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Dugong found washed ashore

28 February 2015, The Hindu (India)

Remains:Carcass of the dugong that was washed ashore at Thalaithoppu in Ramanathapuram district.

The carcass of a two-year-old female Dugong was found washed ashore at Thalaithoppu, near Periyapattinam on Friday morning.

Forest officials said an area watcher who was on an anti-poaching mission on the shore found the carcass washed ashore with injury on its forehead. On being alerted, Range officer, accompanied by Dr. M. Mohamed Nizamudhin, Veterinary Assistant Surgeon, Valantharavai, inspected the carcass and burnt and buried it after post mortem.

Dr. Nizamudhin said the marine mammal, weighing 220 kg, could have died due to head injury and internal bleeding. It could have hit against a rock or a propeller, he said.

There was also an aberration in the abdomen, suggesting that it could have been attacked by Thirukkai fish with its poisonous sting but that could not have been the cause of death, he added.

Mr Ganesalingam said the Dugong measured 2.5 metres long with a circumference measuring 289 cm. Carcass of Dugong getting washed ashore in the Palk Bay was common and this was the first time in recent years, the carcass was found washed ashore in the Gulf of Mannar region, he said.

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South West conservation zones "applauded" in call for further action

24 February 2015, Western Morning News (UK)

Scientists have praised efforts to protect marine plant life in the South West in their campaign to secure “further urgent action” for ecosystems across the UK. Members of the organisation Project Seagrass “applauded” the Government for including seagrass meadows in two new Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) in the region. The researchers described the move as a “welcome” step towards preserving “critical” marine habitats for the future. And in their response to the Government’s latest round of MCZ proposals, the group has called for similar recognition to be extended to seagrass meadows around the nation’s coastline.

The letter to Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), concerns plans for 23 new off-shore conservation sites, including sites at Mounts Bay, Land’s End, Newquay and Hartland Point. Since the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 came into force, 28 MCZs have been established in the UK, with the aim of conserving “rare, threatened and representative” habitats and species. The four Project Seagrass researchers commended the creation of an MCZ at Torbay and recommendations for further zones at Mount’s Bay in Cornwall and the Needles near the Isle of Wight – all of which cover seagrass habitat. But they have criticised the country’s wider “lack of recognition” of important seagrass ecosystems, and its “inadequate commitment” to seagrass conservation.

“Seagrass meadows play a significant role in supporting coastal biodiversity and fisheries productivity,” the group states. “But UK seagrass meadows are under extreme pressure. “As primary producers living in sheltered coastal waters, they are subjected to the problems associated with poor water quality and limited catchment management. “This is compounded by other physical stressors such as anchor damage, mooring damage, destructive fishing practices and coastal development. They conclude: “Whilst we applaud the inclusion of seagrass in two proposed MCZs… there exists sufficient scientific evidence for the long term protection of all seagrass meadows in the UK.”

Dr Richard Unsworth, who heads the project alongside Benjamin Jones, Richard Lilley and Leanne Cullen-Unsworth, warned that the UK had already lost “a large proportion” of its seagrass. “We cannot allow any more to be lost,” he added. He explained that the team had identified several key sites around the South coast which they hoped the Government would reconsider for MCZ designation. “These sites all contain extensive seagrass that is under threat and needs protection,” he said. Defra is due to begin consultations on the second round of MCZs in April.

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Trapped manatees rescued from Florida storm drain

24 February 2015, SMH (Australia)


About 20 Florida manatees were freed by early Tuesday morning from a storm drain near Cape Canaveral, where they were apparently trying to warm themselves, officials and local media said.

Video footage showed a rescuer comforting one manatee floating at the opening of the pipe, which was cut open during the hours-long rescue.

The footage, posted online by Central Florida News 13 and Florida Today newspaper, also showed a manatee being carried in a sling to a nearby canal, where it was released to cheers from onlookers, and two other manatees being petted after being hoisted out of the water by heavy machinery.

The rescue in Satellite Beach, a town on the Atlantic coast 24 kilometres south of Cape Canaveral, started mid-afternoon on Monday when Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission biologist, Ann Spellman, sounded the alarm, according to Florida Today.

She told the paper that her hunch led city workers to check the 30 to 45 metre-long drain pipe.

Manatees, also known as sea cows, often leave the Indian River Lagoon during cold snaps for warmer waters in the canals and had probably followed each other into the pipe, she said.

The rescue wrapped up at about 2am local time. Satellite Beach Fire Department Captain Jay Dragon said, with local police working alongside experts from SeaWorld.

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Turtles stayed put as Cyclone Marcia raged overhead: Researcher

23 February 2015, Brisbane Times (Australia)

Green turtles being tracked by James Cook University researchers stayed put as Cyclone Marcia passed overhead. (Photo: Supplied)

Turtles being monitored off the Central Queensland coast appeared blissfully unaware of the destructive force of Cyclone Marcia, a researcher says.

James Cook University lecturer Mark Hamann said flatback and green turtles had been tagged and monitored for months as part of research in to how they interacted with seagrass beds and their broader habitat.

But he said they barely moved as the Category 5 cyclone passed overhead.

"They basically just stayed there," Associate Professor Hamann said.

"Their environment might have been pretty messed up for about three hours but it all would have been fairly uneventful for them."

Associate Professor Hamann said while it was interesting to see how the turtles reacted to the cyclone, it was "kind of an accidental project" in the context of the broader research.

Research so far had found the turtle population had stayed in a small area for several months.

"They are living in a really small area really ... ranging from a couple of square kilometres up to 20 or 25 square kilometres.

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£500k project will ensure fragile Devon marine environment is protected

20 February 2015, Western Morning News (UK)

Seagrass meadow. (Photo Keith Hiscock)

A fragile marine environment which is home to seahorses and other creatures is to be the subject of a research project worth £475,000.

The National Marine Aquarium, in Plymouth, has appointed two project officers for its Community Seagrass Initiative which focuses on the conservation of seagrass and seahorses.

Jessica Mead and Rachel Cole will be based in Weymouth and Torbay respectively, and will be responsible for recruiting volunteers to educate local communities and water users about seagrass meadows.

The project will cover the 191-mile stretch of coastline from Looe to Weymouth.

Everyone from school children, sailors, canoeists, divers and kayakers will be encouraged to help collect vital information to aid the mapping and surveying of seagrass meadows along the south coast.

The appointments follow £475,000 funding for the scheme that was received from the Heritage Lottery Fund last year for the three-year ‘citizen science project’ which will aim to find out more about seagrass and seahorses in the region and help to conserve fragile seagrass eco-systems.

Weymouth project officer Jessica Mead, a marine biology graduate, has volunteered on numerous marine conservation projects, including a 10 week post in the Philippines where she worked with dive centres to minimise their impacts on coral reefs.

“Many people don't realise that these amazing meadows of seagrass, which are home to lots of fascinating creatures including seahorses, can be found right on their doorstep,” she said. “Seagrass is under a lot of pressure from humans and I hope that by the end of this three-year project the Community Seagrass Initiative will have helped to ensure these sites are well-managed in the future and the valuable species that live there are protected.

“For me, one of the most exciting and important parts of the project is raising awareness of this high priority habitat, showing people just how valuable it is to us and how everyone can do their bit to help protect it.”

Torbay project officer Rachel Cole also a marine biology graduate, has spent the last three years managing an eco-tourism and diving expedition business for TV adventurer Monty Halls in Dartmouth.

She added: “So much of the marine conservation efforts in the UK focuses on the large charismatic animals that the general public relate to, but sometimes smaller and very important habitats need just as much attention.

“It’s habitats like seagrass beds that provide food and ecosystem services for our coastal waters.”

Jessica and Rachel will be co-ordinating events and activities from March.

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Dugongs Eating, Swimming, and Serving as Seagrass "Mascots"

18 February 2015, Youtube


Perhaps best known for inspiring mermaid folklore in the Pacific, the rotund, graceful dugongs—close relatives of manatees and sea cows—are stars of Malaysia’s shallow ocean meadows. See dugongs eating and swimming. Plus, learn more facts about the unique relationship between vulnerable coastlines and these loveable, but critically endangered, seagrass "mascots."

Malaysia’s coast is undergoing rapid, large-scale development, putting pressure on the region’s sensitive seagrass meadows and the many animals that call them home. Seagrass meadows are essential to the survival of a wide variety of species. But no other animals are more directly dependent on these meadows than the dugong, which have developed unique adaptations to seagrass life over the centuries.

This Pacific cousin to the manatee is critically endangered in Malaysia, and it relies solely on seagrass for its food and habitat. Pew marine fellow Louisa Ponnampalam is working off the coast of Johor, Malaysia, to identify habitats that are crucial for one of the country’s last remaining populations of dugongs.


No Help for the Endangered Dugong

18 February 2015, Courthouse News Service (USA)

Dugongs feeding on seagrass (Photo: file)

Threats to the endangered Okinawa dugong, a manatee-like marine mammal, are not enough to stop construction of a military base in Okinawa, a federal judge ruled.

"We are disappointed with the outcome and plan to appeal the decision to the Federal Court of Appeals," Peter Galvin, director of programs and co-founder of the Center for Biological Diversity told Courthouse News.

"The decision is not good news for the already critically imperiled Okinawa dugong. We plan to redouble our efforts with our partners to help the Okinawa dugong avoid imminent extinction," Galvin said of the Feb. 13 ruling by U.S. District Judge Edwin Chen.

The dugong is one of four species of the order Sirenia; the other three species are manatees. Dugongs live in sea-grass beds in shallow coastal waters of the Pacific and Indian Oceans. They grow up to 9 feet long, weigh 550 to 1,000 lbs, and can live for up to 70 years.

Okinawa dugongs have smooth, dark gray or bronze skin, fluked tails and downturned muzzles with stiff, whisker-like bristles they use to dig up sea grasses, their primary food source.

Dugongs were listed as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act in 1972 and are considered critically endangered in Japan. The dugong population off the eastern coast of Okinawa is a very small, isolated group with fewer than 50 members. Their existence is threatened by habitat destruction caused by U.S. military exercises, noise pollution, and marine water pollution, according to the Center for Biological Diversity's dugong web page.

Despite these threats, the U.S. Department of Defense and the Japanese government in May 2006 agreed to relocate U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from Ginowan City, Okinawa, to an offshore location near Camp Schwab next to Henoko and Oura Bays. Construction plans include two 1,600-meter-long runways built on landfill that may destroy sea-grass beds in Henoko Bay, according to the ruling.

The Center for Biological Diversity, three other environmental groups and three Japanese residents challenged the project in September 2003 and filed an amended complaint after the May 2006 agreement.

Among other things, they argued that construction of the military base would destroy Okinawa dugong habitat, and that noise, excessive light and pollution from construction activities would harm the animals. They also claimed the Department of Defense violated section 402 of the National Historic Preservation Act by concluding that the project would have no significant impacts upon the Okinawa dugong and its habitat.

Though U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel in 2008 awarded summary judgment to the plaintiffs, the court administratively closed the case due to uncertainties about the project's future until August 2014, when it was reopened and assigned to Judge Chen after Judge Patel retired.

About a month later, the government moved to dismiss on the grounds that the court lacked jurisdiction. Chen sided with the government, finding that the court could not stop construction of a military base being built on Japanese soil as part of treaty obligations between the United States and Japan.

Requests for the court to enjoin construction until the government fulfills its obligations under the National Historic Preservation Act fail because they are beyond the court's ability to grant, Chen said. The court has no ability, or the responsibility, to weigh the balance of harm between protecting dugongs from possible extinction and the foreign policy issue of maintaining the United States' military presence in Asia in light of the nuclear threat posed by North Korea, or ensuring that relations between the United States and Japan remain friendly, the ruling states.

The environmentalists also sought declaratory judgment that the government's conclusion that the project would not harm Okinawa dugongs was arbitrary and capricious under the Administrative Procedures Act, and an injunction setting aside the NHPA findings.

