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Speared dugong swims ashore to die
07 November 2014, Solomon Star
THE unexpected happened on Thursday at the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources head office when from the ocean; a dugong came ashore and died at the Ministry’s ramp (seafront).
The event which seemed unusual was the first of its kind to have occurred, stirring many of the Ministry’s officers to stand and watch in amazement.
After careful observations, it was determined that the dugong was believed to had been speared by fishermen at sea a while ago, and had come ashore to die.
“It had a huge spear mark on its side believed to have been inflicted by fishermen.
“It was indeed so sad to see it coming slowly ashore, rested on our ramp and died peacefully there,” a witness informed this paper, Thursday.
“This is the first time such has occurred in our premises. It’s amazing and at the same time sad to have seen what happened,” an officer from the Ministry recalled.
The corpse was believed to have been butchered and then shared amongst those who were at the scene on Thursday.
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03 November 2014, ABC
Seagrass hitches a ride on ocean currents, marine life
29 October 2014, ScienceNetwork, WA
WA SCIENTISTS have unlocked the travel secrets of seagrass, including migration patterns which they say are key to safeguarding the plant's future.
For more than a year, Edith Cowan University, University of WA, University of Adelaide and Murdoch University researchers collated studies from around the world on seagrass movement.
The work revealed the coastal plant is novel for its ability to travel across the globe at such wildly differing speeds.
ECU researcher Dr Kathryn McMahon says while seagrass fruit and flowers float hundreds of kilometres in just a few weeks, plants growing on the ocean floor can take thousands of years to spread over a similar distance.
"This is the first time we have looked at seagrass within a movement ecology framework to understand the significance of its movement," she says.
Seagrasses, like land grasses, produce flowers and seeds and grow into vast meadows that support thousands of animals and store carbon.
But different species are under threat from coastal development, pollution and climate change.
The researchers say the plant's ability to spread over such vast distances could protect the species against the effects of climate change and allow it to migrate to recover from disturbance.
Scientists have found that seagrasses move through the ocean in five ways.
Despite being rooted in sediment, the plant's flowers and seeds can hitch a ride on currents on the ocean's surface or through water columns.
The plant can also spread through animal faeces after being consumed by sea creatures such as dugongs or turtles; through sediment movement along the seafloor; or by individual plants growing like lawn over thousands of years.
Dr McMahon says this spread is possible because of the longevity of some seagrass species, including the Australian Posidonia family, which lives for more than 100,000 years.
"If areas get degraded, then there is the potential for new populations to come in and recover that area, because they have that ability to move," Dr McMahon says.
Spreading by seeds is the best way for seagrasses to survive global threats and for humans to improve degraded seagrass habitat, but it was the least understood, the researchers found.
"There are about 60 species of seagrasses around the world, about 14 genera and out of those genera we could only really look at three where we had enough information to understand how their pollen or fruit would move," Dr McMahon says.
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For the love of cod, let’s save our disappearing seagrass
29 October 2014, The Conversation UK (UK)
Seagrass is one of the most important coastal habitats where young ocean-going fish such as Atlantic cod can grow and develop before setting out on the journey of life. But these critically important habitats, revealed in new research, are being damaged the world over and its not just threatening biodiversity but our food security. The Atlantic cod is a species of significant economic and historic importance but is now better known for its catastrophic decline. Apart from overfishing, the causes of this decline and its subsequent lack of recovery remain largely unresolved.
There is extensive evidence of the presence of juvenile Atlantic cod in seagrass throughout the North Atlantic. Juvenile cod have been recorded in such high density in seagrass that they average 246 individuals per hectare. This density of juvenile Atlantic cod is higher in seagrass meadows compared to alternative habitats. This includes an incredible dataset from Norway where researchers have sampled juvenile cod in seagrass annually since 1919 and other recent studies observing juvenile cod in seagrass in North Wales by our team at Swansea University using stereo Baited Remote Underwater Video systems and seine nets.
Juvenile Atlantic cod have greater long-term viability after having spent time in seagrass, which improves their chances of reaching maturity. Our new analysis, published in the open access journal, Global Ecology and Conservation, illustrates how juvenile Atlantic cod grow faster in seagrass than in surrounding alternative habitat types and have higher survival rates from predation. Although juvenile Atlantic cod do not always need to use seagrass meadows as juvenile habitats, it appears that they may intentionally select seagrass as a nursery habitat. This data comes from studies throughout the Atlantic including Newfoundland in the west and Sweden in the east.
The study, conducted in collaboration with Richard Lilley at Cardiff University, was an extensive meta-analysis of research on the life history of the Atlantic cod resulting in a review and synthesis of its nursery habitat usage. It includes data sources from throughout the region, ranging from Newfoundland, to Norway, to Scotland and to Sweden. Our work provides strong evidence that seagrass meadows are of significant importance to contributing to Atlantic cod stocks, and our review presents extensive quantitative evidence of the role of seagrass as valuable nursery habitat for Atlantic cod. These findings are of major significance given the continued threats to these systems.
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Penalties for harming Great Barrier Reef raised
28 October 2014, by Amy Remeikis, Brisbane Times (Australia)
Maximum penalties for individuals have increased from $470,000 to $700,000, while corporations will face fines of more than $3.5 million, from $2.3 million. Jail terms have also increased from two to five years.
But the Opposition said the change does nothing to protect the reef. "The amendments moved at the last minute by Minister Powell do nothing to address the significant threats faced by the Great Barrier Reef and represent more spin by the Newman Government," Jackie Trad said. "Over the past two years, the Newman Government has wound back important environmental protection laws put in place to reduce sediment run-off, protect the Reef coastline and amended the Abbot Point expansion plan so that all dredge material would be dumped at sea. "The Environment Minister and the Newman Government have had many opportunities to reverse their environmentally damaging decisions, including today but, instead introduce ineffective laws to give the impression that they care about the Reef." Mr Powell said the government had gone over and above international expectations to protect the reef.
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African Manatees Are Omnivores!
28 October 2014, Save our Seas. Article by Lucy Keith Diagne
There’s a good reason manatees are also known as Sea Cows. They’re often seen feeding in seagrass beds or along the banks of rivers, much as cows graze meadows on land. The Florida manatee, the most studied species, is believed to be a strict herbivore (although there have been occasional observations of them eating marine invertebrates). But during my nine years of work with African manatees, in almost every country I’ve visited, I’ve repeatedly heard stories from local people that manatees steal fish from nets, and that they eat clams and mollusks, both freshwater and marine varieties.
At first I was surprised, because I thought African manatees would be just like their Florida cousins, but I heard these reports so often from people in countries thousands of miles apart, that I decided I had to investigate. African manatees are very hard to observe in the wild due to their shy nature and the murky water habitats they live in, so I decided to research their diet using a technique known as stable isotope analysis. The name sounds intimidating, but the concept of stable isotopes is really quite simple: every plant and animal has a unique carbon and nitrogen signature, which differs for lots of reasons including the attributes of environment they live in (rainfall, water quality, soil quality, pollution, etc.) and many other factors. By collecting samples of everything we think an organism eats from each habitat they live in, these signatures can be used to determine what makes up an animal’s diet.
African manatees sampled from both Gabon and Senegal, and both freshwater and marine systems, regularly ate mollusks and fish as part of their diets. For Gabon manatees living in lagoons and rivers in the Central African rainforest, the model estimated their diet was 90% plants and 10% invertebrates (fish were not sampled from Gabon). In the Senegal River, for manatees living in a desert environment at the edge of the Sahara, plants composed 46 - 57% of diet. The remaining diet proportions were composed of mollusks (19 - 24%) and fish (24 - 27%). Manatees living along Senegal’s coast indicated a diet of 48% clams and 51% seagrass. So for manatees in Senegal, approximately 50% of their diets were not plants!
For a species considered an herbivore, this is pretty big news. There was no significant difference between historical and recent manatee samples for either the Senegal River or the coast, and although sample sizes were small, this indicates that sampled manatees had similar diets throughout life, and that diet proportions have not changed significantly over the past 70 years.
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Read more on West African Manatees: Click Here
Seagrass, the tiny plant at the heart of a community
28 October 2014, ABC Kimberley (Australia)
It mightn't look like much, but seagrass is is at the root of some of Broome's favourite features.
"They look like grass, though some are egg-shaped, they look like leaves," is how Broome Community Seagrass Monitoring Project (BCSMP) volunteer Carla, describe the humble plant to Richard Dinnen for ABC Kimberley Breakfast.
She regularly gets up at 4.30am to walk out onto the mudflats of Roebuck Bay to check how the seagrass has been growing. Much of Broome's seagrass 'meadows' are only exposed on the lowest of tides, and even then it doesn't look like much more than a soggy lawn in the sticky mud.
But Carla is in no doubt that the plant's low profile belies its significance for people and the environment.
"Seagrass is pretty important. They are the food for a lot of creatures like dugongs and turtles. They also are very important in that they capture a lot of the runoff that comes out of our sewerage; they keep the water clean."
The Yawuru Aboriginal traditional owners around Roebuck Bay have been enjoying the benefits of seagrass for millennia. Fish, dugong and sea turtles are still hunted, and shellfish are collected from the mud.
Many of Broome's non-Aboriginal residents also fish the waters, and Roebuck Bay is an important attraction for the town's tourism industry. They are aspects of Broome that depend heavily on the inconspicuous plant.
Len McKenzie is a seagrass researcher from James Cook University in North Queensland. He works with volunteers around the world for the Global Seagrass Watch monitoring program, and he's impressed by Broome's seagrass enthusiasts.
"This is globally one of the better groups of volunteers we deal with. They are a really enthusiastic group... the calibre of volunteers and their skills are very, very high."
Mr McKenzie said that much of what people love about living in Broome comes from seagrass.
"Without seagrass you would not have a certain amount of fisheries, you may not have as many fish to catch, and you certainly wouldn't have things like dugongs and turtles," he said.
Many Broome people will rarely see seagrass if they don't walk the mudflats of Roebuck Bay, but they can still have an impact on this small plant that is so important to the local environment.
"Things like what people put down their drains, what sort of fertiliser they put on their yards; all those things wash down stormwater drains and go straight into Roebuck Bay," Mr McKenzie said.
It's this interconnectivity of people, plants and animals that inspired Stacey to volunteer with the BCSMP.
"It's such an integral part of our community and you can't live here without understanding a little bit about how everything works," she said.
Trouble with grass
The BCSMP group was established in 2007 in response to concerns about the impact of poor water quality and blue-green algae on Broome's seagrass. Mr McKenzie says it's a scenario being repeated around the world.
"The biggest threat to seagrass is things such as water quality. So things we do on the land are flowing off our land into our adjacent coastal areas which is reducing the water quality for seagrass to grow."
The world's ever-expanding population, particularly along coastlines, is impacting the seemingly infinite oceans. And like a canary in a coalmine, the demise of seagrasses is signalling a growing problem.
"They're disappearing globally at a rate of about two football fields per hour. So this is quite a concern to people, and certainly protecting seagrasses and making sure that they are no longer disappearing at this huge rate is really important," Mr McKenzie said.
Coordinator of Broome's monitoring group, Julia Rau, says a decline in the local seagrasses appears to be reversing.
