dead zone can be found many miles inland. Fertilizers used by farmers then wash into the Mississippi River and eventually into the sea, where nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus stimulate an explosion in microscopic algae, creating huge "algal blooms." The algae then die and sink to the bottom, where they decompose. But the same bacteria which decompose the algae also use the sea's oxygen during the process, leaving an "anoxic" ocean.

Fish and other mobile sea creatures are able to escape the suffocating dead zone. Less lucky however are the sponges, corals, sea squirts and other animals who live their lives fixed in one place on the sea bed. Low oxygen levels place them under great stress and we have seen huge mortalities. Such losses will of course ripple up the food web, creating a negative chain reaction of increasing mortality rates in larger and larger animals.

The "dead zone" has grown this year due to increased rainfall in America's Midwest washing ever greater amounts of nutrients into the Mississippi, which ultimately end up in the Gulf. Not only is this a huge conservation issue – the Gulf contains key nursery habitats such as mangrove forests, sea grass beds and coral reefs that benefit adjacent fisheries – but it also has huge consequences for the local fishing economy, particularly the shrimp industry.

Steps are under way to slow down the ecological disaster. Some farmers in the Mississippi basin are using large grassy zones along waterways in order to soak up the agricultural fertilizers and filter out many of the nutrients before they make their way down the Mississippi to pollute the Gulf. However, it remains to be seen whether such measures are effective – and U.S. farmers certainly need to greatly reduce the nitrogen and phosphates they use.

In the century since Muir's death, things have sped up. A larger population demands more food which means more deforestation, more farmland and more fertilizer. The increase demand placed on our land is ultimately affecting the marine environment.

These losses are unsustainable. The marine environment is integral for all life on earth, from an ecological and economic point of view. If we keep losing ecosystem services such as coastal nursery habitats and spawning grounds at this current rate, it will not just be an area the size of a state that is a dead zone, but the whole Gulf, or even whole oceans.

More information: Click Here



Adani avoids multi-million-dollar fine over Abbot Point sediment water discharge

11 August 2017, ABC Online (Australia)

The Indian mining giant Adani's Abbot Point coal terminal in Northern Queensland has avoided a multi-million-dollar fine, but has been slugged $12,000 over an environmental breach.

Queensland's Environment Department has fined the operators of the facility just over $12,000 for releasing sediment stormwater during Tropical Cyclone Debbie at a level many times higher than allowed.

The unauthorised release took place in March, at the same coal loading facility Adani plans to significantly expand as part of its multi-billion-dollar proposed development of Australia's largest coal mine in the nearby Galilee Basin.

The Department of Environment and Heritage Protection said the company was granted a temporary emissions licence (TEL) during the rain event, which permitted an elevated suspended solid limit on stormwater releases.

But the company advised the department on April 6 it had breached the conditions, advising they had released sediment amounts more than eight times the level it was licenced for.

"This stormwater was discharged to the surrounding marine waters," the department said in a statement.

"Temporary emissions licences and environmental authorities are not taken lightly by the department and there can be harsh penalties for companies that breach their approvals."

The department said the stormwater release did not enter the adjacent Caley Valley wetlands and investigations were continuing.

Environment Department director-general Jim Reeves has previously told the ABC fines for non-compliance could be in the millions.

"There are serious penalties for corporations whose non-compliance with their environmental authorities or temporary emissions licences causes environmental harm, including fines of up to $3.8 million if the non-compliance was wilful, or $2.7 million if the non-compliance was unintentional," Mr Reeves said.

The company has until August 17 to contest the fine in court.

In a statement from Adani company Abbot Point Bulk Coal (APB), it said it strongly rejected that "it allowed contaminated floodwater to flow into abutting marine environment during severe Tropic Cyclone Debbie in March 2017".

"APB notes the State Government has imposed a fine of $12,190 for the alleged breach and the company is now considering its options.

"APB is disappointed that Department of Environment and Heritage Protection has released details of the fine to media but did not detail the fine notices issued to other parties following Cyclone Debbie."

The Queensland Resources Council declined to comment.