Though Chen refused to dismiss these claims on the basis that they are enjoined by questions of foreign policy and national defense, as the government argued, he concluded that they must nevertheless be dismissed because the court cannot grant the plaintiffs any effective relief to protect Okinawa dugongs.

Since the plaintiffs' declaratory relief claims are strictly procedural, the government is not likely to halt construction on the base or alter its NHPA findings simply because the court deems the findings flawed and orders it to reconsider them, Chen wrote.

"After decades of negotiations, the American and Japanese governments have made a final and (apparently) irreversible decision to construct the challenged military base, and as suggested above, this court lacks the power to enjoin or otherwise alter that decision. Given that the military base will be built regardless of what this court might determine regarding the DoD's [Department of Defense] compliance with the procedural mandates of the NHPA, plaintiffs cannot show that an order requiring the government's compliance with a purely procedural statute will in any way redress their claimed injuries. Thus ... plaintiffs' entire lawsuit is hereby dismissed with prejudice," Chen wrote.

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FAU Harbor Branch researchers working on two projects to track, improve quality of lagoon

13 February 2015, (USA)

Lake Okeechobee water releases started pouring into the St. Lucie Estuary Friday at the fastest rate so far this year.

Scientists with Florida Oceanographic say salinity levels in the water decreased considerably during the last month of lower discharges.

No marine life is being affected yet. Scientists say the heavier dose of fresh water could start to become risky soon, especially for oyster beds and seagrass.

The rate of discharges is still lower than what the area saw during the summer of 2013.

That's when toxic conditions developed, harming marine life and sea grass.

Right now, the Lake Okeechobee water level is just below 15 feet.

The Army Corps of Engineers says that level is too high going into the rainy season.

As fresh water infiltrates the estuary, researchers are working diligently to look for solutions for potential damage.

FAU Harbor Branch Research Professor, Dennis Hanisak, is involved with two developing projects.

First, researchers are looking to install water quality sensors called LOBOS at several locations in the St. Lucie Estuary.

The sensors would detect salinity levels, temperatures, nutrient levels and light in the water.

The sensors could digitally send data back to researchers every hour.

It's a new way to learn how quickly the discharges impact seagrass and marine life.

"It does it 24/7 regardless of conditions. If we have a cold front coming in, it's still going to be working. We might not want to go out because it's a little chilly and we might want to wait a few days, but then we might miss things," Hanisak said.

Also, FAU's Harbor Branch is hoping to create a new seagrass nursery. Researchers would collect seagrass floating on the water, plant it in the nursery and grow more seagrass.

It would all eventually be replanted in the estuary.

It's an effort to help replace seagrass that has been damaged from fresh water releases over the years.

"The goal would be to recover everything we lost, then hopefully beyond that," Hanisak said.

Hanisak says he would like to start planting the seagrass this summer once they raise enough money. They would replant the seagrass next summer.

The LOBOS are scheduled to be installed by this summer.

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Camera-carrying turtles reveal seagrass decline

13 February 2015, Science Network Western Australia  (Australia)

Shark Bay was home to lush meadows of the seagrass Amphibolis antarctica before the 2011 marine heat wave. (Photo Derek Burkholder)

SEA turtles fitted with video cameras have revealed a decline in seagrass health in Shark Bay following a catastrophic marine heat wave in 2011.

Animal-borne videos have previously been used to study animal behaviour, but this is believed to have been the first use of such videos to assess ecosystem health.

Florida International University post-doctoral researcher Jordan Thomson says the footage, combined with traditional standardised seagrass surveys, reveals that the heat wave caused more than 90 per cent dieback of the dominant seagrass, Amphibolis antarctica, in several regions of Shark Bay.

“Turtle-borne video footage provides unique insights into the health of seagrass meadows from the perspective of resident wildlife that depend on these habitats,” Dr Thomson says.

Dr Thomson’s team compared the video footage, captured in 2011–12, with similar footage taken in the early 2000s.

“In the older footage, from 2000 to 2003, turtles spent 97 per cent of their time swimming over lush, dense seagrass.

“In comparison, after the heat wave, turtles almost exclusively encountered sparse, defoliated or dead seagrass that was overgrown by algae.”

Dr Thomson says the findings are alarming because of the important role of seagrass in the ecosystem.

“Seagrasses are marine foundation species that support diverse food webs and provide valuable ecosystem services,” he says.

Dr Thomson’s study has also revealed the seagrass die-off has negatively affected the health of green turtles (Chelonia mydas), which rely on seagrasses for food and feeding habitat.

The researchers assessed the health of 424 green turtles in Shark Bay between 2000 and 2013, finding the turtles were more likely to fall in a lower health status category after the heat wave than before.

What’s more, turtle health status declined consistently from 2011, the year of the heat wave, to 2013.

Dr Thomson says Shark Bay was one of the worst affected areas during the heatwave, with average water temperatures in the region spiking by up to four degrees Celsius in February 2011.

The heat wave was caused by a combination of factors including strong flow of the Leeuwin Current, which brings warm tropical water south along the WA coast, and near-record La Niña conditions.

This event is concerning because, with ocean temperatures in this part of the Indian Ocean gradually increasing, marine heat waves may become more frequent and intense, causing even more pronounced impacts on coastal ecosystems.

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Dugong poachers face fines of up to $1 million

12 February 2015, ABC Online (Australia)

Illegal poachers of dugongs and turtles in far north Queensland are about to face tougher penalties, as the Federal Government announces new measures to protect threatened species.

New laws passed in the Senate have increased the hunting fines to up to $1 million in Commonwealth marine areas.

Environment Minister is Greg Hunt said it was important legislation.

"I am determined to wipe out any residual practice of poaching of dugongs and turtles," he said.

"I think what we find is that these are majestic creatures."

Traditional owners welcomed the move. Gavin Singleton, a project officer at the Dawul Wuru Indigenous Corporation in the Cairns region, said poaching was an insidious practice in far north Queensland.

"We do have a lot of people who are taking those kinds of marine resources," he said.

"It's unsustainable."

Mr Singleton said he hoped the tougher fines would deter poachers while native title holders should still be able to hunt dugongs.

Under the Native Title Act of 1993, Indigenous people with native title rights can hunt marine turtles and dugong for personal, domestic or non-commercial communal needs.

"For traditional owners, within the traditional sea country area, that's where there's a bit of uncertainty," he said.

Dugongs are among many Australian species under serious threat.

A new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences said 21 per cent of Australian mammals were threatened.

Co-author Dr John Woinarski, a conservation professor at Charles Darwin University, warned the situation for threatened mammals was "catastrophic".

The Federal Government has announced it would give an additional $743,000 to boost the work of 11 conservation projects around the country.

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Seagrass helps protect natural 'carbon sinks', study finds

12 February 2015, ABC Online (Australia)

The disappearance of seagrass meadows could be contributing to greenhouse gas emissions, an international study has found.

Research conducted at Oyster Harbour in Albany found centuries-old carbon dioxide deposits have been created by seagrass meadows.

Scientists at the University of Western Australia's Oceans Institute, in conjunction with overseas researchers, discovered the meadows act as carbon "sinks", preventing the erosion of carbon deposits and the subsequent release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

When the seagrass is removed, usually by dredging or mooring but sometimes by severe storms, the old carbon is eroded and freed.

"If we destroy the meadows, if the plants are not there anymore, it's not only that the plants are not there, but the sediments below it can get eroded, and that's when the carbon is [released]," co-author of the study Professor Pere Masqué said.

"When the plants disappear, carbon accumulated for decades, even millennia, [goes too]."

"We're talking about the erosion of up to a metre of soil.

"That's a lot of time of accumulating carbon."

Professor Masque said this was bad news for the atmosphere.

"The amount of C02 that we have in the atmosphere is the main driver of the greenhouse effect, and [therefore] the rise of temperatures and the global change we're experiencing," he said.

Revegetation restores carbon sinks

But the research also had a positive outcome.

Scientists discovered that revegetation of sea meadows like at Oyster Harbour prevented the erosion of carbon deposits and restored the ability for the meadows to act as carbon sinks.

A long-term restoration of seagrass in the Albany meadow, which was lost between the 1960s and 1980s, has been highly successful.

"Replanting seagrass meadows like they did in Oyster Harbour actually gets the system back to what it used to be," Professor Masqué said.

Lead study author Professor Núria Marbà said this could have a positive impact on a global scale.

"The conservation and restoration of heavily impacted areas can help mitigate man-made emissions," she said.

Professor Masqué said many areas across the world could benefit from seagrass revegetation projects.

"These [projects] can help reconstruct carbon sinks, as well as preserve older deposits," he said.

"It's doable, and it's doable in a very large number of situations in the world."

The research has been published in the Journal of Ecology.


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Sunlight to the Seagrasses: US Forest Service Research Shines Light on Threatened Coastal Plant

11 February 2015, (press release) (USA)

Healthy seagrass meadows prevent erosion on coasts, store carbon, and provide marine animals with food and habitat. (Photo National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency)

Just off Florida’s 8,000 miles of coastline and tidal areas, in shallow sunlit waters, over two million acres of seagrass meadows waft in the ocean currents.

Besides providing food and habitat for manatees, sea turtles, shellfish, and other animals, seagrasses protect coasts from erosion and store vast quantities of carbon dioxide.

“Seagrasses grow off the coast of many other U.S. states, including North Carolina and Virginia, as well as around the world,” said U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station scientist Zanethia Choice. “Globally, their economic value is nearly $4 trillion.”

Although more closely related to lilies than to terrestrial grasses, like most of their distant grass kin, seagrasses require plenty of sunlight. Poor water quality reduces the amount of sunlight that reaches them, and seagrasses around the world are threatened by practices that affect water quality such as wastewater disposal and fertilizer runoff.

Choice, a natural resource specialist at the research center’s Center for Bottomland Hardwoods Research, and her colleagues from the University of Florida recently studied light requirements for four common seagrass species along the Florida Gulf Coast. The study was published in the Marine Pollution Bulletin.

“We found a direct relationship between the amount of light reaching the ocean floor and the amount and diversity of seagrasses growing there,” said Choice.

In 90 percent of sites where 13 years of historic data showed that adequate sunlight had been reaching the ocean floor, researchers found thriving seagrass meadows. However, areas with suitable light but no seagrass were most likely due to unsuitable substrate, temperature, and the amounts of dissolved salts and oxygen.

Seagrasses are adapted to nutrient-poor waters. When nutrients – whether from fertilizer runoff, wastewater disposal, or other human activities – wash into the ocean, they float suspended in the ocean waters. Seagrasses cannot use these suspended nutrients very efficiently, but tiny algae called phytoplankton can. Phytoplankton thrive in nutrient-rich waters, and as they grow, they intercept light and shade the ocean floor. Seagrasses were notably absent from areas with high nutrient levels.

Some seagrasses such as star grass could survive with as little as 8 percent of sunlight reaching the ocean floor, while other species required 25 percent sunlight or more.

“Light requirements for all the seagrasses we studied differed from previous findings at other locations,” said Choice. “The differences are probably due to morphological and physiological differences, and adaptation to light histories at specific locations.”

Understanding the light requirements of different seagrass species is essential for coastal managers who want to maintain seagrass habitats, and managing for seagrass health also provides water quality targets that can benefit other marine life.

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The Ecosystem Services of Seagrass Beds in a CO2-Enriched World

11 February 2015, CO2 Science Magazine

Paper Reviewed
Garrard, S.L. and Beaumont, N.J. 2014. The effect of ocean acidification on carbon storage and sequestration in seagrass beds: a global and UK context. Marine Pollution Bulletin 86: 138-146.