"Around 2012/13 we actually had quite a decline of seagrass here in the Bay. We're not entirely sure why... Now it's starting to come back, so that's why we have to do this over a long period of time to get this long-term data," she said.
Monitoring a marine ecosystem for almost a decade is a big job for a small community. But as well as the pull of the importance of seagrass, Ms Rau has another strategy that has kept the community heading out to the mudflats as the sun comes over the horizon.
"Muffins and hot coffee in the mornings; that's to bribe people a little."
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Seagrass meadows are crucial for human food supply
27 October 2014, environmentalresearchweb (Australia)
Creatures linked to seagrass habitat in Indonesia’s Wakatobi National Park provide at least half of fish-based human food in the area, according to researchers from the UK. But people are catching too many juvenile fish and, together with poor seagrass habitat management, this could undermine the long-term security of this food supply.
“We wanted to undertake a truly interdisciplinary examination of food security and its link to seagrass in an area of the world where marine ecosystem degradation is widespread but subsistence dependency on sea food is very high,” Richard Unsworth of Swansea University told environmentalresearchweb. “We integrated ecological-, social- and market-based data to provide a much broader assessment of these factors than had previously been conducted.”
Unsworth and colleagues from Swansea University and Cardiff University assessed the fish catch in 10 villages in Kaledupa, Indonesia in early 2013. The fish were caught using a variety of methods – static fyke nets, gill nets, rod and line, and fish traps. The team also examined which species were on sale at the Kaledupa fish market, and surveyed 254 households in 26 villages. Of these interviews, 230 were with Pulo people (local islanders) and 24 with Bajo people, who live on stilted houses in the intertidal region.
Fishermen took nearly 68% of their catches over seagrass habitat, 18% from coral, almost 14% from mixed seagrass and coral, and just under 1% from the deep sea, the team found. A total of 296 species were seen – 106 of these were associated with seagrass habitat for at least some of their lifecycle.
Roughly 99% of Pulo people surveyed ate fish every day, while the figure for Bajo people was 54%. And seagrass-associated fauna made up at least half of local people’s fish-based food.
“Our research really articulates how seagrass systems are very closely associated to people’s livelihoods and daily food needs, yet these habitats fail to be considered in most conservation agendas throughout the coral triangle,” said Unsworth. “This is the first such detailed examination of these links; we provide solid quantitative evidence.”
The Wakatobi National Park is typical of many large marine protected areas in the Coral Triangle, an area also known as the “Amazon of the Seas” because of its biodiversity. The researchers reckon their study has significant implications for how major conservation programmes throughout Asia-Pacific and the Coral Triangle consider food security and manage fisheries exploitation.
Now Unsworth and colleagues plan to examine the link between food security and seagrass at multiple temporal and spatial scales so that they can understand these processes at a regional and global level.
Unsworth and colleagues reported their work in Environmental Research Letters (ERL).
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Cane plan aims for clean nitrogen use
24 October 2014, North Queensland Register (Australia)
THE Australian government and Terrain NRM are offering Wet Tropics’ sugar cane farmers a unique opportunity to build on existing efforts to improve the quality of water entering the Great Barrier Reef.
The $5 million Reef Trust Tender - Wet Tropics is a new Australian Government initiative that offers financial incentives to sugar cane farmers to improve their nitrogen use efficiency and help reduce nitrogen discharge from the Wet Tropics - one of the biggest known risks to the Great Barrier Reef.
“We are excited to be working with the Australian Government to support cane farmers in their endeavours to help preserve the Reef whilst maintaining or improving farm sustainability,” Terrain NRM’s CEO Carole Sweatman said.
The Reef Trust Tender – Wet Tropics is a four year program where farmers apply through a market-based competitive tender. Successful tenders are awarded based on the best value for money in improving nitrogen use efficiency on farm.
“It is a great opportunity for cane farmers across the Wet Tropics region,” Ms Sweatman said.
“Terrain NRM will be holding five workshops throughout the region from 1 to 5 December 2014. I strongly encourage cane farmers to attend to find out about the program and learn how to calculate nitrogen use efficiency for their property,” she said.
The workshops will be held as follows: December 1, Mossman; December 2, Cairns; December 3, Innisfail; December 4, Tully; and December 5, Ingham. For specific information on the times and locations of each workshop follow the links below.
To be eligible to make an application, sugar cane farmers need to register their expression of interest online at www.environment.gov.au/reef-trust -tender by December 18, 2014.
Only applicants who register their expression of interest will be eligible to lodge a tender from January 19 to February 19, 2015.
To find out more about Reef Trust – Wet Tropics, go to www.terrain.org.au, contact Terrain NRM at email@example.com, or call 1800 357 755.
For information about Reef Trust, go to the Department of Environment’s website www.environment.gov.au/reef-trust
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Studies show Lagoon grass gained 12 percent
23 October 2014, Florida Today (USA)
The Indian River Lagoon has grown a bit grassier, according to new data released this week.
Seagrass increased by 4,700 acres, or 12 percent, between 2011 and 2013.
Still, the bottom plant that provides a key barometer of the lagoon’s overall health remains well below what it was just two years before an algae “superbloom” struck its deadly blow and killed some 47,000 acres of seagrass.
New data from the St. Johns River Water Management District shows seagrass coverage in Volusia, Brevard and Indian River counties is still 39 percent less than what it was before the 2011 superbloom.
Seagrass grew from just over 38,300 acres in that region in 2011 to more than 43,000 acres last year.
But the increase may only reflect normal year-to-year variation, district officials said.
“It’s a good indicator, but we’re cautious in that it’s only one year,” said Hank Largin, a district spokesman. “We’ll have to see the longer-term data.”
District scientists also have yet to determine how much the improvement may have continued this year.
The superbloom triggered a 60 percent loss of lagoon seagrass. That loss is suspected to have contributed to subsequent manatee, dolphin and other wildlife die-offs
Seagrass is the lagoon’s prime nursery for fish and other marine life that helps drive $3.7 billion in annual economic activity.
Just two years before the 2011 superbloom, lagoon seagrass thrived at levels not seen since the 1940s. Restoration efforts finally seemed to be paying off, with some help from drought, which meant less polluting runoff into the waterway.
But drought, coupled with record cold winter temperatures, also was among the major driving factors that fueled the superbloom and subsequent brown algae blooms, according to scientists at the University of Florida and the district.
Extreme cold in December 2010 and January 2011 killed tiny marine organisms that graze on algae, allowing the superbloom to thrive, the researchers concluded in a recent research paper published last month in the journal Estuaries and Coasts. Drought also drove lagoon salt levels into the ideal range for the algae species that bloomed in recent years, the researchers concluded.
As part of ongoing research, the water management district uses aerial photography to create seagrass maps of the lagoon. Photos are taken every two or three years to update the maps.
Biologists also dive along the seagrass beds to verify information from the aerial photos.
Contact Waymer at 321-242-3663 or firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on Twitter @JWayEnviro
Indian River Lagoon seagrass gain from 2011 to 2013 (Volusia County through Indian River County)
2013 — 43,083 acres
2011 — 38,320 acres
Increase — 4,763 (12.4 percent)
Source: St. Johns River Water Management District
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Marine marvels – Seagrass balls
22 October 2014, Yass Tribune (Australia)
Dean writes – “I first came across them in August 2012 and again in April the next year. I think these were from the same batch or storm tide. They were mostly 60mm to 100mm, some round and some more oval shaped.
Then in May 2013 I was down at Cape Conran on the Croajingolong coast in Victoria and the whole shore was littered with them.
It was quite a sight. The balls were much bigger and more perfectly round, washed along the high tide line and through the back grasses.
Because there was so many I found the whole range from the initial stages to completely finished. You could see that they began forming around a piece of sea sponge and that thin hard grasses or fibres would prick into the sponge. Over time and tide they slowly formed into a ball or cocoon shape.
The biggest I found were a 190mm diameter ball and a cocoon 290mm long. Some were hard and cropped and others were loose like a `Rasta` hair style.
The balls appear to be made of the roots or fibres of Posidonia seagrasses (strapweed or tapeweed) but they trap all sorts of flotsam as well. Driftwood, sticks, bamboo, other varieties of sponge, coral, feathers, marram and spinifex grasses, fishing line and shell fragments were just some of the inclusions. All contained lots of sand.
It was amazing to find so many of these unusual balls but other people on the beach seemed totally oblivious to them. To me they are like a treasure from the ocean and to come across one or a few on the tide line always feels magical.
A friend who dives said that he`d seen them underwater washed in the rock holes. This might explain how they form, being mixed and dragged with the swell and tides.
As a long-time surfer you`d think I would have seen them before. But like many of nature’s gifts these sculptures are ephemeral and, like all organic things stranded on a shore, unless found will eventually return to nature. Hidden secrets of the tide line.”
Dean was inspired to photograph the sea balls as part of his south coast series. You can see more of his wonderful photos by Googling Flickr: driftfoot.
The Nature Coast Marine Group has an extensive program of activities where members can have fun learning about our marine environment. New members are always welcome.
To find out more about the Group and to see other stories in this series, visit the website www.ncmg.org.au or search for Nature Coast Marine Group on Facebook and follow us there.
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Great Barrier Reef study hopes to find answer to mass turtle stranding
22 October 2014, ABC Online (Australia)
Marine experts working on the Great Barrier Reef have begun one of the largest turtle research projects ever undertaken in a bid to crack a two-year environmental mystery.
A mass stranding of turtles at Upstart Bay in North Queensland in 2012 stumped researchers, who have set sail in the Great Barrier Reef to investigate if an increase in water pollution was responsible for the deaths.
World Wildlife Fund researchers and marine experts have begun 'rodeoing' in green turtles from three locations.
They took samples from their blood and stomach, which will then be compared to their shells.
Researchers said the turtles' shells will hold traces of chemicals from 2012.
The samples will also be compared to some of the turtles which died in the stranding.
The turtles are tagged, measured and the contents of their stomach pumped and collected to take back to laboratories.
Today, dozens were wrestled into boats at the site of the mysterious stranding at Upstart Bay, about 150 kilometres south of Townsville.
Last month, several hundred green turtles were collected from pristine waters north of Cooktown, and last week more were brought in from Cleveland Bay near Townsville.
Shot at cracking the mystery
World Wildlife Fund project manager Christine Hoff believed researchers had a shot of solving the mystery.
"We have a lot of pollution around in the Great Barrier Reef and run off from the land," she said.
"We really want to correlate what's coming off the land into the environment, in our sediments, seagrass and what we're finding in turtles."
University of Queensland toxicologist, Associate Professor Caroline Gaus said the study would examine if exposure in the past was much higher than it is currently.
"So it's basically like looking back in time," she said.
"It's not ideal but it's the best way of doing something like this."
Environment Minister Andrew Powell was not convinced pollutants were to blame.
"I think that's answering the question before we've done the research. I stress every study we've done to date hasn't produced a definitive cause," he said.
Researchers will not get the results of the project for three-and-a-half years.
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University of Florida Seagrass Study Shows Need for Clear Water
21 October 2014, The Fishing Wire (USA)
Seagrass beds represent critical and threatened coastal habitats around the world, and a new University of Florida study shows how much sunlight seagrass needs to stay healthy.