Mackay Conservation Group coordinator Peter McCallum said the fine was inadequate and would encourage future environmental harm at Abbot Point rather than preventative action by the company.

Mr McCallum visited Abbot Point with department officials in April to inspect the pollution.

"It is hard to see how this fine can act as a deterrent. Adani made over $250 million in revenue at Abbot Point in the last financial year, with this fine representing a miniscule 0.005 per cent," he said.

"Without sufficient penalties for breaching environmental conditions there's little point in having them."

More information:Click Here



Mystery of the underwater seagrass 'fairy circles' is solved.

10 August 2017, Daily Mail

The mystery of the seagrass 'fairy circles' that have been cropping up under the surface of the sea has finally been solved.

The rings appear as glowing ovals in the Mediterranean and Baltic sea and are the result of large 'bald patches' devoid of vegetation in seagrass meadows.

Research has now revealed that the bare circles are caused by contamination by foreign species.

Scientists claim that the bizarre patches are a sign that entire ecosystems are at risk of extinction.

The circles have been found around the Danish coast as well as the Balearic islands, including Mallorca.

Invading species are being driven into these areas by polluted waters and climate change, the researchers, from the University of the Balearic Islands in Palma, Mallorca said.

'The spatial organisation of vegetation landscapes is a key factor in the assessment of ecosystem health and functioning,' lead researcher Daniel Ruiz-Reynés wrote in his paper Fairy Circle Landscapes Under The Sea, published by Science Advances.

'Spatial configurations of vegetation landscapes act as potential indicators of climatic or human forcing affecting the ecosystem.'

The fairy circles indicate that seagrass, known scientifically as Posidonia oceanica, in the affected regions is at risk.

More information: Click Here



Dead dolphin found in vicinity of dugong search

08 August 2017, Port Macquarie News (Australia)

The search for a dugong located in the Macleay River at Stuarts Point is being scaled down.

Authorities are still hoping to capture then relocate the animal to Sea World on the Gold Coast but as the days wear on hopes fade as they need warmer water to survive (the most southerly population in Australia is at Moreton Bay, Queensland).

The dugong has been spotted, and filmed (watch the video below), but catching these shy creatures is another matter entirely.

A second dugong, believed to be the mother, was found dead over a week ago and there are reports the pair had been in the Macleay estuary for up to six weeks.

In what local residents would be hoping is a tragic coincidence, a dead dolphin was found dead washed up in the same area.

Mary Taylor from Stuarts Point has her fingers crossed for the remaining dugong but is concerned at the recent deaths.

"Is there a link between the deaths or is it just a coincidence? Either way it's tragic circumstances having two mammals die in close succession, and in Stuarts Point, a very rare occurrence."

Vice president of ORRCA (Organisation for the Rescue and Research of Cetaceans in Australia) Shona Lorigan says it may be a coincidence or there may be potential contamination.

She stresses that an autopsy of the dead dolphin has been completed and the relevant authorities including the EPA (Environmental Protection Authority) and National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) have been notified.

The dolphin has been identified as a male bottlenose and the worn condition of its teeth indicate it was of advanced age.

As the search is scaled down slightly ORRCA volunteers are looking south of the Stuarts Point footbridge in the hope perhaps the dugong is making its own way out to sea and on to warmer waters.

More information: Click Here

Related article: Dugong at Stuarts Point | experts will attempt to relocate it to warmer waters : Click Here


Biodiversity negates carbon storage in seagrasses, new study finds

07 August 2017, FIU News (USA)

FIU researchers take samples of deep sediments in Florida Bay.

Scientists are zeroing in on the seagrass meadows that could help slow down climate change.

Seagrass meadows are great absorbers of carbon dioxide from the air. But the algae, animals, corals and plants that live among them release large amounts of carbon dioxide, according to newly released research. The scientists are now identifying seagrass locations with fewer emitters to target for conservation.

Scientists at Florida International University examined seagrass meadows in Florida Bay, some of the largest on Earth, where waters are warm and plant and animal abundance is high. They compared these ecosystems to those in southeastern Brazil where meadows are smaller, waters are cooler, and plant and animal abundance is lower. They found that although Florida Bay's seagrasses act as carbon sinks, the organisms living among them offset the benefits of seagrass carbon storage by releasing carbon dioxide.