Introducing their work, Garrard and Beaumont (2014) state that seagrass beds provide numerous important ecosystem services, such as "protection of the coastline, bioremediation of waste, food provision and maintenance of marine biodiversity," citing the works of Jackson et al. (2012) and Cullen-Unsworth and Unsworth (2013). And in light of these facts, they review how the several mentioned services are likely to be impacted by the ongoing rise in the atmosphere's CO2 concentration.

Based on projections of future anthropogenic CO2 emissions and their impacts on the above- and below-ground growth of seagrass, the two UK researchers estimate that over the remainder of this century, the global standing stock of seagrass "is expected to increase by 94%, whilst the standing stock in the UK is expected to increase by 82%." And they calculate that the associated value of this increase in both above- and below-ground carbon sequestration capacity is - when summed over the entire world - approximately 500 and 600 billion pounds sterling ($765-918 billion USD), respectively, between 2010 and 2100.

And so it is that they conclude that "sustainable management of seagrasses is critical to avoid their continued degradation and loss of carbon sequestration capacity," and, it might be added, to maintain - or even enhance - their many important ecosystem services.

Cullen-Unsworth, L and Unsworth, R. 2013. Seagrass meadows, ecosystem services, and sustainability. Environment 55: 14-27.

Jackson, E.L., Langmead, O., Beaumont, N., Potts, T. and Hattam, C.A. 2012. Seagrass Ecosystem Interactions with Social Economic Systems, UK Defra Funded Study.

More information: Click Here


Seagrass loss linked to greenhouse gas emissions

11 February 2015, University World News (Australia)

An international team of researchers has found that the disappearance of seagrass meadows could be contributing to the release of carbon dioxide that has been stored for centuries under the sea.

The team of six researchers from Spain and Australia studied the impact of disappearing seagrass meadows, Posidonia australis, at Oyster Harbour in Albany, Western Australia, where long-term restoration of seagrass has been highly successful.

These unusual marine flowering plants are called ‘seagrasses’ because in many species the leaves are long and narrow and often grow in large “meadows that look like grassland”. But they also account for more than 10% of the ocean’s total carbon storage and, per hectare, they hold twice as much carbon dioxide as rainforests.

Every year, seagrasses sequester about 27 million tonnes of CO2 but global warming is expected to cause some species to become extinct, resulting in the release of vast quantities of CO2 back into the atmosphere.

In the latest study, the team of scientists used sediment-dating techniques to quantify the accumulation of carbon in repopulated areas and calculate the erosion of carbon in areas that were not revegetated.

Writing in a paper published in the Journal of Ecology, the researchers say the results suggest that restoring seagrass meadows would prevent the erosion of important deposits of organic carbon.

Meadows act as carbon sinks

Lead author Professor Núria Marbà, from the Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Studies in Spain, said the loss of underwater seagrass meadows posed two problems: “These areas can no longer capture and store atmospheric carbon dioxide, and they can become a source of this gas by eroding and freeing decades-old, and even centuries-old carbon stored in the meadow,” Marbà said.

“Seagrass meadows act as carbon sinks on a global scale and the conservation and restoration of heavily impacted areas can help mitigate man-made emissions.”

The researchers assessed whether revegetation of underwater meadows was effective in restoring their capacity to act as carbon sinks in relation to the time needed to achieve this over decades.

Marbà said revegetation of meadows prevented the erosion of these organic carbon deposits that had accumulated over hundreds of years. The study results indicated that the loss of this ecosystem must have also represented an important loss in its capacity to sequester and store carbon in the sediments of underwater meadows.

Oyster Harbour is colonised by a meadow of Posidonia australis that was mostly lost from the 1960s to the end of the 1980s. After 1994, the meadow recovered, in part because of revegetation efforts under the direction of co-author Geoff Bastyan, an honorary research fellow at the University of Western Australia’s school of plant biology.

Bastyan was named a “Southseas Oceans Hero” last year, an award given annually to a champion from the community whose work addresses solutions to degradation and loss of ocean resources. The seagrass restoration project at Oyster Harbour was carried out until 2006 and has become the most successful seagrass restoration project in the world.

Another co-author of the study, Professor Pere Masqué from the Autonomous University of Barcelona, Spain, said the potential areas available worldwide to carry out seagrass revegetation projects were enormous.

“These can help reconstruct carbon sinks, as well as preserve older deposits,” Masqué said.

The results of the study will help dispel doubts that were hindering the development of ‘blue carbon’ strategies in underwater meadows. ‘Blue carbon’ is the term given to carbon captured by marine and coastal ecosystems in the form of biomass and sediments.

More information: Click Here


Loss of posidonia reduces CO2 storage areas and could contribute to gas emissions

09 February 2015, Phys.Org

Posidonia australis meadow. (Photo Gary A. Kendrick)

The loss of underwater posidonia meadows poses two problems: these areas can no longer capture and store atmospheric CO2, and, moreover, they can become a source of this gas by eroding and freeing the carbon stored in the meadow during decades or even centuries.

This is one of the main conclusions reached by an international team which included the participation of the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) and the Oceans Institute of the University of Western Australia. The team assessed whether the revegetation of underwater meadows is effective in restoring their capacity to act as carbon sinks in relation to the time needed to achieve this (decades). The study was published in the Journal of Ecology.

"The revegetation of meadows prevents the erosion of these organic carbon deposits which have accumulated throughout centuries in meadows which have now disappeared," points out CSIC researcher Núria Marbà from the Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Studies (IMEDEA).

"Our results indicate that the loss of this ecosystem must have also represented an important loss in the capacity to sequester and store carbon in the sediments of underwater meadows," she adds.

Pere Masqué, at the UAB and co-author of the study, says that "the potential areas available worldwide to carry out marine angiosperm revegetation projects is enormous", and adds that "these can help reconstruct carbon sinks, as well as preserve older deposits".

Seagrass meadows are relevant as carbon sinks at a global scale and that is why their conservation and restoration can contribute to mitigating anthropogenic emissions, researchers state. In addition, the results of this study contribute to dispel the doubts which were hindering the development of blue carbon strategies in underwater meadows. Blue carbon is the term given to carbon captured by marine and coastal ecosystems in the form of biomass and sediments.

The researchers explain that the study was conducted at Oyster Harbour, in Western Australia. "This area is colonised by a meadow of Posidonia australis that largely was lost from the 1960s to the end of the 1980s. After 1994, the meadow recovered in part thanks to a series of revegetation efforts which went on until 2006 under the direction of Geoff Bastyan, one of the authors of the research".

The study relied on using sediment-dating techniques to quantify the accumulation of carbon in repopulated areas and the erosion of historic carbon in areas that were not revegetated. No other revegetation project has been monitored this long in all the world, Marbà concludes.

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Digging for dugongs

03 February 2015, Australian Museum (Australia)

Palaeontologist William Dun (left) and Australian Museum Curator Robert Etheridge Jnr stand watch as Dugong bones are excavated from Shea’s Creek, Alexandria, Sydney. (Photographer unknown. Australian Museum Archives. V9817)

We know why these gentlemen are digging in their three-piece suits, but their identity has been a moot point among archivists.

This famous photograph from the Museum Archives dates from 1896 and was taken at Shea’s Creek, Alexandria, during the construction of Alexandra Canal.

Workers had uncovered numerous large bones, but further excavation of the site, near the Ricketty Street bridge, was delayed until the Museum’s Curator, Robert Etheridge Jnr (second from left), and Government Palaeontologist William Dun (far left), could inspect it.

The bones, later identified as Dugong, were (and are) of great scientific interest. The Dugong is a warm-water tropical marine mammal, and this deposit was hundreds of kilometres south of its range. Further the fossilised bones were ‘confusedly heaped together’ and revealed cut marks which the authors attributed to an Aboriginal stone tool.

So who are the men in the photograph? The handwritten registration of the glass-plate negative in the Museum photographic collection identifies the two standing men as Etheridge and Dun.

Etheridge presented a paper about the discovery to a meeting of the Royal Society of New South Wales on 5 August 1896 with co-authors JW Grimshaw (an engineer on the excavation and amateur scientist) and geologist TW Edgeworth David.

The paper noted that the bones were initially detected in the presence of ‘one of us’ (the engineer, Grimshaw) with the later excavation ‘in the presence of two of us’. The next day’s report of the meeting in the Sydney Morning Herald identified these two as Grimshaw and Etheridge.

The identity of the fourth man is not recorded, but if the article, photograph and newspaper report are correct, he could not have been Edgeworth David as some authors have erroneously inferred.

The scientists concluded that the occurrence of Dugong bones so far south indicated recent changes (in geological terms) in sea level and water temperature. It wasn’t until 2004 that Dr Robert Haworth and colleagues at the University of New England carbon-dated the fossils to around 5500 years BP.

The human markings on the fossils also provided the first archaeological evidence of long-standing Aboriginal occupation of the area, which was reinforced by the recovery of a number of stone hatchets from the excavation. The fossil bones and one of the hatchet heads are still held in the Australian Museum collection.

As a footnote, the Alexandra Canal was originally envisaged as a grand waterway for transporting goods between Botany Bay and Port Jackson at Circular Quay, but the cost proved prohibitive and the plan was abandoned after the completion of just a few kilometres.

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“Seagrass rehabilitation can mitigate impact of climate change”

09 February 2015, The Hindu (India)

A view of rehabilitated seagrass site on sea bed off Tuticorin coast. (Photo Special Arrangement )

Seagrass, which acts as nursery for many marine organisms and is feed for endangered dugongs, has been successfully rehabilitated along Tuticorin coast.

Seagrass was rehabilitated on the seabed within six months and its survival rate was between 85 and 90 per cent, J.K. Patterson Edward, Director, Suganthi Devadason Marine Research Institute (SDMRI), Tuticorin, told The Hindu here on Sunday.

With funding support from Mangroves for the Future Programme of International Union of Conservation of Natural Resources (IUCN) India, researchers took up conservation of seagrass from threats caused by bottom trawling. It would enhance fisheries productivity.

Traditional fishermen from over 50 coastal villages from Pamban to Athiramapattinam had been depending on seagrass-associated fishery for their livelihood. Seagrass was responsible for about 15 per cent of total carbon storage in oceans across the world, he said, adding its rehabilitation would create a viable adaptive mechanism to mitigate climate change impacts.

Seagrass rehabilitation was carried out in one square kilometre of degraded area outside Koswari Island with 400 PVC pipes. Over 20 per cent of seagrass beds had been degraded mainly due to bottom trawling, Dr. Edward noted.

He said “seagrass meadows are ecologically sensitive habitats and it plays a role in safeguarding a number of endangered species, including dugongs, turtles and sea horses”. Seagrass meadows also bound sediments to reduce coastal erosion, he added.

The low-cost technology was adopted under this programme to ensure high returns of fisheries. Associated fauna like bivalve, gastropod, echinoderms, sea anemone and sponges also started appearing in the rehabilitated area.

Fish species such as Lutjanus sp., Epinephelus sp., Scolopsis sp., Terapon sp., Sardinella sp., Caranx sp., Ostracion sp. and Lactoria sp. were also reported in the area, he noted.

Luxuriant and patch seagrass areas were found in around 300 square kilometres in Palk Bay and the Gulf of Mannar, he added.

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Seagrass isn't sexy, but 'nurseries of the Gulf' are a key part of oil spill restoration

06 February 2015, (USA)

Underwater seagrass meadows are a vital habitat for juvenile fish, shrimp and crabs in Alabama's coastal waters. (Photo Dauphin Island Sea Lab)

Ask the average person how important submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) is in their daily life, and the likely response is among 50 shades of "meh." The grouper that person ate for dinner, however, would likely have a very different response. 

Often out of sight and out of mind for the general public, seagrasses are vital to the health of the overall ecosystem and serve as a nursery ground for juvenile fish and invertebrates. Those who study coastal ecology, or make their living pulling fish, shrimp and crabs from the water, know the vital role of SAVs in the complex Gulf ecosystem. 