Loss of seagrass means fish, crabs and other animals lose their homes and manatees and sea turtles lose a source of food. Nutrients, such as phosphorous, may prevent seagrass from getting the sunlight it needs to thrive. Nutrients may come from many sources, among them fertilizers used in agriculture, golf courses and suburban lawns, pet waste and septic tank waste.
Scientists often use seagrass to judge coastal ecosystems' vitality, said Chuck Jacoby, a courtesy associate professor in the Department of Soil and Water Science and co-author of a new UF study that examines light and seagrass health.
"By protecting seagrass, we protect organisms that use seagrass and other photosynthetic organisms that need less light," said Jacoby, a faculty member in UF's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
When nutrient levels are too high, microorganisms in the water, called phytoplankton, use these nutrients and light to grow and reproduce until they become so abundant that they block sunlight seagrass needs to survive, said Zanethia Choice, a former UF graduate student who led the investigation.
"Seagrass can cope with short-term light reductions, but if those conditions last too long or occur too frequently, seagrass will deteriorate and ultimately die," Choice said. "Good water clarity is vital for healthy coastal systems."
Choice studied seagrass beds in a 700,000-acre swath off the coast of Florida's Big Bend.
Choice, now a natural resource specialist with the U.S. Forest Service in Mississippi, conducted the study as part of her master's thesis, under the supervision of Jacoby and Tom Frazer, a professor of aquatic ecology and director of the UF School of Natural Resources and Environment.
Choice combined 13 years of light and water quality data and two years of seagrass samples from habitats near the mouths of eight rivers that empty into the Gulf of Mexico.
Seagrass off the Steinhatchee, Suwannee, Waccasassa, Withlacoochee, Crystal, Homosassa, Chassahowitzka and Weeki Wachee rivers constitutes part of the second largest seagrass bed in Florida. The largest bed is in Florida Bay, between the Everglades and the Florida Keys, Jacoby said.
Choice wanted to see how much light was needed to keep the seagrass in this region healthy. She found different seagrass species needed varying amounts of light, ranging from 8 to 27 percent of the sunlight at the water's surface.
The UF/IFAS study will give water resource managers, such as the state Department of Environmental Protection, water-clarity targets they can use to set proper nutrient levels for water bodies, Jacoby said.
Reducing nutrient levels can promote the health of seagrass and coastal waters. For example, concerted efforts to reduce nutrients flowing into Tampa Bay over the past 20-plus years resulted in a 50 percent reduction in nitrogen, a 50 percent increase in water clarity and a return of lost seagrass, according to a study conducted by the Tampa Bay Estuary Program.
Unlike Tampa Bay, there is no evidence that elevated nutrient levels in Choice's study area have led to loss of seagrass. UF researchers are trying to make sure nutrients do not pollute the seagrass beds off the coast of the Big Bend, and they hope their results will guide managers as they strive to prevent any damage.
The study of seagrass light requirements is published in this month's issue of the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin.
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Ead teams up with Total to protect region's dugongs
20 October 2014, The National (UAE)
The environment authority has teamed up with oil giant Total to educate the public about the estimated 3,500 dugongs that call Abu Dhabi home.
The dugongs, of which there are 7,000 in the Arabian Gulf and Red Sea, are at risk from human activity. They are considered vulnerable by the World Wildlife Fund, indicating a high risk of extinction in the wild.
“The dugong is not only a charismatic species that has attracted public attention globally, but it is also considered by conservationists as an umbrella species,” said Ayesha Al Blooshi, director of marine biodiversity at the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, or Ead.
This means habitat control and conservation efforts for dugongs also protect marine life in the same ecosystem.
In the coming months, interactive and educational workshops on conservation will be presented to middle and high school students, the fishing community and boat owners.
They will learn, for example, that the dugong is unique among marine mammals in being herbivorous, which prompts them to migrate from the east African shore all the way to the Pacific Islands.
Razan Al Mubarak, secretary general of Ead, said the conservation programme would enable Abu Dhabi “to provide a safe haven for this migrating species and make the UAE a leader in global dugong conservational efforts”.
The campaign will include public outreach through the Ead’s social-media sites, and entertaining and educational activities for families next month at Mushrif Mall.
Significant efforts have been made to conserve the local dugong population. In 2002, Ead banned drift-net fishing in shallow water to prevent dugongs and turtles from becoming entangled in the nets.
Nationally, two laws were issued in 1999 to protect dugongs from exploitation.
The UAE was one of the first Middle East countries to sign the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s agreement in 2007.
The Dugong Memorandum of Understanding, which falls under the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the Convention on Migratory Species, is implemented through the convention secretariat’s office.
The office has been hosted by Ead since 2009.
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Scientist disputes tumor findings
18 October 2014, Thegardenisland.com (USA)
A group of scientists is rebutting a recent study suggesting that invasive algae is driving the grotesque, cancer-like tumors found in Hawaii’s green sea turtle population.
In fact, they say it’s equally plausible that the algae could be having the opposite effect, leading to a decline in tumors.
Dr. Thierry Work, a wildlife disease specialist for the U.S. Geological Survey in Honolulu, said those behind the paper, published Sept. 30 in the scientific journal PeerJ, did not do their homework.
“I don’t think this paper has any scientific foundation,” he said.
The paper was co-authored by University of Hawaii at Manoa Botany Professor Celia Smith and Kyle S. Van Houtan of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Turtle Research Program. Their research suggests the fibropapilloma (FP) tumors are caused by turtles consuming non-native algae, dubbed “superweeds,” along coastlines where nutrient pollution goes unchecked. Turtles that graze on blooms of invasive seaweeds end up with a diet that is rich in a particular amino acid, arginine, which they say promotes the virus that creates the tumors.
Work said there is no disputing that Hawaii’s coastlines are degraded. However, he says the authors should not have used “bad science” to convey that message.
“When you do, science loses credibility,” he said. “I don’t think that’s a good thing. It’s unfortunate.”
Attempts to reach Smith for comment Wednesday were not successful.
In their response, also published on PeerJ, Work and six other scientists wrote that the story of pollution being bad for the environment and harming wildlife is “appealing” and “resonates with a broad audience.”
“However, scratch the surface, and the component parts of the story do not add up,” they wrote.
Work said the paper’s authors found that amino acids, including glycine, proline and arginine, in the tumors were elevated when compared to skeletal muscles, and that turtles’ ingestion of invasive algae is “activating latent herpes infections and promoting tumors by foraging on arginine-enriched macroalgae.”
“They’re comparing apples to oranges,” he said by phone.
A more straightforward explanation for the difference in amino acid signatures, according to Work, is that the tumors comprise mainly connective tissues highly enriched in glycine and proline relative to skeletal muscle.
“It is no surprise that connective tissue of skin tumors and skeletal muscle from the same animal have different amino acid profiles, and this difference likely has nothing to do with herpesviral replication or ingested arginine,” he wrote.
And while invasive algae continues to be an ongoing ecological issue, Work wrote that the authors failed to acknowledge that the prevalence of FP in green sea turtles in Hawaii has been declining since the mid-1990s. Ultimately, he argues there is nothing to suggest arginine is driving FP.
Work discussed the invasive, non-native alga Hypnea musciformis, which the paper’s authors suspect of playing a role in turtle tumors. Studies, however, have documented the alga contains an amino acid that plays a role in tumor suppression.
“One might speculate an equally plausible scenario in which ingestion of glutamic acid-laden invasive algae is somehow leading to the decline of FP in green turtles in Hawaii through the tumor-suppressing effects of glutamic acid,” Work wrote
He wrote that the paper provides no compelling evidence that algae, arginine and tumors in turtles are linked.
To view Work’s response to the Smith and Van Houtan article, visit https://peerj.com/preprints/539/
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Workshop Focuses on Dugong Research in Qatar
13 October 2014, MENAFN.COM (Qatar)
A workshop organised at Qatar University Research Complex discussed marine mammal dugong's population, global status and conversation.
Qatar University (QU), ExxonMobil Research Qatar (EMRQ) and Texas A&M University at Galveston (TAMUG) hosted the two-day workshop, QU said Sunday.
The dugong is a large herbivorous marine mammal around three meters long, weighing more than 400 kilograms, and has a lifespan of up to 60 years. Together with the manatees, is one of four living species of the order Sirenia.
Qatar is home to the largest population of dugongs outside of Australia. Historically, dugongs have a cultural and economic importance to Qataris. It has been used as an economic and food resource in the Arabian Gulf for more than 7,500 years.
Dugongs have a low reproductive output. They are listed as Vulnerable to Extinction by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
In Qatar dugongs face challenges like incidental fishing and habitat degradation. Limited research has been conducted on Qatari dugongs thus far and the tri-party initiative will aim to develop the scientific understanding needed to inform decisions for their protections and conservation, QU said.
The workshop follows the recent signing of an agreement in July by the three parties to further environmental research and marine mammal initiatives relevant to Qatar.
40 environmental regulators and academics, from environment research, management, and conservation institutes, and other stakeholders, including the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Municipality and Urban Planning, discussed strategies and recommendations for dugong conservation.
QU Associate Vice-president for Research and Strategic Initiatives Dr Bhanu Chowdhary said, "The expertise and excellent facilities and resources available at QU through the Environmental Studies Center, and other departments and research units in various colleges, along with various national and regional partners, will allow the research partners to successfully tackle key issues related to conservation of this indigenous species." He reaffirmed QU's commitment to knowledge-sharing and providing expertise for multidisciplinary research, education and learning in line with the organization’s research priorities and in contribution to the objectives of Qatar National Vision 2030, National Research Strategy, and other national development strategies.
EMRQ Research Director Dr Jennifer Dupont said, "We are pleased to work with QU and Texas A&M University at Galveston to conduct research on the dugong population in Qatar. It is a fascinating species and we are committed to learning more about it, while ensuring it is protected and continues to thrive in its natural habitat.
"Our research at EMRQ supports Qatar Foundation's National Research Strategy with regard to energy and the environment, and also endorses ExxonMobil's commitment to support Qatar's development."
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Efforts stepped up to protect, conserve dugongs in Qatar
13 October 2014, The Peninsula (Qatar)
Institutions in Qatar have stepped up efforts to protect and conserve dugongs — marine animals that have historical importance to Qatari society.
Qatar University (QU) in collaboration with ExxonMobil Research Qatar (EMRQ) and Texas A&M University at Galveston (TAMUG) hosted a workshop to discuss the dugong population, their global status, and current and future strategies for their conservation.
Qatar is home to the largest population of dugongs outside Australia. The large, herbivorous mammals consume sea grass and can reach lengths of over three meters. They weigh more than 400kg and live up to 60 years.
Dugongs have a cultural and economic importance to Qataris, having been used as an economic and food resource in the Arabian Gulf for more than 7,500 years.
Though long-living, dugongs have a low reproductive output. They are listed as vulnerable to extinction by International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Dugongs in Qatar face challenges, including incidental fishing and habitat degradation.
Limited research has been conducted on Qatari dugongs and the tri-party initiative aims to develop the scientific understanding to provide decisions for their protection and conservation.
The extreme marine and physical environment of the Arabian Gulf, as well as the northern limit of dugong distribution may suggest that their life history will differ from those in Australia.
The workshop followed the signing of an agreement in July by the three parties to further environmental research and marine mammal initiatives relevant to Qatar.