"In seagrass meadows, these two processes happen simultaneously and have opposite effects on carbon sequestration," said Jason Howard, researcher in FIU's Marine Education Research Initiative and lead author of the study. "If we want to mitigate the most carbon dioxide emissions, we need to understand these competing processes and choose conservation sites accordingly."

The world's seagrasses are disappearing at alarming rates because of grazing, overfishing, pollution and poor management. The findings could aid decision-makers in identifying seagrass meadows with greatest overall carbon dioxide storage potential, so they can target conservation efforts and maximize sequestration.

Scientists studying seagrasses have traditionally focused on the role of organic carbon in the carbon storage cycle. As seagrasses turn sunlight into energy, they take in carbon dioxide to make plant tissue. When they die, the tissue decomposes and organic carbon accumulates in the soil. This organic material is the basis of carbon storage inventories and mitigation plans. At the same time, the organisms living in seagrass beds build their skeletons and shells with calcium carbonate, which is made up of inorganic carbon. When the inorganic carbon is considered in carbon storage inventories and mitigation plans, the seagrass ecosystems of Brazil store more carbon dioxide than those in Florida Bay.

"The results of this study were totally unexpected," said James Fourqurean, director of FIU's Marine Education Research Initiative and co-author of the study. "They could influence the way seagrass carbon stores are inventoried at the national level as required by international climate change mitigation treaties."

Fourqurean has dedicated his career to seagrasses. His research provided the first global analysis of carbon stored in seagrasses. He has presented worldwide and testified before the European Union championing for Blue Carbon, a global initiative that allows regulated sources to buy credits for greenhouse emissions, and help restore and preserve seagrasses for mitigation. The money is used to preserve the world's seagrasses, mangroves, marshes and other resources that naturally store carbon.

Most seagrass research is done in areas with big seagrass meadows, including south Florida, the Mediterranean and southeast Asia. South America has been overlooked because of its lack of seagrass coverage and species diversity. Since the ability of seagrasses to store carbon varies from place to place, the researchers call for more thorough studies on the relationship between seagrasses, the local environment and the carbon cycle.

FIU's Marine Education Research Initiative is housed in the Institute of Water and Environment. FIU launched the institute in 2016 to address global water and environmental issues. It brings together some of FIU's top centers and programs to expand research and community engagement in the face of growing environmental threats, including the Center for Aquatic Chemistry and Ecotoxicology, Sea Level Solutions Center and Southeast Environmental Research Center, as well as Everglades programs and international water programs.

The study was recently published in Limnology and Oceanography. It was done in collaboration with the State University of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.

The study was funded by the Foundation for Support of Research in the State of Rio de Janeiro, FIU's Latin American and Caribbean Center, and the Florida Coastal Everglades Long Term Ecological Research (FCE LTER) Program. Housed at FIU, the FCE LTER Program brings together researchers from nearly 30 institutions to study how water, climate change and people impact the Florida Everglades.

More information: Click Here


Counting 'cows of the sea' in The Kimberley

07 July 2017, CSIRO (Australia)

Counting cows is relatively easy when they're quietly grazing in a paddock. Keeping stock of sea cows, on the other hand, is a challenge. The coastal waters of northwest Western Australia, encompassing the Kimberley and Pilbara regions down to Shark Bay, is home to one of the largest remaining dugong populations in the world. To gather vital information on the status of these populations, researchers are teaming up with Indigenous Rangers to add a wealth of local and historical knowledge to the best available scientific methods.

As both a Bardi Jawi woman and a research technician with CSIRO's Coastal Ecosystems team in Perth, Marlee Hutton knows how important it is for Indigenous communities to have access to good scientific information that's relevant for the decisions they're being confronted with. Growing up, she found there was a lack of people communicating with Indigenous communities in the Kimberley about the possible impacts of significant development proposals in the area.

"That's when I realised I'd really like to get involved in studying something to do with environmental or marine science, and maybe in the future link that with community work somewhere," says Hutton.