The state of Alabama hasn't forgotten the importance of seagrass beds. One of five projects the state submitted for consideration to the federal Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, the Alabama Submerged Aquatic Vegetation Restoration and Monitoring Project seeks to use RESTORE Act funding to study, map and restore SAVs in Alabama's coastal waters.

At an estimated cost of only $875,000 the project is one of the least expensive proposals, but proponents say it can have a significant impact for its relatively light investment. 

The project proposal cites a study estimating that more than 70 percent of recreationally and commercially important species in the Gulf spend some portion of their lifecycles in seagrasses, usually in the early stages taking shelter from predators. That list includes blue crabs, shrimp, speckled trout, red drum, some species of grouper, water fowl.

"The Gulf is a dangerous place for these animals," said Ken Heck, a senior marine scientist at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab who has done extensive work studying SAVs. "If you're not in some kind of shelter and you're a little shrimp or crab or fish then you're in danger. We can see that because when you put a piece of bait in the open water, how long does it take for it to get eaten? Not very long usually."

In addition to the habitat benefit, seagrass beds also improve water quality by using excess nutrients from the water column, trapping sediment and have been shown to reduce underwater and shoreline erosion. 

Where did the seagrass go?

That critically important habitat is disappearing in the waters off Alabama, and around the world. In the waters of Mobile Bay, Perdido Bay and Mississippi Sound, Heck said that roughly half of observed seagrass beds have disappeared, based on old aerial photographs.

"The best estimate in the Alabama area is that roughly half of all the submerged vegetation that used to be present is no longer present," Heck said. "We don't have really good quantitative information because people weren't measuring the size of these vegetated areas back 50, 60 years ago. There's some guesswork involved but there's no doubt that we've lost quite a lot."

Carl Ferraro, a biologist for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources who helped put together the state's project proposal said the seagrasses probably reached an all-time low in the mid-90s, but have rebounded in some areas. That does not include the populated areas on the eastern and western shores of Mobile Bay. 

"The losses along the Eastern Shore and on Weeks Bay are pretty drastic," Ferraro said. "There used to be Vallisneria (also called tapegrass or wild celery) beds all up and down the eastern shore of Mobile Bay, and they're pretty much gone."

The project would fund multiple years of SAV mapping via aerial photography and compare the data from year to year. Ferraro said the grass beds can fluctuate from year to year and additional observations could help track changes in SAV coverage, and compare observations to meteorological data to get a better overall picture of the health of SAVs in Alabama's waters. 

What's eating Alabama's seagrass?

Well, manatees eat seagrasses for a start, as do some popular species of water fowl. But Heck said the biggest threats to Alabama's submerged vegetation are not from wild animals.

"It's pretty well accepted that the main reason for the loss of seagrass, here and elsewhere, is just that the water clarity declines," Heck said. "These are plants, they need sunlight to grow, and seagrasses need quite a bit of light.

"A good rule of thumb is about 20 percent of the light that hits the surface of the water needs to make it down to the leaves of the seagrasses for them to be able to function normally. That's a lot of light compared to something like algae that only needs one percent of the light for them to be able to grow." 

The water clarity decline is mostly attributed to untreated runoff from paved surfaces, construction sites, dirt roads or sediments. Instead of filtering through the ground naturally, rainwater streams down paved surfaces, bringing mud, silt and other particulate matter with it into Mobile Bay.

Another issue, Heck said, was the excess nutrients dumped into the water from sewage or fertilizer runoff. Algae grows much faster under those conditions and can choke out the more substantial seagrasses. 

"It's really the same cause," Heck said. "The grasses don't get any light, but here this is occurring because we've overfertilized the waters and stimulated the growth of the algae."

Ferraro pointed out that some natural factors, such as drought conditions or tropical storms, could change the salinity of water, affecting which species would thrive in a given area. 

How can we get it back?

There are many different species of SAV, with different requirements to thrive. Part of Heck's work in the field has included pinpointing ideal ranges of water clarity, salinity and other conditions that the various species need. 

"We've been measuring those things and we can pretty much now say what conditions are required for these species to be happy and healthy," Heck said. "One way to use that information is we go to areas that used to have vegetation and conditions have improved now, we can measure the water quality and say, 'This is suitable for vegetation so it might make sense to try to restore that vegetation here.'"

Heck and others at Dauphin Island Sea Lab have already completed projects collecting Vallisneria seeds, sowing them in a laboratory setting and planting them in the field where conditions proved favorable. The proposed restoration project would include additional funding for that type of on-the-ground work, but Heck said that kind of restoration only works in certain areas. 

"A lot of people say 'why don't you just go out and replant this grass,'" Heck said. "It won't work unless the conditions have improved and they're suitable for vegetation to grow there. If it used to be there, and it's no longer there, there's probably a reason for that and usually it's that water quality has declined."

A low-tech solution

Aerial photograph taken near Ono Island in Perdido Bay shows a pattern of propeller scars in seagrass beds. (Photo Dauphin Island Sea Lab)

In some areas, especially lower Perdido Bay near Ono Island, seagrasses are impacted less by water quality and salinity changes than by propeller scars from boaters who run aground in the shallow waters around the island.

"People don't want to do it, it's not what they intend to do, but they run their boats through there and create these furrows in the grass," Heck said. "Some of the aerial photos are amazing, the beds are just criss-crossed with these propeller scars."

In these areas, Heck said overall conditions are still in the acceptable range, the grasses just need a kick-start to regrow over the propeller scars. Heck and others have worked to put up signage at boat ramps warning people of the shallow areas of seagrass, trying to minimize future damage. They've also worked on restoring the existing scars by installing devices called bird stakes along the scars. 

A bird stake is simply a length of PVC pipe with a wooden perch at the top. The stakes' purpose is simple: Provide birds with a place to perch, to shake out their feathers and stay a while, and while the birds are there, they'll do what birds do and add some natural fertilizer to help grasses grow. 

While tons of excess fertilizer runoff in Mobile Bay can be harmful in general, a targeted burst in the right location can help regrow a bare spot in the thick grassbeds. 

The proposed RESTORE Act project also includes funding for more bird stakes and informational signage at boat ramps and near shallow grassbeds. 

What's next for the project?

The project is one of 50 proposals submitted to the federal council for funding through the Council-Selected Restoration Component, sometimes called "Bucket Two," of the RESTORE Act, a law passed to send the most of the Clean Water Act fine money to be paid by BP and other companies involved in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill to the coastal states that were impacted by the spill. Funds from this bucket are designated for ecosystem restoration only. No strictly economic projects will be considered for funding through this component. 

Each of those 50 proposals is currently being evaluated by the council members. The council consists of the governors of Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas and Florida as well as the heads of six federal agencies: the Departments of the Army, Commerce, Interior, Agriculture, and Homeland Security and the Environmental Protection Agency. 

There's been no sense so far as to which projects have an edge in this process, but with the limited funds currently available and the final amount of BP's fine still to be determined, the council is likely to proceed slowly at first. 

A draft funded priorities list is expected to be released later this year, and will be available for public review and comment before it is finalized. That FPL will include more details about which projects are in line for the earliest funding under this bucket. 

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Obama seeks $30M for ocean acidification studies

04 February 2015, Monterey County Herald (USA)

Marine researchers found a gift hidden among the loophole closures and tax changes in the President Barack Obama’s new budget.

Released Monday, the budget proposal for fiscal year 2016 included $30 million for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to study ocean acidification, the ongoing change in ocean chemistry caused by higher levels of carbon dioxide in the air.

“It’s a really important issue in California because here it’s acidifying twice as fast,” said Kristy Kroeker, a biologist at UC Santa Cruz.

It’s twice as much as the president requested last year, and more than three times greater than the amount Congress approved. The money would be used, in part, for grants to scientists like Francisco Chavez, a biologist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in Moss Landing, who study the effects of acidification on local marine plants and animals.

“We’re trying to understand how organisms in general might respond to this,” said Chavez, adding that the full consequences of ocean acidification are uncertain. “That’s the million-dollar question.”

Ocean acidification is a consequence of burning fossil fuels. The more carbon dioxide there is in the air, the more the ocean absorbs. Once it’s in the ocean, it creates compounds that break apart and make the sea more acidic.

This is especially bad for shellfish because it strips the ocean of compounds they need to build their shells. The effects could even travel up and down the food chain.

“Does that mean salmon success is going to be impacted?” Chavez said. “Maybe. We need this research money to come in to help us figure those things out.”

The problems associated with ocean acidification might be exacerbated along California’s coast. Cold water from the deep ocean can rise to the surface in upwells, bringing water that’s even more acidic. It’s a natural phenomenon, but it further stresses the coastal ecosystem.

“Ocean acidification can make it harder for a lot of the animals to survive and grow,” Kroeker said. “Things like oysters or abalone or sea urchins — those organisms do worse.”

Kroeker works on a project studying if sea grass can help alleviate the effects of higher acidity, at least in small areas. Because it’s a plant, sea grass gobbles up carbon dioxide during photosynthesis, creating pockets of less acidic water in its neighborhood.

“We’re looking at whether sea grass can create refuges,” Kroeker said. “We want to know if we can somehow use sea grass to protect oysters and help them grow more naturally.”

Kroeker is currently looking for funds to study how kelp forests might provide similar sanctuaries. The proposed increase in NOAA funding might finance her next project.

But scientists aren’t the only ones interested in understanding the effects of ocean acidification.

“The health of our economy is linked to the health of our oceans,” said Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel, in a joint statement released Monday. “Rapid changes in ocean chemistry are threatening many aquatic species, particularly shellfish, endangering the jobs that rely on abundant healthy populations.”

Farr plans to introduce a bill later this year to lend more support to ocean acidification research, as well as provide affected industries tools and information to help them respond.

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UCF researchers say Fla. manatees are in hot water

04 February 2015, Central Florida Future (USA)

(Photo Malcolm Denemark, Florida Today)

There's a less than 50 percent chance manatees will exist in the next 1,000 years. UCF researchers say the springs may be the only refuge for the future for these gentle giants, unless we can change our ways.

"Loss of warm water habitat is threatening them in the future, but there are several other major threats to the manatee," said Madison Hall, a Ph.D. candidate in UCF's Physiology Ecology and Bioenergetics Lab. "Some of the warm water habitats that they rely on can be changed by humans in the future. There are power plants that can be out of use in years from now. The manatees will not have anywhere to go during the winter, and without anywhere to go, they are so sensitive to cold water and cold snaps that they can die from cold stress."

Hall is a graduate student who studies seascape genetics and species distribution modeling for West Indian manatees.

"I am building a species distribution model for manatees to describe what environmental variables are associated with manatee occurrence," Hall said. "So, where do manatees occur and what do they need out of their habitat? Once a model is developed, you can project it under different climate change scenarios. You can predict where manatees may occur in the future and determine if that habitat exists then or needs to be protected."

Hall says that with human development of coastal systems, we are destroying their habitat and main source of food — sea grass.

"One thing I'm anticipating might be important is the distance from shore or seagrass coverage; those are two variables I'm looking at for a seascape genetics model," she said. "If those things wind up being significant, it would mean we would have to conserve seagrasses and restore areas that are close to shore."

With limiting locations to move to for winter and finding food, Hall said their population is expected to decline from 10 to 20 percent over the next 40 years with a loss of warm water habitats, increase in harmful algal blooms, loss of seagrasses and from direct and indirect human-related mortality.

Graham Worthy, a Provosts Distinguished Professor of Biology and the Hubbs-SeaWorld Endowed Professor of Marine Mammalogy at UCF, describes how crucial the springs are.

"The springs are crucial refuges because of temperature. Blue Springs is one of many springs where manatees can get into water that's relatively warm," he explained.

Hall said they start their migration to winter habitats when waters reach around 20 to 22 degrees Celsius, which would be 68 degrees Fahrenheit. They return to the same springs or winter habitat yearly. They learn where to go from their mom during their calf years.