Close to 40 environmental regulators and academics, from environment research, management and conservation institutes, and other stakeholders, including the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Municipality and Urban Planning, participated in the discussion. Deliberations focused on strategies and recommendations for dugong conservation as well as current and future collaborative opportunities.
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Real blow for dugongs: Cyclones an ill wind for sea mammals, says professor
06 October 2014, by Daniel Bateman, Cairns Post, page 10
A leading scientist says cyclones rather than hunting pressure may be responsible for a drop in dugong numbers in the northern part of the Great Barrier Reef.
Black swans and seagrass strike a delicate balance
09 October 2014, Phys.Org (Australia)
SEAGRASS in the Swan River needs to be protected to help maintain populations of WA's iconic black swan.
Edith Cowan University researcher Gary Choney investigated the grazing pressure black swans (Cygnus atratus) exerted on seagrass in the lower Swan River, between the Narrows Bridge and East Fremantle, as part of his Masters research.
He says the state's early explorers documented large numbers of the birds in the 1700s and he's surprised that, as the state emblem, more research hasn't been done into them.
He estimates there are now just 185 birds in the lower estuary in autumn, when they are most abundant, dwindling to just 53 in spring.
The research shows intrusions to shorelines and habitats by factors like dogs and jetties help determine swan numbers, but the biggest driver is seagrass abundance.
He examined the swan's grazing patterns on three seagrass species, Ruppia meagcarpa, Halophila ovalis and Zostera muelleri, in areas where they are known to feed
"Swans rip out the whole seagrass when grazing—so you can see the clear, distinct mark which is sand where the swan fed," he says.
"We can then calculate how much seagrass was in the plot and how much was consumed by the swan."
The investigation found that when swan abundance peaks, seagrass production is also at its peak and grazing pressure is delicately balanced.
"One of the most interesting things is that although we see significant change in swan numbers over a year and more grazing with an increase in swan numbers, there wasn't actually a change in the percentage of seagrass production consumed," he says.
"When bird numbers peak in summer and autumn it is also when seagrass production is at its peak, so even though the swans ate more, the seagrass was able to produce just as much."
However, he says the balance could be upset if swans were forced to the river from outlaying wetlands drying because of factors like climate change or groundwater extraction.
In addition, seagrass is susceptible to algal blooms caused by suburban water runoff containing contaminates like phosphates and detergents.
"At the moment the balance is fine," he says.
"However there have been studies done using simulated experiments to test the effect of algal blooms and they have shown significant impact on seagrass, lessening its production and it isn't able to recover."
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Qatar home to second largest gathering of dugongs in the world
09 October 2014, Peninsula On-line (Doha)
Qatar’s coast has the second largest gathering of dugongs in the world, according to a new study by Texas University, Qatar University and Axon Mobil Research.
The research, conducted to highlight the behaviours of the dugongs, found that Qatar was second to Australia in having many dugongs along its coast in the world, Al Sharq reports.
The research also aims at bridging the gap of information on the dugongs due to inadequate research on the species.
There is a new agreement between these research institutes to enhance the understanding of the dugongs, especially when taking major environmental decisions on the coasts like that of Qatar where they are in large numbers.
Results of the study will be revealed at Qatar Foundation’s Annual Research Forum.
The dugong is the largest sea mammal that stays in coastal sea waters. It weighs about 400kg and can be found in 37 countries.
Climate change threatens Western Australia's iconic Shark Bay
08 OCtober 2014, The Conversation (Australia)
In the summer of 2010-2011 Western Australia experienced an unprecedented heatwave — but not on land. Between December 2010 and April 2011, sea temperatures off the WA coast reached 3C above average, and for two weeks peaked at 5C above average — 28C compared to the normal 23C.
The effects were drastic. Corals bleached, and the makeup of the usually temperate south west marine ecosystems shifted to more tropical — both in fish, and algae.
We’re still learning about this extraordinary event. Our recent research published in Journal of Ecology and Global Change Biology and Global Change Biology shows that the heatwave had a significant, possibly permanent, impact on the seagrass beds of Shark Bay — an internationally recognised World Heritage Area.
With climate change forecast to increase the frequency of extreme weather events, this is a sign of things to come.
A perfect storm
Heatwaves will be one of the bigger climate-related threats facing Australia as we move into a changing future.
The effects of such heatwaves on humans and land ecosystems are relatively well-established, and we have already seen mass deaths in animals resulting from abnormally high temperatures.
However, the risk of extreme heat events in our marine ecosystems is less known.
The 2011 heatwave has been dubbed the “Ningaloo Niña”. The Ningaloo Niña was an unprecedented warming event in waters off the coast of Western Australia, driven by intense Leeuwin Current flows, an extraordinary La Niña event, and multi-decadal trends in the Pacific Ocean.
These events overlapped to drive mean monthly sea surface temperatures up to 2-4C above normal in Shark Bay for a period of four months.
Too hot to handle
The impact of this prolonged heatwave on the seagrass meadows in Shark Bay was drastic.
The main seagrass species of Shark Bay (Amphibolis antarctica) is a temperate species found only in Australia. In Shark Bay it lives near the limit of its temperature tolerance. The Ningaloo Niña pushed the grass past its limit — 90% dieback was recorded in some areas across the bay.
At the same time, the Wooramel River, which flows into Shark Bay, flooded three times in the summer of 2010/11. These floods delivered over 500 gigalitres of floodwater containing large amounts of sediment into Shark Bay. This reduced light availability resulted in meadows up to 15 kilometres from the River mouth being among the worst affected.
Loss of habitat will be greatest in areas where extreme events overlap with additional stressors, a pattern also noted in coral reef ecosystems.
The seagrass did recover a little over the next two years (measured in weight of leaves or “biomass”), but only to 7-20% of the historical averages for Shark Bay.
Belowground roots and rhizomes decreased over the same period. For large seagrasses, belowground reserves help them persist through unfavourable conditions like high temperatures or low light.
This lowered resistance could therefore increase vulnerability to future extreme events. As extreme climatic events are predicted to increase in frequency and intensity, this points to a worrying future for the seagrasses of Shark Bay.
What does this mean for World Heritage?
Shark Bay was granted World Heritage Status in 1991 for its natural heritage values, and was the first marine World Heritage Site in Western Australia.
Shark Bay boasts one of the largest continuous seagrass meadows in the world, and the seagrasses of Shark Bay are central to its World Heritage Status.
The temperate seagrass Amphibolis antarctica – endemic to Australia - is undoubtedly the foundation species of Shark Bay. It covers approximately 3,700 square kilometres of Shark Bay (85% of the bay’s total seagrass cover), and its meadows are rich in biodiversity.
Shark Bay is home to globally significant populations of the endangered green turtle and the vulnerable dugong. Seagrasses provide important habitat and forage for these large animals, and loss of seagrass could impact these populations.
Indeed, Florida International University’s Shark Bay Ecosystem Research Project has noted a decline in the health of green turtles in Shark Bay in the two years following the heatwave and seagrass loss, showing the potential impact of seagrass loss on the megafauna of Shark Bay.
Such impacts could reach even the top predators in the system — tiger sharks — that forage for prey, including sea turtles, over seagrass meadows.
Important fisheries species can also rely on functioning seagrass meadows. Since the marine heatwave, the Shark Bay blue swimmer crab and scallop fisheries (the largest in WA) have been closed due to low abundances, presumably as an impact of the heatwave.
Seagrasses play other indirect roles in Shark Bay’s status as a World Heritage Site.
Seagrasses have contributed to the creation of large banks and sills across Shark Bay by increasing the buildup of sediment. These banks and sills have restricted circulation and led to a strong salinity gradient in the Bay — with salinities of 70 ppt found in Hamelin Pool.
This salinity gradient has allowed for the presence of one of the most diverse and abundant stromatolite populations in the world. Stromatolites are rocky structures created by blue-green algae. They represent living fossils, and are examples of some of the most ancient life on Earth — the oldest known stromatolite fossils date over 3.5 billion years.
Seagrass loss will impact the long-term stability of these banks and sills, and may directly threaten these globally important organisms that attract many tourists to the region. Climate-driven loss of seagrass in Shark Bay will likely have severe implications for this iconic ecosystem.
Even in areas that are relatively free from human impacts like Shark Bay, these extreme climatic events will change our marine ecosystems.
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Douglas tour operator concerned at dredging plans
07 October 2014, Newsport Daily (Port Douglas, QLD)
A Port Douglas tourism operator is expressing concern at dredging impacts on the Great Barrier Reef after the release of new images of dredge dumping off the coast of Cairns.
Ports North have been under increased scrutiny this year after a permit variation was required prior to the annual maintenance dredging program.
A heavy dredge barge is expected to dredge and dump 350,000 ‘dry tonnes’ of material in the World Heritage Area and marine park, allowed for under the permit variation.
Maintenance dredging occurs every year and tourism operators, including Mark Fraenkel from Blue Dive Port Douglas, have reported reduced visibility on reefs as far afield as Opal reef off Port Douglas, during dredging and dumping operations.
Mr Fraenkel has reported reduced visibility during dredging operations as far away as Opal reef off Port Douglas and is concerned about plans to further increase dredging along the coast.
“Some tourism operators are not speaking publicly, but in private the word I am hearing and what I am seeing is that dredging does have an impact on visibility on the reef. This directly impacts on visitors’ tourism experience,” Mark Fraenkel said.
“I am really concerned about the impacts of proposed new capital dredging of 4.4 million cubic meters of spoil for the port expansion, and the increase in maintenance dredging that would be required if this went ahead.
“I am not saying ‘stop the maintenance dredging’ but I am saying let’s manage it better and not rush into a port expansion that would mean much more dredging.
“Port Douglas receives cruise ships without the need for the ships to dock, as does Cairns at Yorkey’s Knob, so I question the need for this risky and damaging expansion proposal.
“Of course we all want development for our area, but it has to be done sensibly.
“The comments I have heard from Ports North lead me to be worried that they are trivialising the impacts of dredging. I know that we need some dredging in Cairns but these photos are important in ensuring people know that dredging does not come without impact.
“I am calling on our marvelous Douglas Shire Mayor Julia Leu to commission an independent scientist to investigate the impact of dredging on Port Douglas reefs.”
In its long-term sustainability plan, Ports North admitted that around half of the material dumped from dredging operations does not stay on the spoil dump ground. The pictures released graphically show much of the material is instead resuspended and can drift onto the reef and inshore environments.
Ports North continue to deny impacts of dredging and dumping with a spokesperson reported as saying that any sediment plumes are gone 'after about two hours'. Yet at a Cairns forum on the impacts of dredging, Professor Richard Bush of Southern Cross University recently pointed out that “Dredge spoil should not be considered a benign material; it can react very quickly to become an acidic source of contamination.”
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Turtle tumors linked to excessive nitrogen from land-based pollution
06 October 2014, UH System Current News (Hawaii, USA)
Hawai‘i’s sea turtles are afflicted with chronic and often lethal tumors caused by consuming non-native algae, "superweeds," along coastlines where nutrient pollution is unchecked. The disease that causes these tumors is considered the leading cause of death in endangered green sea turtles. The new research was just published in the scientific journal PeerJ.