Her research has ranged from starfish distributions to turtle diets, and more recently counting dugong.

"I was invited on a trip to Broome. They trained me up to do environmental observations via aerial surveys," says Hutton.

"So we were there to observe dugongs in the Roebuck Bay and Eighty Mile Beach Marine Parks, and we were also able to observe a whole range of other species like dolphins, sharks, and sea snakes."

Hutton brings more than just passion and scientific knowledge to her work on marine ecosystems; she is keenly aware of the importance for the scientific community and Indigenous culture to share each other's knowledge.

"Most of the human contact with wildlife in that region is by Aboriginal people, so it makes sense to have an Indigenous involvement in these projects, as there really should be elsewhere," Hutton explains.

"People still hunt up there, so figuring out ways to balance the hunting with conservation is important."

Dugong remain culturally important and an important food source for many traditional owners around the top half of the country, which not only gives them experience most don't have, it also demands a responsibility for applying sound scientific knowledge to make hunting sustainable.

A face only a mother could love

While not exactly beautiful, dugongs are an important marine species, serving as a powerful indicator of the health of shallow coastal ecosystems. The large mammals are now protected as a vulnerable species, no longer hunted commercially for their meat but still sensitive to the loss of the seagrasses they graze upon.

Add in the effects of climate change, increasing ocean traffic, poaching, and coastal development, and the dugong isn't sailing in clear waters yet. That is why evidence based protection programs are so important.

Preserving numbers is hard to do when you don't know exactly how many dugong there are or how they move around. Australia's warm northern waters – from Shark Bay in the west to Moreton Bay in the east – are a safe home to at least 70,000 animals, based on aerial monitoring.

But waters aren't always crystal clear and the dugong only rises to poke its nostrils above the waterline for a sniff or two of air, making them hard to spot. Surveyors also find it hard to get out to the more remote sections of the northern coastline, especially around the Kimberley area.

That's where a bit of local knowledge can go a long way, saving researchers precious time by pointing out where the seagrass beds are.

"The Indigenous Rangers know exactly where to go," says Hutton.

Teaming up with history

A three year Western Australian Marine Science Institution (WAMSI) project has seen CSIRO researchers form long term partnerships with Indigenous coastal communities to share knowledge and skills in the gathering of data on dugong densities and movements.

Training staff from the Kimberley TAFE and other specialist consultants have been working closely with CSIRO researchers and representatives from the Balanggarra, Uunguu, Dambimangari and Bardi Jawi ranger groups to develop the most effective practices for monitoring the dugong populations, using standardised aerial survey methods employed in northern Australia and Torres Strait.

Trained up on the new survey methods, rangers headed out with researchers to scope out the coastlines and determine a base-line for not only dugong numbers, but turtles, dolphins, and other marine life. In exchange, the rangers provide a history of knowledge on dugong feeding grounds and the seasonal effects on distribution and general numbers.

The ongoing exchange is more than just a two-way street, with collaborations extending through different communities of Traditional Owners. For the cultural groups of the Kimberley this sort of work forms part of their plans to keep Country and culture strong.

For example, the Uunguu (Wunambal Gaambera) Healthy Country Plan identifies mangguru (marine turtle) and balguja (dugong) as important indicator species of cultural health:

"We need to know more about where they travel, their habitats in our country and how to look after them. Working together…using our traditional knowledge, doing surveys…will help us keep these animals healthy in our country as well as keeping our saltwater traditions strong."
(Wunambal Gaambera Aboriginal Corporation Healthy Country Plan: A plan for looking after Wunambal Gaambera Country 2010 – 2020. Page 27)

From a state and national perspective, the data collected will inform management planning for sea country and co-managed state marine parks in the Kimberley and help predict the impact of environmental changes on seagrass ecosystems and dugong numbers.

The need for good information is important for all parts of the Australian community in order for us to adapt to changing climate and economics, and culture as well.

"Where I come from the hunting and eating of dugongs is a very significant cultural practice. I think good relationships and continued monitoring will be really important to keep communities informed about any changes," says Hutton.

"The need to change practices, if that time comes, will be a really delicate issue."

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