"Blue Springs is a designated Manatee Refuge and the winter home to a growing population of West Indian Manatees. The spring and spring run are closed during manatee season, mid-November through March 15. Swimming or diving with manatees is not permitted; this rule is strictly enforced," according to has a live webcam of the manatees at Blue Springs along with the latest manatee updates. Through the site, you can adopt a manatee for $25.

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Marine wildlife at risk as Hampshire sites lose protection

04 February 2015, Daily Echo (UK)

HAMPSHIRE marine experts fear the region’s seas have been left open to an “environmental disaster” after some of the most “important” sites for marine wildlife have been axed from a Government list of protection.

The Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust have been left “bitterly disappointed” at the Government’s decision to cut back on its ambitious plans to protect more marine sites across the UK.

The trust had hoped that six sites in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight would be part of the consultation to designate new Marine Conservation Zones, but only half have made the cut.

The three included are the Offshore over falls, Utopia and The Needles with Bembridge, Norris to Ryde and Yarmouth to Cowes missing out.

The long-awaited consultation features only 23 out of a possible 37 sites across the UK, with critics frustrated at the lack of ambition shown by those in charge.

Tim Ferrero, head of marine conservation at the trust, said: “We are bitterly disappointed that the Government has opted to consult on just 23 new Marine Conservation Zones and that some very important areas for marine wildlife have been dropped from the list.

“We are pleased that three of six sites in our region have been put forward in this tranche but frustrated that not all of the proposed sites have been recommended because of the likely ‘economic cost’.

“The wildlife trusts believe this is a missed opportunity to achieve longer-term gains that will benefit both marine biodiversity and the resources we derive from the sea through activities like fishing and recreation.

“Ultimately, any economic activity that is based on over-exploitation, beyond the ability of the resource to renew itself, is not sustainable and has no long-term future.”

The decision to recommend only three of the region’s six proposed sites means that around only five per cent of the area’s seagrass meadows will be protected if these sites are designated.

Seagrass is an important breeding ground and nursery for commercially important fish and crustaceans and are a vital food source for migrating wildfowl such as teal, widgeon and Brent geese.

Dr Amy Marsden, marine officer at the trust, added: “Seagrass habitats are a vital yet often overlooked feature of our functioning environment.

“They are easily damaged yet slow to recover and protection from activities such a dredging is critical to prevent further degradation and allow regeneration.

“By postponing action to protect these areas yet again, the Government is leaving our seas open to an environmental disaster.”

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Brevard considers new manatee protection plan

04 February 2015, (USA)

A 2006 manatee protection plan might be re-evaluated in Brevard County.

The Indian River Lagoon lost 50,000 acres of underwater sea grass in 2011, damaging it and reducing the food supply for its marine life. The cause of this loss is not known, however Citizens for Florida Waterways believes that manatees might be a factor, since they eat sea grass. They want manatees to be managed by the county so that the lagoon can survive.

Newly elected county commissioner Kurt Smith proposed the re-evaluation of the manatee protection plan which, among other things, regulates boating speeds and allows for artificial warm-water habitats. The proposal was pulled from Tuesday's agenda, as the issue is still under heated debate.

The Save the Manatee Club says that Brevard does not have a manatee overpopulation problem, and that the mammal was not responsible for the lagoon's loss of sea grass.

The commissioner says that he will talk with county staff to determine whether there is a way to proceed in re-evaluating the manatee protection plan.

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Over 300 dugongs seen off Qatar

01 February 2015, MENAFN.COM


Around 300 to 500 dugongs were sighted off the west coast of Qatar during a field mission by ExxonMobil Research Qatar (EMRQ) and the General Directorate of Natural Reserves-Private Engineering Office.

The one-day visit was part of ongoing data collection efforts to better understand the distribution, abundance and behaviour of Qatar's dugong population.

The efforts are part of a tripartite agreement signed in 2014 by ExxonMobil Research Qatar, Qatar University (QU) and Texas A&M University Galveston, with in-kind support from the general directorate and the Ministry of Environment.

The mission resulted in video and photographic documentation of dugongs as they travelled and fed in the area. It was the first time that live animals were documented as part of research efforts.

"It is exciting for us as scientists and marine biologists to come face-to-face with these creatures and study their behaviour so closely.

"We are pleased with the data we have collected so far and will continue to exert every effort to ensure that the rare species is protected in its natural habitat, in collaboration with QU and Texas A&M University Galveston and with the support of the general directorate and the ministry," said Dr Jennifer Dupont, Research Director, EMRQ.

Dugongs are long-lived, herbivorous marine mammals that can grow to almost three metres in length and live for over 70 years.

About 6,000 dugongs are estimated in the Gulf, making it the second largest population in the world, apart from Australia. Qatar is home to two of at least three habitats for dugongs in the Gulf, and is strategically positioned within the species' range and critical to its survival.

Modern-day threats to the species, listed as Vulnerable to Extinction under the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, include natural events such as cold stress and harmful algal blooms along with human threats such as fishing and bycatch, vessel strikes and coastal development leading to habitat destruction. To date, over 14 stranded (dead) animals have been reported under the project, indicating that the population is experiencing threats in Qatari waters. Future work will focus on collecting data to inform management efforts centred on the protection of the species.

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Metals might be linked to turtle deaths

03 February 2015, The Australian (Australia)

HEAVY metals might have played a role in the mystery mass deaths of green turtles near a remote North Queensland beach in 2012.

EXPERTS have begun to investigate whether unusually high levels of cobalt, a common by-product of nickel, silver, lead, copper and iron mining, is linked to the stranding and eventual deaths of more than 100 turtles during a three-month period at Upstart Bay in 2012.
It is a significant spike from the five strandings in 2009.

James Cook University research fellow Colette Thomas, who will take part in the four-year investigation, said their team was searching for traces of metals.

"The presence of legacy metals in the catchment draining to Upstart Bay, and previous detections of unusually high levels of cobalt in local green turtles leads us to focus there," Dr Thomas said.

It is a case which has baffled experts, with the mystery ailment only affecting mature turtles aged between 50 and 70-years-old.

James Cook University virology lecturer Ellen Ariel said none of the usual signs which usually presented in stranding deaths was evident, and for the most part the turtles appeared to be healthy.

"We never found out what it was. No fish, no dolphins, no dugongs, nothing else died," Dr Ellen Ariel told AAP.

"It was a very puzzling, very unsatisfying feeling that so many (of these) threatened species died. They were very important for the population and we couldn't pinpoint the cause of it."

The investigation will try to discover whether humans are responsible.

"But if contaminates of concern are detected we will attempt to trace them to their source for proper management," Dr Thomas said.

She said there were both legacy mines and natural metal sources upstream and around the catchments which filter into where the epidemic took place.

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Paradise Discovered: Seagrass

01 February 2015, The Cayman Reporter

Photo by Frank Roulstone

February 2nd is designated World Wetlands Day and as we think about preserving national assets such as mangroves and other wetland areas, let us remember that seagrass communities are also wetlands with many important functions. Let us try to protect and preserve these systems also! While most of us know something about the ocean and coral reefs, we know little about seagrass beds. Moving seaward from the mangroves we typically find seagrass beds..

There are about 60 species of seagrass found worldwide. These mostly range from the size of your fingernail to plants with leaves as long as 7 metres. Seagrass is the only type of flowering plant that has adapted to life in the sea. There are six species of seagrasses in the Caribbean. Species recorded in Cayman include turtle grass (Thalassia testudinum), shoal grass (Halodule wrightii and Halodule bermudensis) and manatee grass (Syringodium filiforme). The most common species in the Cayman Islands isturtle grass (Thalassia testudinum). Turtle grass gets its name from its important connection to green turtles. It is an important source of food for green turtles and is easy to identify with its broad flat green blades that make up lush meadows growing over the sea floor. The North Sound has broad areas of mud-rich sediments with shoal grass, but predominantly turtle grass.

Seagrass has a numberof important functions. They are habitats and nursery grounds for recreationally and commercially important finfish and shellfish. Juvenile finfish found in seagrass beds include snappers, croakers, grunts, groupers, and many others. Other commercial species found in these beds are queen conchs, lobsters and shrimps.

Some animal species which are not of commercial importance are also found in seagrass beds. These include sea urchins (commonly referred to as sea eggs), sea cucumbers, starfishes, brittle stars, snails such as Murex, cones and olives, octopus, anemones, and sponges. Even sea horses may be found in seagrass beds. Of course seagrass beds are also grazing grounds for turtles. There is an incredible diversity and abundance of organisms in this environment.

Mangroves, seagrass beds and coral reefs are often linked and all three habitats must remain healthy for each to thrive. Mangroves filter pollutants and trap sediments that would otherwise smother seagrass and coral. Sediment banks accumulated by seagrasses may eventually form substrate that can be colonized by mangroves. Seagrass also creates clean water for coral reef inhabitants by trapping sediment and slowing water movement, causing suspended sediment to fall out. In turn, coral reefs protect mangroves and seagrass from ocean storms by slowing the surging waves. All three communities keep nutrients from being dispersed and lost into the surrounding oceanic waters.

All species of seagrass can be affected by pollution and damage in the environment. This can cause seagrass to die from being shaded from light, covered by faster growing algae, buried by sediment from a land base source or harmful chemicals. Human impacts include physical disturbance by anchoring of boats and by propellers, complete destruction by dredging and sand mining for coastal construction, heat and oil pollution, and the release of excessive organic materials such as sewage.

Celebrate World Wetland Day and explore the seagrass areas close to our coasts and discover the amazing life in these marine meadows!

For more information, to share your knowledge or to get involved with the National Trust, please call 749-1121 or email

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Forest City developer to restart work in February, pledges to preserve environment

01 February 2015, The Malaysian Insider


The Forest City project in Johor ran into controversy last year when nearby residents, environmentalists and Singapore raised concerns over its massive reclamation works. – Pic courtesy of Country Garden Pacific View, February 1, 2015.

Developer Country Garden Pacific View (CGPV) is targeting to restart land reclamation works at its Forest City project in Johor this month after a seven-month halt by the Department of Environment (DOE) following environmental concerns, and has pledged to spend millions to preserve the surrounding seabed, including the sensitive 48.5ha seagrass area.

The RM600 billion mixed-development 1,386ha project involving the building of four man-made islands ran into controversy last year when nearby residents, environmentalists and Singapore raised concerns over the massive works.

The DOE ordered work at the site to be halted last June and the Malaysian-Chinese company was instructed to submit a detailed environmental impact assessment (DEIA).

Following the green light from the DOE last month, CGPV executive director Datuk Md Othman Yusof said the southern peak of one of the islands had been scaled down by a third.

This was after more than 20 simulation models were run to come up with the best reclamation shape and sizes to ensure minimal impact on the surroundings.

As the development in Tanjung Kupang between southwestern Johor and northwest of Singapore is located near the shipping Port of Tanjung Pelepas, it also took into account the port limit which encompassed the anchorage area for ships, as well as the port’s future expansion plans.

"The current land form is the final proposal selected by DOE. Islands one, three and four remained unchanged. For island two, the southern peak has been reduced by 30%," he told The Malaysian Insider.

He said the company was unaware of the presence of seagrass when it was first awarded the land by the Johor government and immediately took steps to stop reclamation works once it realised the impact on the sensitive seabed.

"We are committed to preserving the seagrass, hence our work will be synergised with the existing ecosystem.”

This was done by installing a 2km double-silt curtain to contain plume and minimise any pollution, which cost the company more than RM10 million.

It has also set up a RM300,000 online monitoring system to monitor water quality in real time and water samples are obtained daily as long as the reclamation works are ongoing with the data transmitted to the DOE offices in Johor Baru and Putrajaya.

Additionally, CGPV submitted the Environmental Management Plan on January 25 to the DOE with in-depth details of its reclamation work.