Turtles that graze on blooms of invasive seaweeds end up with a diet that is rich in a particular amino acid, arginine, which promotes the virus that creates the tumors. Scientists at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa and their NOAA colleague estimate that adult turtles foraging at high-nutrient grazing sites increase their arginine intake 17–26 g daily, up to 14 times the background level.
“For years, local ocean lovers have known that our green turtles have had awful tumors on their heads, eyes and front flippers,” said UH Manoa Marine Biology Professor Celia Smith, who worked with Kyle S. Van Houton of NOAA’s Turtle Research Program on this study. “Many hypotheses were offered to explain the tumors, but we kept coming back to the observation that urban reefs—those near dense populations—are the sites with greater numbers of sick turtles. We had no mechanism for this disease.”
More than 60 percent of turtles in Kane‘ohe Bay have been observed to bear tumors. Kihei, Maui, has been called a "ground zero" for fibropapillomatosis, the disease that is caused by a herpes virus and manifests as tumors in turtles. Humans appear unaffected by the disease.
Van Houtan and colleagues previously described an epidemiological link between tumors and coastal eutrophication, that is, the enrichment of coastal waters with nutrients from land-based sources of pollution such as wastewater or agricultural fertilizers. This new study analyzed the actual tissues from tumored green turtles and the amounts of arginine in the dominant algae forage species from across Hawai‘i.
The analysis revealed remarkably high levels of arginine in tissues of invasive seaweeds harvested under nutrient-rich conditions, such as those affected by nitrogen from land-based pollution. These are the same conditions that promote algal blooms. The non-native algae "superweeds" grow so quickly when fertilized that some can double their weight in a period of two days.
When found on typical healthy reefs with low nutrient inputs, the same invasive algae species had lower levels of amino acids, even though arginine levels were still elevated. A native algae species and favorite food of the green sea turtle called Pterocladiella capillacea did not synthesize anomalously high levels of arginine under low nitrogen conditions.
“I’ve never had a research project where so many different tools have been used to evaluate a hypothesis and, in every case, the same complex answer is returned: excess nutrients in coastal waters drive blooms of specific invasive algae,” Smith said. “These weeds then grow rapidly, dominate shallow water ecosystems, and store high levels of arginine in their tissues that trigger tumor growth for the grazing turtle population. Few could have imagined that an algal bloom could have such consequences up the food chain."
Smith and her colleagues, including UH Manoa’s Meghan L. Dailer and Migiwa S. Kawachi, note that eutrophication of coastal waters goes beyond its influence on green turtle populations. Eutrophication is also associated with coral reef declines.
“The native species we have as our limu, fish and corals evolved for millions of years in low nutrient environments,” Smith said. “Any added nitrogen that enters our tropical coasts begins to alter the fundamental competition among species. With too much nutrient input, as we have seen on Maui, new dynamics of fast growth by non-native superweeds occurs. These weeds take over our reefs, and we tend to lose our native species.”
The biggest losers might be the gentle sea turtles, who are not looking beyond their next algae snack.
“The honu, or green turtles, have a special status in Hawai‘i—culturally and federally,” Smith said. “But to prevent them from consuming superweeds that promote these tumors—their greatest known source of mortality, we need to manage aggressively all land-based sources nutrient pollution and to restore the turtle's native diet.”
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Godfather of coral says GBRMPA is finished
07 October 2014, ABC Online (Australia)
How would you feel if you walked into the office today and there was nobody was there?
This could be the future for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.
Federal Budget cuts have seen 17 staff members go, 5 of whom are senior directors.
Australia once led the world in marine biology, now critics say it's all over.
Steve Austin spoke with Richard Leck, a Barrier Reef campaigner with WWF, and the "Godfather of coral" Professor Charlie Veron, who wrote 'Corals Of The World', and was a former chief scientist at the Australian Institute of Marine Science.
Protectors of Great Barrier Reef cut
06 October 2014, ABC Lateline (Australia)
It's been described as the biggest loss of expertise from the agency tasked with protecting Australia's most stunning natural wonder and it comes at the very time the Great Barrier Reef is facing the biggest threat to its survival.
After having its budget cut, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority is slashing 17 staff, with five of its senior directors agreeing to take voluntary redundancies. In exclusive interviews with Lateline, three of those recently-departed directors have questioned the agency's decision-making, describing how morale at the internationally-acclaimed authority has plummeted, potentially threatening its effectiveness.
One industry group agrees, calling the loss of so much experience a disgrace and warning that bureaucrats, not scientists are making the big decisions. Mark Willacy reports from Townsville.
Seagrass removal permit in conflict with approvals
06 October 2014, The Sunshine Coast Daily (Australia)
THE Gladstone Ports Corporation was given a permit to remove seagrasses in a "low impact zone" during the controversial Western Basin dredging project, in conflict with approvals meant to prevent such damage in the zone.
An APN investigation has established the ports corporation applied for the "marine plant removal permit" inside the dredging project's "low impact zone", despite the zone being designated as such as damage to seagrasses or other marine plants was not meant to occur.
While the ports corporation initially denied the existence of the permit, a spokeswoman later said that "following further investigations", the port could confirm the permit existed.
But APN has obtained an independent review of the water quality management plan for the dredging project, completed for the Gladstone bund wall review, under a Freedom of Information application from environmental advocacy group Australians for Animals.
Both the port and Fisheries Department said the permit was sought and approved as a "precautionary measure" in case a dredge spoil plume affected marine plants in the dredging project's low impact zone.
But the confidential report to the bund wall review revealed that such a "precautionary measure" was "arguably a very unusual application of the precautionary principle".
"Although the low impact zone is defined as the area where no impacts are predicted to occur, it is noted that the WQMP recognises there may be impacts to seagrasses within the low impact zone," the report reads.
The report further said that the permit would "seem to be at odds with the intent of the conditions applying to this proposal".
The detail of the conflicting approvals follow recent revelations that the bund wall review panel failed to interview three key witnesses to the failings on the project, and key limitations on other investigations undertaken in the review.
APN further understands that the water quality review, while independent, was forced to rely on existing documents the federal Environment Department provided and had no remit to investigate claims made in the documents.
The port applied to the State Government for the permit to remove marine plants in December, 2010, about two months after the Federal Government had approved the Western Basin dredging project, despite the EIS predicting very little or no impacts from dredging to seagrasses in the low impact zone.
The state government then approved the permit in April, 2011, to allow "the removal of seagrass and any other marine plants within the low impact zone", a fisheries department spokeswoman said.
A ports spokeswoman has denied any damage to seagrasses in the low impact zone from dredging and said the permit was a legal requirement for "any direct or indirect disturbance" to seagrass or mangroves from the dredging project.
She said that "there has been no evidence to confirm that dredging related turbidity has impacted seagrass in the low impact zone".
The review, which largely found the water quality management plan met federal conditions, highlighted the inconsistency between state and federal approval conditions as a key issue, which was later reflected in the bund wall review's final report.
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Did the summer fertilizer ban work?
04 October 2014, Florida Today (USA)
The jury is still out on how much rainy-season fertilizer bans can help heal the Indian River Lagoon.
But in the first summer of widespread bans in Brevard County, manufacturers distributed almost two-thirds less fertilizer here during peak summer months than last summer.
At first, as local governments debated the bans, locals stocked up on lawn fertilizer and the tonnage distributed in Brevard initially grew, state agriculture data shows. But as the bans set in, lawn fertilizer distribution plummeted. Industry officials say it's too soon to read a trend, but some businesses aren't waiting. They're already selling new, more lagoon-friendly fertilizer.
Officials hope less fertilizer on grass will grow back more seagrass in the lagoon, by reducing the frequency and intensity of algae blooms.
"It's been a godsend," said Dave Grover, owner of Sun Harbor Nursery in Indian Harbour Beach, of a new slow-release nitrogen fertilizer blend he started selling before the bans kicked in. "They haven't had to fertilize all summer."
His overall fertilizer sales took a hit this summer, but in the long run he foresees a healthier business and lagoon as a result of the bans, which run June 1 to Sept. 30.
"It's going to help business, because I sold a lot before the ban went into effect," said Grover, "When Oct. 1 rolls around, it will be like a floodgate."
Brevard County and almost every local city had rainy season fertilizer bans in effect this summer. Melbourne's was approved in September and Rocklege's ban took effect last year. The local ordinances also require slow-release nitrogen and share other similar provisions but differ in the buffers required when fertilizing near waters.
Wednesday marked the first day people can resume fertilizing. But ordinances still prohibit fertilizing during or just before or after heavy rains.
According to state department of agriculture data obtained by FLORIDA TODAY:
Fertilizer ordinances haven't been in effect long enough to read a trend, officials from The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company said. Many variables affect fertilizer sales, making it hard to attribute short or long-term changes to any one single factor, including new restrictions, Scotts spokeswoman Molly Jennings said.
She noted that Scott no longer sells fertilizer that contains phosphorous in Brevard and that its top-selling brands include 50 percent slow-release nitrogen.
Scotts also launched a new mineralizer treatment and has increased the use of other nutrients during the rainy-season blackout, she said, including magnesium and potassium.
The state's lawn fertilizer data comes with caveats. A fertilizer company could have a distribution center in a county and then distribute it to stores in other counties, explained Weldon Collier, a program planning coordinator with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. "I would say most of if it is probably applied in the county of destination, but not with a 100 percent certainty," Collier said.
Advocates for stricter fertilizer rules pointed to research that shows lawns can still thrive without fertilizing during rainy months.
Opponents — most associated with fertilizer, turf grass or lawn-care interests — said depriving grass of nutrients when it's most able to absorb them, during peak growing season, would result in more nitrogen and phosphorus running off the weaker grass when applied at other times of the year.
In recent years, unprecedented algae blooms have choked off tens of thousands of acres of seagrass in the lagoon. Seagrass is important source of food and shelter for marine life in the lagoon.
The seagrass die-off was followed by the mysterious deaths of large numbers of manatees, dolphins and pelicans.
Excessive nitrogen and phosphorous — the active ingredients in most fertilizer — is widely suspected of feeding the lagoon's algae blooms.
Leaking septic tanks, pet waste, power plants, tailpipes and groundwater also contribute nitrogen and phosphorus to the lagoon, with each pound capable of growing more than 500 pounds of algae.
But stricter fertilizer rules have been the recent focus as an inexpensive way for the county to reduce nutrients flowing into the lagoon.
So far, residents seem to be complying.
"We got questions. I can not think of a single complaint," said Virginia Barker, who manages Brevard's watershed program.
County officials had vowed initially not to seek out offenders, but to respond to complaints that the fertilizer rules were being broken. Code-enforcement officers who witness people violating the rules can issue fines up to $500.
The ordinance also bans use of phosphorus-containing fertilizer without a soil test to prove the chemical is needed. Much of Florida's soils are considered already rich in phosphorus. The previous ordinance had allowed low-phosphorus fertilizers without the soil test.
The ordinance also requires at least 50 percent slow-release nitrogen fertilizer.
Lawn-care interests said to trust the licensed professionals, that the rules threatened lawns, livelihoods and property rights and were unenforceable.
The state is requiring Brevard within 15 years to sharply reduce the amount of nitrogen and phosphorous flowing into its share of the lagoon, by more than half in some areas, according to state environmental officials.