Routine third-party audits will also be conducted to ensure all the requirements are implemented.

Moreover, no dredging works will be conducted until 2033.

We can only resume work once we get the clearance and we hope to be able to do so after the Chinese New Year celebrations," he said of the festivities that start on February 19.

To date, the company has spent more than RM3.5 million on mitigation measures to preserve the surrounding environment, including placing a single silt curtain around the seagrass.

In the works are replanting of mangroves ringing the four islands and installation of underwater cameras on the seagrass for the public to enjoy the sea animals, including seahorses.

"We are engaging with local NGOs and if they say what we are doing is not enough, we will seek their opinions to ensure how we can do more to protect the surroundings.

"Let us know and we will consider their advice," he said, adding that they were engaging seagrass experts to help them as well.

The seven-month stop work has cost the company not only monetary wise but operationally, too, something Othman was philosophical about.

"Although the size has been minimised, we are OK with it, we will comply."

Contrary to claims, he said waters around the development had no fishing activities because of its shallow waters of only between 2m and 3m deep.

Moreover, the area is part of the gazetted port limit where fishing is prohibited.

"It's all wild allegations. We don't see any disturbances to the livelihood of anybody here. If people say they are affected, we want to know in what aspect and if it's true, we will find a way to overcome it.”

He said since income from the surrounding community came from aquaculture and agriculture activities, the company planned to provide training schools for locals to explore viable options in different sectors, such as the services sector.

"Once the islands are constructed, we will need no fewer than 200,000 semi-skilled workers and this opportunity can be offered to the locals first.”

Additionally, once there is any increase in activity in the area, this will be translated into more human traffic which will expose the locals to more economic opportunities.

Despite the setback, CGPV aimed to start marketing before the year-end after it goes back to the drawing board to redesign its master plan.

But at its core, the principle of creating a liveable world-class forested city aimed at the international market remains.

"We are here for the long term and we will comply with whatever decisions set by the government," said Othman.

The New Straits Times reported last year that following a diplomatic note from the republic, the DEIA was carried out because the project was located near the Malaysia-Singapore borders and it involved coastal reclamation.

The project had initially been approved by the Johor Department of Environment in January but work at the project’s site was halted in June after the developer was instructed to submit a DEIA.

Fishermen and fish farm operators have claimed that mass fish deaths in the area had been caused by the land reclamation works, which was denied by CGPV. – February 1, 2015.

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Research team spots many dugongs off the coast

31 January 2015, Gulf Times (Qatar)

Dugongs sighted during the field mission

ExxonMobil Research Qatar (EMRQ) and the General Directorate of Natural Reserves Private Engineering Office have completed a one-day field mission to locate live dugongs off the west coast of Qatar, as part of ongoing data collection efforts to better understand the distribution, abundance and behavior of the Qatar dugong population.

These efforts fall under a tri-party agreement signed in 2014 by ExxonMobil Research Qatar, Qatar University and Texas A&M University Galveston, with in-kind support from the General Directorate of Natural Reserves - Private Engineering Office and the Ministry of Environment.

The field mission earlier this month, resulted in video and photographic documentation of the dugongs as they traveled and fed in the area, and is the first time that live animals have been documented as part of current research efforts.

Dr. Jennifer Dupont, Research Director at EMRQ, spoke about the mission, saying “It is very exciting for us as scientists and marine biologists to come face-to-face with these fascinating creatures, and to study their behavior so closely. We are extremely pleased with the data we have collected from our research on dugongs so far, and will continue to make every effort to ensure that this rare species is protected in its natural habitat, in collaboration with Qatar University and Texas A&M University Galveston, and with the support of the General Directorate of Natural Reserves - Private Engineering Office and the Ministry of Environment.”

The large group of dugongs sighted off the coast included approximately 300-500 individual dugongs, many of them mothers and calves. Behavioral studies from the Australian dugong population indicate that mothers are highly interactive with their calves, remaining in close contact with them as they move through the water. A calf is weaned from its mother after 18 months, and will usually remain by her side until the next calf is born. These behaviors, along with dugong’s affinity for grouping together, indicate that dugongs are very social animals, and they have often been observed to communicate with one another by way of whistles, barks and chirps.

Dugongs are long-lived, herbivorous marine mammals that can grow to almost three meters in length and reach over 70 years old. Approximately 6,000 individual dugongs are estimated in the Arabian Gulf, making it the second largest population in the world, apart from Australia. Qatar is home to two out of at least three important habitats for dugongs in the Arabian Gulf, and is therefore strategically positioned within this iconic species’ range and critical to its survival.

Modern-day threats to the species, which is listed as Vulnerable to Extinction under the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, include natural events such as cold stress and harmful algal blooms, along with human threats such as fishing and bycatch, vessel strikes, and coastal development leading to habitat destruction.

To date, more than 14 stranded (dead) animals have been reported under the project, indicating that the population is experiencing real threats in Qatari waters. Subsequently, future work will focus on collecting data to inform management efforts centered on the protection of this iconic marine mammal species.

EMRQ opened its facility at Qatar Science & Technology Park in 2009 to conduct research in areas of common interest to the State of Qatar and ExxonMobil. Scientists and researchers at EMRQ continue to advance projects in the areas of environmental management, water re-use, LNG safety and coastal geology.

Through the work conducted at EMRQ, ExxonMobil develops technology to bring energy to life in Qatar and around the world. EMRQ exemplifies how ExxonMobil is contributing to the Qatar National Vision 2030 by supporting research, safety, health and the environment.

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New Harbor Branch program will replace seagrass in Indian River lagoon

29 January 2015, Palm Beach Post  (USA)

Halodule wrightii plugs that are used in Harbor Branch’s experimental plots.

The Fourth Annual Love Your Lagoon Dinner on Feb. 6 will buy attendees more than just a meal. Money from that event will start a new program at Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute that will replace dwindling seagrasses in the Indian River Lagoon.

“A project like that could use all the money it could ever get, but we are hoping it (the money raised) will be a start,” said Katha Kissman, president and CEO of Harbor Branch.

Kissman said that the lagoon lost 60 percent of its seagrass in 2011-2012 because of massive algae blooms.

This project aims to reverse that by creating a seagrass nursery at the Harbor Branch facility, which is a research community of marine scientists, engineers, educators and other professionals focused on ocean science. The grasses would then be transplanted into particular areas of the lagoon.

“Seagrass is a critical component in the lagoon, playing an important role in biological productivity and species diversity,” said research professor Dennis Hanisak.

That role is a big deal along the Treasure Coast.

“The economic value of the Indian River Lagoon seagrasses based on its habitat value to sport and commercial fisheries, has been estimated to be $1 billion per year,” he said.

Each year, Kissman said, they try to use money from the dinner to pay for a different program at Harbor Branch. Last year, the dinner paid for the institute to bring in seven Indian River Lagoon Research Fellows, each of whom has been there during the past year.

The seagrass replacement program grew out of the research that Jacob Berninger, one of the fellows, has been working on in the past year. Berninger has been collecting vegetative fragments, cultivating them in outdoor tanks and successfully transplanting them at a restoration site.

“This is something I had proposed a few years ago, but Jacob’s work is a nice ‘proof of concept,’ which we will further tweak in the proposed Love Your Lagoon project,” Hanisak said.

Dennis Hanisak and John Hart prepare one of the seagrass plugs for transplanting.

The amount raised at the Love Your Lagoon event has increased each year. It went from $34,000 the first year to slightly less than $100,000 last year with the sale of 280 tickets. This year, the goal is to reach the $100,000 mark.

The scope of the seagrass project depends on how much money is raised, said Hanisak, who isn’t sure of the length of the project. It is feasible that the project would start in spring.

“Other funding may be needed to complete what is started, but I think looking over a three-year period to determine success is reasonable,” he said.

The sites for planting the grasses also haven’t been determined.

“That will depend on input from some of our colleagues in the agencies who we work with and also our ability to obtain the necessary permits to do the transplants,” Hanisak said.

Criteria for the sites might include sites that once had seagrass but haven’t recovered from the loss or areas where the seagrass has been damaged by boaters.

Some of the money raised will help support the Indian River Lagoon Symposium that which pulls researchers, scientists, political figures and others. That symposium, which attracts about 300 people, runs Feb. 5 and 6. Kissman said that the public is welcome to the second day of the event from 9 a.m. to noon to make comment, but registration is required at

The overall goal of both the project and the symposium is to protect the lagoon.

“If we can expedite the restoration of seagrass in the Indian River Lagoon, it will have many positive impacts on the lagoon’s health, which is ultimately linked to its economic well-being and the happiness of those of us living along the lagoon,” Hanisak said.

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Great Barrier Reef faces prospect of UNESCO ‘in danger’ listing unless Government delivers improvements

29 January 2015, Courier Mail

A CRITICAL part of the plan to prevent UNESCO listing the Great Barrier Reef as “in danger” is in a shambles, with scientists saying Government efforts to stop agricultural run-off have failed.

The assessment comes as Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt is expected to release a crucial State Party Report on the Great Barrier Reef early next week.

It is expected to show UNESCO that Australia’s efforts to stop Reef damage are sufficient that the World Heritage Area should not be listed in danger alongside sites in Iran, Yemen and Afghanistan.

Mr Hunt will return from Europe on Saturday after his second tour of lobbying UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee. It will decide in June if the Reef is to be listed.

A senior State Government scientist said Queensland efforts to cut coral-killing agricultural run-off were ineffective and showed no meaningful cut to pollution.

He said a major problem was that in removing red and green tape, the Government had replaced legal requirements with a voluntary scheme.

The Courier-Mail revealed yesterday that scientists had discovered farm chemicals in Queensland’s two most high profile table fish species – barramundi and coral trout. It marks the first time in Australia that the feminisation of male fish through endocrine-disrupting farm chemicals has been identified.

Environment Minister Andrew Powell said the Government was spending $35 million a year to improve water quality and help producers.

Mr Powell said the latest Great Barrier Reef Report Card showed that the annual average Reef pesticide load had been cut by 28 per cent.

WWF spokesman Sean Hoobin said it was notable that Mr Powell avoided claiming that Queensland programs had achieved cuts to pollution because there was no evidence to support such a claim.

“It is quite damning that after years of spending $35 million a year they have almost nothing to show for it,’’ Mr Hoobin said. “Nearly all the reductions in pesticides, nutrients and sediment pollution had come from Federal Government programs.’’

A spokesman for Mr Hunt said 59 per cent of horticulture and 49 per cent of cane growers were improving practices.

Canegrowers senior environment manager Matt Kealley said 1857 growers had improved farm management under the voluntary scheme.

An independent report late last year said agricultural pollution was largely ungoverned.

Two State Government scientists who did not want to be identified, fearing for their jobs, said European and American evidence was that environmental outcomes could be improved only by regulation.

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Yuku Baja Muliku Rangers recognised on Australia Day

28 January 2015, Seagrass-Watch News (Australia)

The Yuku Baja Muliku Rangers and Larissa Hale, were recently recognised at the local Australia Day Awards in Cooktown for their significant and lasting contribution to the social, recreational, environmental and economic quality of life in the Cookshire with the Service to the Community Award 2015 (Group).

The Ranger Program began in 2008 with two part time rangers and has now grown to 14 employees.

Rangers are involved in Turtle rescue, Seagrass and sea turtle monitoring, Junior ranger program , Land and sea patrols, Feral animal control and Flora and fauna surveys.

After Cyclone Yasi, the Yuku Baja Muliku Rangers recognised a need for a Turtle rehabilitation centre after the cyclone, severely impacted the turtle feeding grounds off Archer Point and surrounding areas. The seagrass meadows were nearly wiped out and this caused the local turtle population severe stress.

Caring for the turtles is a full time job for the rangers. The Centre is manned 24 hours a day 7 days a week to care for any sick or injured turtles.

To date the Yuku Baja Muliku Rangers have rescued 16 turtles and 5 have been released.

The Yuku Baja Muliku Rangers have also been involved in the monitoring of seagrass meadows (with Seagrass-Watch) at Archer Point since 2008.


Stop reclaiming Penang Strait to save ecosystem, urges DAP man

27 January 2014, The Malaysian Insider (Malaysia)

Middle Bank was last year reportedly found to contain an array of living species, including sea anemones, hermit crabs, cockles, clams, sea urchins, fan shells, sea cucumber and even octopus. – January 27, 2015.

The strait which separates Penang island from the mainland must be protected from reclamation projects, a lawmaker says, as one of Malaysia’s most developed states wrestle with overdevelopment.

Teh Yee Cheu, DAP assemblyman for Tanjung Bungah, said today there was an urgent need to review the entire process as the area across the eastern coast featured some unique island-like sandbanks covered with sea grass and home to a rich biodiversity.

Known as Middle Bank, the area spanning an estimated 125 acres on the channel has been listed in the Penang Structure Plan as being earmarked for development.

Teh said he raised the issue at the Penang State Assembly in 2012 but there has been no response from the state authority.

“When I brought up the matter again early last year, PDC (Penang Development Corporation) issued a call for a ‘request for proposal’ for conceptual planning project over the site,” he said in an interview with The Malaysian Insider.

The RFP called for a consultancy report on reclamation at the Middle Bank and “any associated civil and infrastructure construction” there.

It even required a report on “linkage” to Penang island and mainland Butterworth, ostensibly referring it to a set of bridges between Jelutong and a reclaimed island, and from there to the mainland.

Penang already has two cross-channel bridges and a ferry service, while an undersea tunnel in the northern part of the channel is in the planning stages.

Middle Bank was last year reportedly found to contain an array of living species, including sea anemones, hermit crabs, cockles, clams, sea urchins, fan shells, sea cucumber and even octopus.

There are also at least four distinctly different genera of sea grass, making it a unique biological habitat.

It is understood that Middle Bank is among just a handful of sea grass beds along the Straits of Malacca. The other major one in Malaysia is at Pulau Besar in Johor where mammals like the dugong and creatures such as the seahorse are also known to thrive, and which is also threatened by reclamation.

Teh said he is planning to start a campaign with some NGOs to raise awareness on protecting Middle Bank. He said this would include featuring Middle Bank’s unique ecosystem during an international tour from Penang to Brazil next year.

When contacted, state executive councillor for the environment, Phee Boon Poh, said any reclamation plan over the Penang Channel would first have to undergo rigorous environmental assessment.

He said this includes the study of the hydro flow system of the channel to determine the impact any such project would have on the tides and currents of the sea there.

He added that Middle Bank had been earmarked for development since the administration of former chief minister Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu whose tenure was from 1969 to 1990. It was then also included in the Structure Plan of 1997.

Coastal reclamation has been a controversial issue in Penang in the last few years due to concerns on the adverse impact to sea-currents and the environment, as well as on added people and vehicular congestion to the increasingly crowded island.

Residents of Bayan Bay mounted protests against plans for massive development and land reclamation near their area in 2011.

Last year, the state’s plan to reclaim the iconic Gurney Drive and develop an artificial island, all covering a total area of 891 acres, saw numerous objections filed with the Department of Environment in response to the project’s environmental impact assessment

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Seagrass has signs of new growth

20 January 2015, Port Stephens Examiner (Australia)

CONCERN for the health of the Port's waterways is not shared by seagrass experts from the Department of Primary Industry.

In response to the Examiner's article last week on fears of declining seagrass in the Port, Tim Glasby, principal research scientist at the DPI's Marine Ecosystems Unit, said while there was evidence of it occurring, there were also signs of new growth.

"Seagrasses are protected in NSW and play important roles in recycling nutrients, trapping and stabilising sediments and storing carbon," Dr Glasby said.

"The species that has declined in abundance in Port Stephens is zostera capricorni, commonly called eelgrass, starting around 2010 in parts of the upper estuary, west of Soldiers Point.

"There have been more declines in the last 12 months or so, particularly around Tea Gardens and along part of the southern shore of the port.

"In many shallow areas such as along Bagnalls Beach, the zostera has thinned out considerably, but there is evidence of new growth."

Dr Glasby said scientists were not sure of the causes for the zostera decline, but suspects it might be heavy rainfall.

"We are starting to do experiments to examine the tolerance of zostera to low salinity, due to heavy rainfall, and in particular to repeated events over short periods," he said.

"Heavy rainfall can potentially kill the grass in shallow water by decreasing the salinity, but it can also kill zostera in deeper water by turning the water brown and hence reducing light levels.
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"Zostera that grows closer to the ocean is less likely to be affected by freshwater inputs, which might explain why we have not seen reductions east of Nelson Bay marina."

Dr Glasby said the seagrass could re-establish from fragments of plants or from seeds.

"One of the triggers for germination of seeds is low salinity and low water temperatures, which is why zostera is well adapted to germinate after heavy rainfall, particularly in winter."

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UVI researchers studying invasive seagrass

19 January 2015, Virgin Islands Daily News (Virgin Islands)

The invasive sea grass Halophila stipulacea is being studied by researchers at the University of the Virgin Islands.

ST. THOMAS - An invasive species of sea grass is taking over the waters of St. Thomas and St. John, and researchers are trying to figure out what - if anything - eats it.

It seems to be spreading quickly, according to University of the Virgin Islands Marine and Advisory Service coordinator Howard Forbes Jr.

The new species is Halophila stipulacea, and while it is smaller than the native sea grasses, it is taking over and pushing out the native species.

"It's much smaller in size in comparison to the other species of sea grass that we have here, it just happens to grow really, really well," Forbes said.

This is a problem because many underwater creatures depend on the native grasses for food and protection and scientists are worried about what could happen to the island's ecological systems if the native sea grasses disappear.

Halophila stipulacea is native to the western Indian Ocean and is thought to have spread into the Mediterranean and Caribbean seas in ship ballasts.

The way the grass reproduces is through fragmentation. If a piece breaks off, it starts growing a new plant.

Forbes said this is believed to be the reason it is spreading so fast. Every time a boat drops anchor in the sea grass it damages the grass, breaks off pieces, and then it spreads and starts to grown new colonies.

Native sea grasses buffer currents, surge, and reduce beach erosion.

"The four species we have here do a good job of maintaining sediment," Forbes said. "But we don't know if this does the same thing."

Controlling sediment is critical because too much sediment - dirt and particles - can smother corals and lead to the decline of the healthy reef environment. It also keeps the water clear, which is better for snorkeling and diving, two activities that are very important to the territory's tourism industry.

The native sea grasses that are most abundant are the Syringodium filiforme, Thalassia testudinum and Halodule wrightii.

"Faculty and students at UVI are meeting this threat to our native marine communities with the full-force of research, knowledge and education," Forbes said.

UVI Marine and Environmental Sciences graduate students Sam Mitchell and Jess Keller recently wrapped up a study of the invasive sea grass as a part of the capstone project for their degrees. Their study revealed evidence that local animals eat the invasive sea grass, but the rate of consumption is not sufficient to prevent its expansion, according to UVI.

"This may have dire consequences for shallow, tropical marine ecosystems, since many organisms rely on native sea grasses for food and shelter," Mitchell said in a written statement.

The university's staff and students will continue to study this rapidly spreading grass to track its impact on the local marine environment, Forbes said.

"There's an assortment of different research projects going on with Halophila right now," Forbes said.

He said studies are on going that are looking at the distribution of the grass around the territorial waters.

"There's talk of doing some work on nutritional analysis of the Halophila and a more in-depth look at what species might eat the Halophila," Forbes said.

Researchers are asking the public to help out by calling in to report sightings of the invasive grass, so they can keep tracking its spread.

"It would be good if people report where they see it," Forbes said.

Halophila stipulacea is commonly found in disturbed at a depth of 98 to feet. Its leaves are usually no bigger than about a half inch long.

"An awareness campaign will target mitigation measures to prevent further expansion and any future invasions of non-native species," Keller said in a written statement. "Careful control of invasion vectors such as boat ballast storage areas, mobile attachments and the hulls of boats is necessary."

Boaters are asked to avoid anchoring in sea grasses. This will limit damage to native sea grasses and discourage the growth of non-native sea grasses.

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NASA, NOAA Find 2014 Warmest Year in Modern Record

16 January 2015, NASA Press Release 15-010 (USA)

A file photo shows a dugong. Vietnam will hold a festival on Phu Quoc Island November 30, 2014 to increase public awareness about the protection of this endangered herbivorous marine mammal. (Photo: WWF)

The year 2014 ranks as Earth’s warmest since 1880, according to two separate analyses by NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists.

The 10 warmest years in the instrumental record, with the exception of 1998, have now occurred since 2000. This trend continues a long-term warming of the planet, according to an analysis of surface temperature measurements by scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies (GISS) in New York. In an independent analysis of the raw data, also released Friday, NOAA scientists also found 2014 to be the warmest on record.

“NASA is at the forefront of the scientific investigation of the dynamics of the Earth’s climate on a global scale,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “The observed long-term warming trend and the ranking of 2014 as the warmest year on record reinforces the importance for NASA to study Earth as a complete system, and particularly to understand the role and impacts of human activity.” Since 1880, Earth’s average surface temperature has warmed by about 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 degrees Celsius), a trend that is largely driven by the increase in carbon dioxide and other human emissions into the planet’s atmosphere. The majority of that warming has occurred in the past three decades. “This is the latest in a series of warm years, in a series of warm decades. While the ranking of individual years can be affected by chaotic weather patterns, the long-term trends are attributable to drivers of climate change that right now are dominated by human emissions of greenhouse gases,” said GISS Director Gavin Schmidt.

While 2014 temperatures continue the planet’s long-term warming trend, scientists still expect to see year-to-year fluctuations in average global temperature caused by phenomena such as El Niño or La Niña. These phenomena warm or cool the tropical Pacific and are thought to have played a role in the flattening of the long-term warming trend over the past 15 years. However, 2014’s record warmth occurred during an El Niño-neutral year. “NOAA provides decision makers with timely and trusted science-based information about our changing world,” said Richard Spinrad, NOAA chief scientist. “As we monitor changes in our climate, demand for the environmental intelligence NOAA provides is only growing. It's critical that we continue to work with our partners, like NASA, to observe these changes and to provide the information communities need to build resiliency.”

Regional differences in temperature are more strongly affected by weather dynamics than the global mean. For example, in the U.S. in 2014, parts of the Midwest and East Coast were unusually cool, while Alaska and three western states – California, Arizona and Nevada – experienced their warmest year on record, according to NOAA.

The GISS analysis incorporates surface temperature measurements from 6,300 weather stations, ship- and buoy-based observations of sea surface temperatures, and temperature measurements from Antarctic research stations. This raw data is analyzed using an algorithm that takes into account the varied spacing of temperature stations around the globe and urban heating effects that could skew the calculation. The result is an estimate of the global average temperature difference from a baseline period of 1951 to 1980. NOAA scientists used much of the same raw temperature data, but a different baseline period. They also employ their own methods to estimate global temperatures. GISS is a NASA laboratory managed by the Earth Sciences Division of the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center, in Greenbelt, Maryland. The laboratory is affiliated with Columbia University’s Earth Institute and School of Engineering and Applied Science in New York.

NASA monitors Earth's vital signs from land, air and space with a fleet of satellites, as well as airborne and ground-based observation campaigns. NASA develops new ways to observe and study Earth's interconnected natural systems with long-term data records and computer analysis tools to better see how our planet is changing. The agency shares this unique knowledge with the global community and works with institutions in the United States and around the world that contribute to understanding and protecting our home planet.