Many lagoon advocates point to the Tampa Bay Estuary Program as proof strong fertilizer rules work. The bay's seagrass recovered after major stormwater and sewer upgrades, as well as strong local fertilizer ordinances.
But there wasn't much change in nitrogen fertilizer sales after rainy season bans took effect in that region, said Nanette O'Hara, a spokeswoman for the Tampa Bay Estuary Program. The exception was Pinellas County, which in 2011 banned retail sales of nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers.
In the first year of retail ban, nitrogen fertilizer sales in Pinellas dropped almost 20 percent, from 816 to 654 tons.
"We're not seeing a correlation here with sales dropping where there are not sales bans," O'Hara said.
The Tampa program is studying fertilizer use and sampling stormwater in Pinellas, Hillsborough and Manatee counties to see if water quality improved after the bans took effect.
While algae blooms continued to plague the Indian River Lagoon this summer, dire predictions of dead lawns fell flat.
"It's been fine," Grover, of Sun Harbor Nursery, said of his customers' lawns. "It's really worked well, and everybody's excited about being able to clean up the river."
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Queensland plan to dump dredge spoil onshore 'will not harm wetlands'
04 October 2014, The Guardian
A controversial plan to dump dredge spoil onshore will not damage nationally significant wetland, Queensland’s deputy premier, Jeff Seeney, says.
Three million cubic metres of dredged material linked to the expansion of the Abbot Point coal terminal near Bowen in north Queensland was destined to be dumped in waters off the Great Barrier Reef.
But a backlash against the plan, which had gained federal approval, prompted the state government to endorse onshore dumping instead.
Seeney says the strategy has been submitted for federal government approval.
“We are confident that, if approved by the commonwealth, we can have state-owned land ready to receive dredge material for when licensed dredging activity begins next March,” he said in a statement.
But the North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation project could be delayed by green groups, which have launched federal court proceedings challenging the environmental approval validity.
The Mackay Conservation Group secured more time in late September to put its case to the court, initially due at the end of October, saying there was uncertainty around the onshore dumping plan.
The group remains opposed to dredging, saying onshore dumping will damage a nationally significant wetland that is home to several threatened species.
Documents submitted to the commonwealth on Friday state that if approvals are not granted “in a timely manner”, the spoil could be dumped at sea.
“Project proponents that need to dredge at Abbot Point will have no option but to dispose [of] material in the [Great Barrier Reef] marine park in accordance with existing approvals,” the document said.
Seeney said the wetlands would be preserved under the onshore dumping strategy.
“We are inviting the local community and environmentalists to work with us to restore freshwater flows to degraded areas of the wetland, expand its area and consider access points for the general public to boost tourism activity in the area,” he said.
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Great Barrier Reef Madness
04 October 2014, Sierra Club
Over the past 30 years, half of the coral in the Great Barrier Reef has died as a result of cyclones, rising ocean temperatures, starfish infestations, and agricultural runoff.
Things are about to get worse. In August, the state of Queensland, Australia, approved a railroad linking coal mines in its Galilee Basin to the Abbot Point port. It's the latest lost battle for environmentalists fighting Queensland's large-scale plan to expand its coal industry with new mines and bigger export terminals. If the development is fully realized, five major port expansions will accommodate 3,000 new freight and cruise ships per year, and millions of tons of sediment dredged to expand the ports could be dumped inside the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
"The level of dredging, dumping, and shipping is unprecedented in the reef's history," says Felicity Wishart, campaign manager for the Australian Marine Conservation Society.
Dredging clouds the water, killing coral, as well as the sea grass that endangered turtles and dugongs eat, says Jon Brodie, a chief marine scientist at Queensland's James Cook University. It also stirs up compounds that turn into sulfuric acid. A 2011 dredging at nearby Gladstone Harbour led to ulcerated fish and crustaceans.
For the Abbot Point project, dumping sediment into the Great Barrier Marine Park was initially green-lighted by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, a government body charged with protecting the park. "What they picked was the cheapest, quickest, and dirtiest option," Brodie says. But following a spate of public outrage, as well as two court cases challenging dredging and dumping—one of them supported by the $6 billion tourism industry—the decision was overturned, though the government refused to permanently ban dumping dredge spoils in the marine park.
None of this is surprising in Australia, where Prime Minister Tony Abbott selected a pro-coal, climate change-denying zealot, Maurice Newman, to chair his Business Advisory Council. The Abbott government is especially determined to open up the Galilee Basin. In addition to fast-tracking the port expansions and the rail line, the government has offered free water to coal companies mining there.
A recent poll shows that 61 percent of Australians believe that protecting the reef should be a top priority. But the current Australian government seems more concerned about propping up its coal industry than protecting its greatest international treasure.
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Australia's Sea Cows Struggle to Survive Poachers
03 October 2014, TakePart
Like the manatees of Florida, dugongs in northern Australia encounter numerous threats. These lumbering marine mammals face a gauntlet of man-made obstacles, including boat strikes and fishing net entanglements, and when their sea grass beds disappear because of coastal development and pollution, starvation can set in.
But dugongs face dangers even manatees can’t relate to: poaching and the illegal trade in their meat. The problem has become so bad in recent years that the Australian government just pledged $4.4 million to protect the animals and stop the illegal trade in dugong and turtle meat.
Dugongs are protected as an endangered species in Australia—and international law also bans the trade in dugong meat or other products—but indigenous peoples are allowed to hunt the animals. Many of Australia’s native communities depend on dugong hunting for a large part of their diet, and the meat is an important part of ceremonial feasts.
But Environment Minister Greg Hunt said poachers, many of whom come from the impoverished native communities, have exploited the “good name” of native populations.
(Other ocean species, such as sharks, are also in danger because of fishing and human predators, who cut off their fins so they can be made into shark fin soup. A mission to hunt down and stop some of these illegal shark finners in Costa Rica appears on the season finale of The Operatives, a new television series that airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT on Pivot TV, the television network owned by Participant Media, TakePart’s parent company.)
With the legal hunting, illegal poachers and traders have flourished, in part because there are no official records or controls over how many dugongs are killed. Wildlife activist Colin Riddell, who works with the Bob Irwin Wildlife & Conservation Foundation, recently claimed that 1,600 dugongs are killed in Australia’s Northern Territory every year. According to the nonprofit organization Save the Dugong, 2,000 are killed annually in Queensland, another Australian state.
Official numbers on dugong deaths don’t exist. They were last officially tallied back in 2003, when hunters reported 1,619 dugong takes in the entire country. But Alan Shore, director of communications at Save the Dugong, said in an email that this “is only a fraction of the actual number of dugongs butchered every year,” as “very few hunters bother to report their kills.” Meanwhile, a 2012 investigation by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation uncovered a thriving black market for dugong and turtle meat, finding cruel butchering and hunting methods such as “turtles being butchered alive and dugongs drowned as they are dragged behind boats.”
Native communities are fighting back against the anti-poaching plan, claiming dugongs are plentiful. Northern Land Council CEO Joe Morrison, who represents traditional landowners, also questioned why the conservation plan doesn’t involve getting indigenous communities to help combat poaching.
“People who are most concerned about these matters are indigenous people who have to live with the consequences of animals becoming threatened or extinct, especially when they are so spiritually significant and when they provide protein in the diet,” Morrison told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Despite the disagreements, there has been progress. In July, three traditional people groups in Australia agreed to place a moratorium on dugong hunting in areas near the Great Barrier Reef. Dugong populations have declined by as much as 97 percent in some areas of the reef, according to a recent government report, but hunting is just one of the causes of the decline.
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Something fishy about seagrass
02 October 2014, The Islander
If you’ve only ever thought of seagrass as that smelly, brown stuff that ends up on the beach, it’s time to think again.
Seagrass meadows deliver a range of important services.
They stabilise sediment, cycle nutrients, capture and store carbon, as well as provide habitat for a broad range of fish and invertebrate species.
They are also important nursery areas for the eggs, larvae and juveniles of many species that are commercially and recreationally valuable, such as King George whiting and scallops.
Recently, the two dominant species of seagrass that form meadows throughout Nepean Bay have been assessed as ‘Vulnerable’ and ‘Near Threatened’ under International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List criteria.
This prompted Natural Resources Kangaroo Island to investigate the relationship between seagrass and fish species that depend upon them, so that potential flow-on effects from seagrass loss could be better understood.
To do this, the coast and marine team have spent the last six months ‘fishing’.
Baited Remote Underwater Video Systems (BRUVS) were used for the project.
These consist of a camera strapped to a bait basket of pilchards, which attracts the fish. BRUVS have become a common tool for observing and recording fish as they enable passive, non-destructive monitoring.
Monitoring took place at eight locations around Nepean Bay, including Pelican Lagoon and Bay of Shoals, and so far has recorded almost 3000 individual fish from 55 species.
These species included three species of shark, five species of rays, 11 species of leatherjacket, including the rare Bluefin leatherjacket (Thamnaconus degeni) and three species of Sygnathid (pipefish and seadragons).
Island Beach was the most diverse location, recording 25 species in total.
The greatest abundance of fish was recorded at South Spit (359 individuals).
Little rock whiting (Neoodax balteatus), Tommy rough (Arripis georgianus) and King George whiting (Sillaginodes punctata) were the most frequently encountered species, recorded at every location.
Little rock whiting were also the most abundant individual species. Monitoring is ongoing.
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Illegal traders of dugong, turtle meat targeted with $5m poaching crackdown
27 September 2014, ABC Online
The Government has allocated $5 million to a dugong and turtle protection plan that involves the Australian Federal Police (AFP), Customs and Border Protection, and the Australian Crime Commission.
Environment Minister Greg Hunt said the Crime Commission has been given $2 million to investigate the illegal trade.
Traditional owners have given their backing to the Government's protection plan.
"They know that their good name is being used by poachers," Mr Hunt said.
"We are determined to end the illegal trafficking in dugong and turtle meat and to protect these majestic creatures."
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, and "in exercise and enjoyment of their native title rights and interests".
Dugong and turtle poaching has been identified as a problem in the Northern Territory and Queensland, where the animals are hunted and the meat sold illegally.
National Indigenous radio broadcaster Seith Fourmile said non-Indigenous people were also involved in the illegal trade.
"They are involved with the trading, with selling it, passing it down - some of the turtle meat has gone as far south as Sydney and Melbourne," he said.
Mr Hunt warned poachers to "be worried".
"It's time to protect these species. We're putting serious resources and serious people on the task," he said.
"If you are poaching dugong and turtle meat, transporting it illegally, you should be worried because the toughest cops on the beat are coming after you."
An Australian government survey in 2003 into dugong populations in the NT estimated the coastline from Daly River to Milingimbi at supporting over 13,000 animals.
It lists a number of threats to dugongs, including accidental entanglement in gill and mesh nets set by commercial fishers, habitat loss and degradation, boat strikes and harassment by tourists.
Other listed threats include acoustic and chemical pollution, disease, tidal surges and "capture stress", after two animals died while being fitted with radio devices for research purposes.
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Study: Turtles killing off seagrass
09 September 2014, KeysNews.com (Florida, USA)
Declining shark populations - and the subsequent rise in turtles - cause the destruction of seagrass, a new study concludes.
The research, published last month in Frontiers in Marine Science magazine, paints turtles as more of a harmful predator than the carnivorous shark.