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3-D seagrass model shines leaf-level light on photosynthesis

16 January 2015, Phys.Org  (Australia)

The new model accounts for variables including wave action, stem and branch length, the underwater motion of leaves, their position in the layered canopy, and their changing exposure to sunlight. Credit: Hedley et a/

West Australian scientists have developed a three-dimensional computer model of seagrass canopies to investigate the effect of canopy structure and reduced light on photosynthesis.

The study found canopy density affects how seagrass meadows will respond to reduced light conditions, caused by a combination of self-shading and suspended sediments introduced during infrastructure development and dredging.

Co-author and Edith Cowan University research fellow Dr Kathryn McMahon says the study aimed to see if it was possible to build a seagrass canopy model for a complex seagrass like Amphibolis griffithii, found in the south of West Australia.

The new model accounts for variables including wave action, stem and branch length, the underwater motion of leaves, their position in the layered canopy, and their changing exposure to sunlight.

"Once we had built the model, and validated it…we wanted to run it under different conditions, to investigate if this would be a useful tool to improve the impact prediction and monitoring of light reduction events," Dr McMahon says.

"We wanted to understand how long seagrasses could survive for with reduced light, and what times of the year they were most resilient to dredging-related stressors, such as light reduction."

The model revealed the relationship between light levels, canopy density and canopy-scale photosynthesis is complex and non-linear.

Leaf-scale effects add up

Co-author and Environmental Computer Science Ltd director Dr John Hedley says further studies should consider the effect of canopy structure and density on photosynthesis, and these effects should be considered when assessing, predicting and monitoring impacts from coastal developments.

"To understand the amount of light required for photosynthesis in a given species or plant, scientists are typically taking individual leaves, illuminating them in the lab and taking measurements of photosynthesis," Dr Hedley says.

"From this we can understand the leaf-level response to light. At the same time, in field studies we are usually working with light measurements at the bottom of the water.

"What we are trying to do in our work is to bridge that gap from canopy-scale to leaf-scale."

Dr McMahon says seagrass meadows provide important ecosystem services, and are a great reflector of the health of our oceans.

"Seagrasses are very productive, and provide food and habitat for other organisms to live on and in," she says.

"Keeping seagrass meadows healthy can reduce the amount of carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere, which is a major driver of climate change. They also contribute to stabilising marine sediments, which can reduce erosion on our coastlines."

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Where's all the seagrass?
15 January 2015, Port Stephens Examiner (Australia)

THE health of the Port's vast waterways is under threat of severe deterioration, according to a growing number of longtime users.

The problem of disappearing seagrass was first noticed some years ago on the northern side of the Port and is now impacting the southern end.

There are differing theories as to why the seagrasses, which once flourished and are so vital for the sustainability of the Port's unique marine life, are in decline.

The problem according to Don Payne, a prominent campaigner and fisherman from Pindimar, lies with the dumping of sand into the waterway, which makes its way into the Port's estuary, lakes and river systems.

"Unfortunately, events were ignored in Port Stephens for many years," he said.

"They have now unfolded with a devastating effect [on] the ecosystem and marine life including razorfish, green weed crabs, periwinkles, blood worms, green nippers, drift oysters, mussels and fledgling fishes."

The problem now spans both sides of the Port - from Swan Bay, Myall River, North and South Pindimar, Tahlee, Karuah to Tanilba Bay, Mallabula Point, Lemon Tree Passage, Tilligerry Creek, Cromartys Bay, Soldiers Point, Salamander Bay and Corlette.

"In my lay opinion, building developments on the southern side of Port Stephens which occurred around 1990 started to change the water hydrology," Mr Payne said.

"The large sand bar across the entrance into Port Stephens is now virtually gone allowing large swells in a south-easterly direction to go unimpeded towards Jimmy's Beach.
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"Replacing of sand has been going on since the 1980s, but in the last three years the seagrasses have been disappearing."

With five generations of oyster-growing in Port Stephens, Robert Diemar from Nelson Bay fears the seagrasses will be wiped out before too long.

"The problem is a combination of factors ... the sand movement is one reason, another is the increase in the number of native black swans," Mr Diemar said.

He believes the swans, virtually non-existent on the southern side a few years ago, have migrated from the north after that area was ravished of all its seagrass.

Both men believe that unless governments begin working alongside fisheries and interested parties the health of the Port's most alluring tourist attraction will deteriorate.

At the time of publication the Examiner had not received a statement from Department of Primary Industries on the issue.

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Forestry staff scrap dugong tracking

13 January 2015, Bangkok Post (Thailand)

Trang: Forestry authorities have bowed to fishermen's demands to scrap a project to tag endangered dugongs for research, following a month-long local protest.
© Post Publishing PCL. All rights reserved.

The decision was made Monday during a meeting between senior environment officials and local fishermen, who raised concerns over possible harm to dugongs after they are tagged.

The small devices make them traceable by satellite.

The fishermen, who are keen on conserving dugongs, say the study could disturb or even injure the animals.

Some dugongs have already been tagged. On Thursday, officials and fishermen will look for the the tagged dugongs off the Trang coast to remove the devices from them, said Issama-el Bensa-ard, a member of Trang's fishermen club.

They will then find new ways to conserve the dugongs, which are mainly found near Libong and Muk islands, he said.

Earlier, fishermen handed protest letters to environmental authorities, including National Resources and Environment Minister Gen Dapong Ratanasuwan, after learning about the project, initiated by the Marine and Coastal Resources Centre.

Researchers are using the technology to help them monitor dugongs' behaviour, their habitats and migration routes in a project worth nearly 2 million baht.

Reacting after the meeting, Manot Wongsureerat, chief of Hat Chao Mai National Park in Trang, said it was a pity the department has now lost a chance to obtain academic data about the dugongs, also known as sea cows.

Referring to the outcome of the saga, Monphat Wangsanuwat, chief of Trang's natural resources and environment office, said officials have to start thinking of a fresh approach to working with conservationists, who claim they were left in the dark about the project

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Microchips to be removed from three dugongs off Trang

12 January 2014, The Nation

OFFICIALS HAVE agreed to remove microchips from three wild dugongs after fishermen protested over the move, saying cables for the tags make it more difficult for the sea cows to feed on marine grass and increases their risk of getting caught.
"We would like to apologise for what happened," Chonlatid Suraswadi, head of the Marine and Coastal Resources Department, said yesterday.

Had Chao Mai National Park officials implanted microchips in the three dugong - which belong to a vulnerable species - in the middle of last month to study their behaviour and demarcate safety zones for them.

The Local Fishermens' Club based in Trang lodged a complaint with the National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department, describing the tagging as a form of torture.

Chonlatid met with club members to assure them that the tags would be removed as soon as possible.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Dapong Ratanasuwan and the chief of the National Parks Department had ordered the tags to be removed, he said.

The National Parks Department wanted the tags to be removed by today, but the Marine Department plans to hold a meeting today with the team in charge of handling the removal to determine the best method.

The team has been set up by the National Parks Department, while the Marine Department will provide support in the form of boats and veterinarians.

"We will invite representatives of Chulalongkorn University to witness the tag-removal operation," he said.

Many foreign countries have tagged rare sea animals such as whales and dugongs for research purposes.

"But as the fishermen in Trang have had concerns about the tagging, we have agreed to remove them," he said. In collaboration with Japanese researchers, the Marine Department had a plan to set up underwater recorders to track dugongs' sounds next month.

"So before we start the installation, we will try to build mutual understanding with the public," he said.

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Dugong saved by quick-thinking locals and holidaymakers

09 January 2015, Fraser Coast Chronicle

HELPING HANDS: Dozens of people helped rescue a stranded dugong at Pialba beach yesterday.
A DISTRESSED dugong was on its way back out to sea last night thanks to some quick-thinking locals and holiday-makers in Pialba.

Maryborough's Amanda Waterson and her family were holidaying at the Pialba Caravan Park when they saw a crowd gathering around the beached 3m sea cow about 4pm yesterday.

Parks and Wildlife rangers were called and within minutes the Watersons were among the dozens of helpers who had pitched in to keep the female dugong watered.

Ms Waterson said the rescuers had to dig a "big ditch" to float the dugong and after about 45minutes, she was swimming out to sea.

"I was really hoping to see it end well," she said.

"It was a great thing for us to be a part of."

To report an injured marine animal, phone the RSPCA Qld on 1300 264 625.

A ranger from the right area will then be contacted to help the distressed animal as soon as possible.

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Trang fishers oppose dugong tagging

07 January 2015, Bangkok Post

A group Trang province fishermen has called for the scrapping of a project to tag endangered dugongs with satellite-trackable markers, fearing they might harm the animals.

More than 30 fishermen on Wednesday took turns in voicing their disapproval with the Marine and Coastal Resources Research Centre research project to attach satellite tags on rare dugongs to monitor the behaviour of the mammals, their sea-grass habitat and the animals' migration route in the Trang sea.

So far, the research team, comprised of Thai and Japanese biologists, has tagged only three dugongs.

The fishermen aired their views during a forum held at the Andaman Foundation in Muang district of Trang. Representatives from the Department of the National Parks, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation observed.

Issama-el Bensa-ard, a representative of the Trang fishermen's club, said the local anglers wanted the tagging project halted and talks held between locals and national-park authorities to find a way to conserve rare dugongs in Trang.

His club will step up pressure to stop the project if authorities ignore their call, he said.

Aren Phrakhong, deputy chairman of the Trang fishermen's club, insisted his group had no ulterior motive. It did not want to ask for state funding, but merely wanted a role in conserving dugongs.

Members of his club have taken care of marine resources in the Trang sea for a long time and have never received financial assistance from the state, he said Most local fishermen consider the sea and its marine resources their home, he added.

Manot Wongsureerat, chief of Hat Chao Mai national park in Trang, defended the tagging project, saying more studies had been conducted on use of tags on dugongs and found this method was accepted by many countries.

About 20 million baht has been allocated for the satellite-based tagging project, he said, adding it was worthwhile and useful, as it enabled officials to know the life circle of dugongs in a bid to find ways to conserve them.

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DEIA report lacks scientific data, says environmental activist

07 January 2015, The Sun Daily

An environmental activist today claimed that the Detailed Environmental Impact Assessment (DEIA) report on Forest City lacked scientific data and failed to address the impact on reclamation on Johor Straits.

Malaysian Nature Society, Johor branch adviser Vincent Chow told theSun the report had shown that most data used in the DEIA were from secondary sources and not the first hand study statistics.

He said some photos taken during the study period from July to September last year such as Photo 9.9 did not mention the date taken and the location.

Chow also revealed the report estimates that all of the sea grass species on Merambong shoal will totally vanish when higher coverage of reclamation takes place.

"Sea grass species were already vanishing and replaced with seaweed at the early stage of reclamation last year," he said..

He said it was also stated that Tanjung shoal will experience serious sediment reclamation impacts on Johor Straits but failed to give more information on how many species of sea grass will be affected and how long they can survive except to say 'No evidence to proof that 3.96 hectar sea grass area have been badly hit by the reclamation work.'

He added the statement did not reflect the real situation and could be due to a lack of data and photo from the scene.

He also pointed out that the proposals on mitigation measures were not detailed.

Although Chow is not against development, he said, sustainable development is important as reclamation works on the proposed Forest City site will adversely affect the marine and coastal biological diversity on Johor Straits.

"To reduce and mitigate impacts upon marine and coastal biological diversity and to restore seagrass bed, it needs good management practices, methodologies and policies," he added.

The Forest City project will see four man-made islands being built in the waters of Tanjung Kupang between southwest Johor and northwest Singapore. It consists of four man-made Islands near Second Link and Port of Tanjung Pelepas (PTP), the total reclamation land is about 1,600 hectares.

The first man-made Island is about 396 hectares, for reclamation work alone.

The project, scheduled for completion in five years' time is estimated to create 15,000 to 20,000 job opportunities.

The size of the other three man-made islands are from 59 hectares to 1,064 hectares.

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