This happens because sharks feed on turtles and turtles feed on seagrass. So, without sharks to control the turtle population, seagrass beds are pilfered.
Seagrass serves as a home to thousands of small fish and other small marine animals.
The study, though, didn't account for areas such as the Florida Keys, where environmentalists are still working on protecting sharks and turtles.
"Right now, the Keys should be looking to rebuild populations of turtles and sharks," said Mike Heithaus, interim dean of Florida International University's College of Arts and Sciences. "They are not at densities that would threaten seagrasses, yet."
In the study, published in part by Heithaus and FIU biology professor James Fourqurean, researchers determined green turtles in remote islands such as Bermuda have the ability to overgraze seagrasses.
In areas like Florida Bay, green turtles serve an important role to the ecosystem, spreading and helping replenish seagrass beds.
The report looked at areas from Bermuda to Indonesia to the Indian Ocean.
"A combination of recent field experiments and observational studies in multiple ocean basins where green turtle populations are increasing, or exist at close to historical levels, suggests that seagrass ecosystems could be significantly disrupted by heavy grazing," the authors wrote.
In areas like Shark Bay in Australia, there is a large tiger shark population, which likes to feed on adult green turtles. In this area, there is a healthy abundance of seagrass.
But the study shows in areas such as Bermuda, where green turtles have a safer habitat, there is much overgrazing of seagrasses.
"Historical overfishing of sea turtles so drastically reduced the numbers of turtles in the ocean by the 16th century that impacts on seagrass meadows were rarely recognized," Fourqurean wrote in a news release. "It's only now that conservation efforts are on their way to restoring sea turtle populations that we are now experiencing the consequences of how overfishing large sharks is impacting seagrass."
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International Manatee Day September 7th
07 September 2014
In honor of International Manatee Day, and to heighten public awareness about this endangered species, Save the Manatee Club reminds Floridians and visitors to the Sunshine State to watch out for manatees on the crowded waterways and also be equipped to help protect the slow-moving marine mammals.
The Club produces free bright yellow waterproof boating banners with the message, “Please Slow: Manatees Below.” Displaying the banner helps alert other boaters to manatees in the area. Free shoreline property signs, weatherproof boat decals, and waterway cards that feature manatee protection tips in English, French, Spanish, and German, are available, too. The Club also produces a family-friendly outdoor sign to teach the public “manatee manners” and help stop manatee harassment. The signs are distributed to state, municipal, and county parks; marinas; and other sites where human/manatee interaction can be a problem.
“We have a wide variety of programs, both in America and in other countries manatees inhabit,” says Patrick Rose, Save the Manatee Club’s Executive Director. “We continue to expand our programs which include funding more rescue, rehabilitation, and release efforts in the U.S. and abroad, advocating for the strongest possible protection measures for both endangered manatees and their aquatic habitat, and continuing to raise public awareness with the Club’s free outreach materials.”
Rose explains that one of the Club’s most pressing tasks right now is to ensure manatees are not stripped of their current federal endangered species protections. “The Pacific Legal Foundation, representing anti-manatee interests in Crystal River, Florida, filed a petition earlier this year with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to change the status of the manatee with the goal of rolling back much-needed protection measures, despite very high manatee mortality over the last several years. Last year alone, 17% of the known population died in a single year from all causes. Even with their current protective status, manatees continue to die in vast numbers in Florida’s dangerous waters – just imagine how much worse it would be if protection measures were lifted. Together we must resist efforts to prematurely downlist the manatee because this is about political rather than scientific reasons.”
Save the Manatee Club is an award-winning international nonprofit conservation organization in operation since 1981 when it was co-founded by singer/songwriter Jimmy Buffett and Bob Graham, former Florida Governor and U.S. Senator. It is the recognized worldwide leader in manatee education and conservation efforts.
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Read more on Manatees in Seagrass-Watch Issue 46: Manatee - June 2012
Inquiry urges halt to reef dredge dumping
03 September 2014, 9 News, AAP (QLD, Australia)
Fact file: How healthy is the Great Barrier Reef?
03 September 2014, ABC Online (Australia)
The health and sustainability of the Great Barrier Reef has been the subject of much debate, with UNESCO considering listing the world heritage site as in danger.
There are concerns over new industrial and mining developments, dredging, fishing, climate change and pollution.
Managed by the Queensland and federal governments, the reef is one of Australia's best-loved natural attractions, and a significant tourism drawcard.
So how healthy is the reef? ABC Fact Check investigates.
Threats facing the reef
The Great Barrier Reef is the world's largest coral reef ecosystem. Covering almost 350,000 square kilometres off the coast of Queensland, it is home to 2,900 coral reefs, 1,500 species of fish, 30 species of whales and dolphins and 133 species of sharks and rays.
The 2,300 kilometre reef also shelters sea animals threatened with extinction such as the dugong and multiple species of turtles.
Stretching up to 250 kilometres offshore at its widest, the reef includes shallow inshore waters supporting diverse seagrasses and mangroves, as well as mid-shelf and outer reefs that can extend to depths of more than 2,000 metres.
Protected by a marine park since 1975, the reef received world heritage status in 1981. UNESCO , the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, says it "is of superlative natural beauty above and below the water, and provides some of the most spectacular scenery on earth". It says the reef is "is one of the richest and most complex natural ecosystems on earth, and one of the most significant for biodiversity conservation".
According to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, a Federal Government agency, the reef faces a number of threats.
They include climate change, which is causing warmer waters and coral bleaching; declining water quality from coastal catchments and flow-on effects of agricultural practices; coastal development; fishing; and extreme weather, including flooding and cyclones.
The federal government's strategic assessment, carried out by the marine park authority, looked more broadly at the health of the reef.
It examined the condition and trends of all species living and migrating through the reef and their habitats, and areas further inland that are associated with the reef's condition.
The assessment "identified overwhelming evidence that a range of threats are continuing to affect inshore habitats along the developed coast, and the species that use these habitats".
The 34 habitats ranged from very good to very poor condition and most were considered stable. Some were deteriorating, and none were improving.
The strategic assessment listed 17 species including corals, seagrasses, sharks and rays, sea snakes, turtles, dolphins and dugongs.
Only crocodile and whale populations were found to be improving. They were among the few examples of populations recovering from past impacts, such as humpback whales that had been affected by commercial whaling. All other species were either stable or in decline.
Infographic: Species of the Great Barrier Reef (ABC Fact Check )
The assessment also considered environmental factors like sea temperature, ocean acidity, and reef building. None of 21 environmental processes considered by the assessment were improving - they were either stable or in decline.
The marine park authority also released its Outlook Report 2014, which identifies outbreaks of disease in some marine species in recent years, although most were "not recorded on a wider scale". It also identified an increasing number of outbreaks of the damaging crown-of-thorns starfish, and said this is an indicator that the ecosystem's health is declining.
Overall, the report found recovery in the ecosystem was poor, and had deteriorated since the last outlook report in 2009.
It concluded that: "Even with recent management initiatives to reduce threats and improve resilience, the overall outlook for the Great Barrier Reef is poor, has worsened since 2009 and is expected to further deteriorate in the future."
Using the same 2009 baseline levels as Reef Plan 2009, the Newman Government's Reef Plan 2013 set a number of targets for 2018 and updated slightly its long-term goal "to ensure that by 2020 the quality of water entering the reef from broadscale land use has no detrimental impact on the health and resilience of the Great Barrier Reef".
Water quality research scientist Dr Jon Brodie, from James Cook University, examined the updated targets in Reef Plan 2013 and told Fact Check some of the new targets were lower than the targets set in 2009.
Despite this, experts told Fact Check that there had been some measurable improvements in the quality of water entering the reef from catchments, largely as a result of improvements in agricultural practices.
But spatial information scientist Alana Grech, from Macquarie University, said there is more to the health of the Great Barrier Reef than addressing catchment water quality. Biodiversity factors such as those included in the federal government's strategic assessment are an important indicator of the condition of the reef. "You have to make a quantifiable link between what is happening in the catchments and what's happening in the Great Barrier Reef, where there's been a decline in biodiversity," she said.
A 2013 report, of which Ms Grech is an author, documents ongoing decline in biodiversity in the region. This includes loss of coral cover and declining populations of dugongs, loggerhead turtles and hawksbill turtles. Weather events have also contributed to large losses of seagrass meadows and mangroves.
The report attributes much of the decline in biodiversity to human activities. Ms Grech identified catchments, port developments and management, urban development and activity, shipping, fishing and climate change as factors that impact biodiversity outcomes to various extents.
In a 2012 article, Dr Brodie said research over the last 30 years had established that the factors known to be most responsible for the loss of coral cover were "terrestrial pollution including the link to outbreaks of crown of thorns starfish, fishing impacts and climate change".
Climate change is listed as one of the leading causes of threats to the reef in the Marine Park Authority's outlook report.
Dr Brodie told Fact Check that, in addition to addressing climate change, the most pressing task is to "improve water quality from both agriculture and, increasingly, ports".
Port development in the reef area has sparked controversy.
The Abbot Point coal terminal expansion project was criticised earlier this year following the marine park authority's January approval for a proposal to dump 3 million cubic metres of dredge spoil within the park. Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt has confirmed he is considering a proposal that would see the dredge spoil dumped on land, not into the reef.
In June 2014, the Queensland Government released the Queensland Ports Strategy which restated the government's 2012 commitment to "restrict any significant port development, within and adjoining the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, to within existing port limits until 2022".
In 2011 and 2012 the risks to the reef from Queensland ports were reinforced after a bund wall - a retaining wall specifically designed to contain liquid or other products and prevent spills - in Gladstone Harbour failed.
The bund wall leaked dredge spoil into the reef and the leak coincided with an outbreak of fish disease in the area.
The Queensland government then allocated $4 million over two years to monitor the Gladstone Harbour following an investigation into water quality, fish and human health.
Marine park authority chief executive Russell Reichelt says the Queensland Government placed "47 stringent conditions" on the development approval to allow dredging at Abbot Point, in addition to those already imposed by the Federal Government.
The aim of these conditions is to provide a net benefit for water quality. But in an article published in February, Dr Brodie said that was "likely to be impossible to achieve".
Dr Brodie believes bund walls and longer jetties are more environmentally-friendly alternatives to dredging.
He told Fact Check the Newman Government had chosen "the worst management decision for the Great Barrier Reef out of all the potential options they could have used".
Ms Grech also linked the decline in biodiversity in shipping ports to governments not conducting thorough assessments of the environmental impacts of port developments.
Professor Terry Hughes, director of the Australian Research Council Centre for Excellence in Coral Reef Studies, is also critical of the dredging.
He says while there have been some improvements in water quality in catchment areas, "those improvements are being [outweighed] by the new permits for dredging".
Professor Hughes says a study published in May showed further evidence of the detrimental impact of ports on the reef.
The study maps levels and movements of polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which Professor Hughes described as like a "chemical signature" from coal dust and which are also carcinogenic. It found that PAHs in some areas of the reef are approaching toxic levels.
"This is strong evidence of the scale of impact of coal mining on the Great Barrier Reef," he said.
Two studies published by the Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry in 2008 and 2012 point to immediate impacts on seagrass meadows as a result of dredging at the port of Hay Point in 2006. The studies found that seagrass meadows recovered in following years, but not to the state they were in before the dredging.
The Senate Environment and Communications References Committee handed down a report into the health of the reef on September 3, 2014, which called for greater protection.
The report drew on many of the same sources already mentioned in this fact file. It concluded: "The committee is deeply concerned that the health of the Great Barrier Reef has declined and appears to be on a continual downward trajectory."
The committee made 29 recommendations including stopping the dumping of dredge spoil into the reef, at least temporarily, and investigating banning the practice altogether.
It also found that climate change is a significant threat to the future health and sustainability of the reef.
But the committee was divided, with Coalition senators dissenting from some key recommendations, including one that recommended the Senate not pass government legislation that would create a "one-stop shop" for environmental approvals.
"The Government's One-Stop Shop will streamline environmental assessment and approval processes by removing duplication between the Australian Government and states and territories. Importantly, this will be achieved while maintaining high environmental standards," the dissenting report says.
The Reef Plan Report Card 2012 and 2013 shows improvements in agricultural land management practices and reductions in pollutants entering the reef, which are positive outcomes for water quality. But in the majority of cases, those improvements were not good enough to meet the targets set in 2009.
Experts agree that there are many other ways to assess the health of the Great Barrier Reef, and many of those indicators, like biodiversity, are in decline and likely to get worse.
Without addressing problems including climate change, species and habitat health and the impact of coal mining and dredging, reef quality is unlikely to improve.
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22 August 2014, The News-Press (USA)
Mike Campbell, the environmental specialist for Lee County Natural Resources documents sea grasses at the entrance to shell cut at at Jug Creek on Bokeelia on Wednesday August, 13, 2014. He is documenting the grasses as part of monitoring study to determine the locations and movements of the grasses. (Photo: ANDREW WEST/THE NEWS-PRESS )
One morning last week, Mike Campbell did a little sole searching.
In water from waist- to neck-deep, the senior Lee County environmental specialist mapped a seagrass bed in Jug Creek at the north end of Pine Island, feeling the grass with the bottoms of his feet.
Starting in the middle, he shuffled through the grass bed; whenever his feet felt bare sediment instead of grass, he knew he was at the edge and marked the point with GPS; connecting the points, he determined the grass bed's size and shape.
"I do it stupidly without shoes, but I've got to feel the grass with my feet," Campbell said. "I just have to be careful and watch out for oysters."
Seagrasses are critical to Southwest Florida's marine and estuarine ecosystems because, among other things:
Seagrass covers about 60,000 acres of Southwest Florida's estuary bottom, but the area lost 29 percent of its seagrass between 1945 and 1982, mainly due to development, said Mindy Brown, an environmental specialist for the Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserves.
Since 1982, area seagrass beds have stabilized, though there are still losses due to poor water quality, dredging and filling and prop scarring.
In water from waist- to neck-deep, the senior Lee County environmental specialist mapped a seagrass bed in Jug Creek at the north end of Pine Island, feeling the grass with the bottoms of his feet. (Photo: ANDREW WEST/THE NEWS-PRESS )
"Seagrasses are an important indicator of how healthy our estuaries are," Brown said. "They often respond to water quality. If we see a decline in seagrass, we can relate it to changes in water quality and try to figure out why."
Scientists from Lee County's Division of Natural Resources, Florida Gulf Coast University, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation monitor seagrass beds in various parts of the county.
Lee County scientists monitor grass beds near public boat ramps, such as the bed in Jug Creek, which is near Lavender's Landing ramp in Bokeelia.
"We have some really old maps that need to be updated," Campbell said. "We need an accurate inventory of the resource: If the grass beds are damaged, we need to know what we had so we can tell what we lost.
"If there's a natural disaster, like a hurricane, and we lose grass beds, there might be funding available to restore them, but we'd have to be able to prove we had them."
When he finished mapping the grass bed in Jug Creek, Campbell drove the county's Carolina Skiff through Shell Cut into Charlotte Harbor, where he put on a dive mask and snorkel for his next task.
Standing in the shallow water, he randomly threw a 1-meter-square quatrat (a four-sided frame) and let it settle into the grass; then he ducked underwater to document how much grass was inside the quadrat and which of the area's three dominant seagrass species (turtle grass, shoal grass and manatee grass) were present.
After several throws, Campbell returned to the Jug Creek grass bed and threw the quadrat several more times, pausing once to play with a comb jelly and again to watch a manatee swim by.
"This area doesn't seem to be doing too bad," Campbell said. "The grass beds have definitely changed. The old lines don't match up with the new ones, but it's not that we've lost seagrass. It's more a shifting of the resource."
Although Southwest Florida is losing seagrass in some places, Lee County's seagrass beds are relatively healthy, said James Douglass, an FGCU assistant professor of marine ecology.
"Pine Island Sound is one of the healthiest seagrass sites in the area because it's not as exposed to runoff of cities and towns and isn't exposed to discharges from Lake Okeechobee through the Caloosahatchee River," Douglass said. "The most unhealthy seagrass is in the Caloosahatchee estuary; we've lost a lot of grass there.
"I've studied seagrass in Chesapeake Bay, in Massachusetts and places like that, and we're a long way from getting that bad. That makes it more important to save what we have now."
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22 August 2014, Nassau News Live (USA)
An unprecedented marine heat wave that swept the Southeast Indian Ocean in 2011 has given FIU scientists a glimpse into the future of climate change.
The heat wave caused the loss of more than 90 percent of the dominant seagrass in some regions of Shark Bay, Australia. Since seagrass meadows provide habitat for many ecologically important species, and provide food for large grazers like turtles and sea cows, this dieback could have significant impacts on marine wildlife in the region, particularly the deteriorating health of green sea turtles. The heat wave also led to declines in scallops and blue manna crabs, triggering fishery closures for these species.
The findings, published in Global Change Biology today, show extreme climatic events, which are likely to become more frequent and intense under climate change, can abruptly restructure ecosystems if they disturb key habitat-forming species including seagrasses.
“When we think of climate change impacts on ecosystems, we often think they happen slowly over time, but we’re increasingly seeing that extreme events can trigger abrupt shifts in ecosystem structure and function,” said FIU marine sciences researcher Jordan Thomson, who led the study. “Increased temperature disturbances should be expected in this region in the future.”
Using in-water surveys, harvested plants and video footage from cameras worn by Shark Bay’s resident sea turtles, the FIU researchers along with researchers from the University of Western Australia found temperature extremes have the potential to trigger large-scale disturbances in seagrass ecosystems, and can impact the health of animals that are closely associated with seagrasses. While animal-borne video recorders have been widely applied to the study of animal behavior and ecology, this is one of the first studies to use them as a tool for monitoring ecosystem health from the perspective of large, free-ranging animals.
“We were able to detect a clear fingerprint of a warming event on the severe dieback of a temperate seagrass, showing that extreme temperatures alone are sufficient to produce abrupt, high-magnitude disturbances where foundation seagrasses occur near their thermal limits,” Thomson said.
The research in Shark Bay is unique because this region is remote, well-protected and is relatively free of most human stressors. According to Mike Heithaus, co-author of the study and interim dean of FIU’s College of Arts & Sciences, it is essential to determine how increasing levels of disturbance under climate change will interact with other common stressors, including pollution, overexploitation, habitat loss and fragmentation, to affect coastal marine ecosystems. The researchers hope to expand the research and explore how declining shark populations, the primary predator of sea turtles, may interact with climate disturbance to influence these ecosystems in the future.
“We are learning that sharks — many of which are disappearing at an alarming rate — can be critical to ecosystem health,” Heithaus said. “And they could be necessary for helping systems bounce back after getting knocked down by climatic events.”
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20 August 2014, Vocativ (Japan)
Despite protests, the U.S. military has begun construction of runways off the coast of Okinawa, Japan, potentially harming a critically endangered marine mammal
In the bright blue waters of Henoko Bay, off the coast of Okinawa, Japan, endangered dugong graze on fields of sea grass growing on the ocean floor. The gentle, manatee-like mammals, also called “sea cows,” have long been regarded as cultural icons by the Okinawans and are lauded as the inspiration for seafarers’ tales of mermaids and sirens. They’re also disappearing at a rapid rate.
The local population is estimated to include only one remaining herd with as many as 50 to as few as three animals, which is why American and Japanese conservation groups are outraged that the U.S. military is set to pave over their last remaining habitat.
The Department of Defense has already begun preliminary construction of what will be an airstrip extending offshore for the U.S. Marine Corps, which is relocating from its current location in a crowded, residential area of Okinawa to a stretch of shoreline in Camp Schwab. Environmental activists have filed a supplemental complaint against the DoD as a final, desperate attempt to halt the project.
Locals have also taken to protesting from the base’s future site by paddling out in small skiffs and kayaks.
“There is definitely a strong concern that this base construction could have very serious ramifications for the survival of the dugong population,” says Earthjustice attorney Martin Wagner, who issued the complaint on behalf of the plaintiffs.
The recent filing was an addendum to a suit initially brought against the DoD in 2003, requiring that the government agency conduct a detailed analysis of the airstrip’s potential impact on dugong population.
In April of this year, the U.S. military concluded that the construction of the base and its runways would have no effect on the health of the marine mammals, but Wagner claims the military excluded both the public and local dugong experts from its investigation, making it null. “Procedural and substance issues proved that there was a lack of good science to allow them to draw the conclusions that they drew,” says Wagner.
The new complaint calls for a more adequate, scientific assessment.
“Basic respect demands that the United States make every effort not to harm another country’s cultural heritage,” Wagner says.
For the Okinawan people, the dugong have also become a symbol of the multitude of burdens they’ve faced because of the presence of the U.S. military, which now occupies 20 percent of the main island. Frequent grievances include aircraft noise, the risk of aircraft accidents and crimes committed by U.S. military personnel, such as the rape and sexual assault of local women.
Protesters stage a rally on Aug. 14 at the gates of Camp Schwab, near the site of the new U.S. military runways in Nago, Okinawa.
Okinawan leaders are also largely opposed to the U.S. military’s occupation of the area. In January of this year, Susumu Inamine, the major of the town where Henoko is located, was elected on an anti-base platform and is fighting to block the construction of the airstrip.
“Pushing forward with this tramples on the human rights of the people, and the rich diverse natural life of this region,” Inamine said in a recent statement. “This is no longer about democracy.”
But Japanese Prime Minister Shizo Abe has repeatedly given the project his blessing, describing it as vital for the country’s alliance with the U.S. amid territorial disputes with China and nuclear intimidation from North Korea. And for the DoD, the new base will be an integral part of the military’s ongoing realignment to the Pacific (also known as the “pivot to Asia“).
Courtney Caimona, a spokesperson for the Marine Corps, says she cannot comment on pending litigation. “The Futenma Replacement Facility (FRF) construction project at Camp Schwab is a Japanese project,” she adds. “Japan is reaffirming its commitments under the United States-Japan Security Treaty and helping to maintain regional peace, security and economic stability.”
Unfortunately for the dugong, the fate of their tenuous existence now rests on a court decision.
“These gentle animals are adored by both locals and tourists,” says Peter Galvin, director of programs at the Center for Biological Diversity, a plaintiff in the lawsuit. “Paving over some of the last places they survive will not only likely be a death sentence for them, it will be a deep cultural loss for the Okinawan people.”
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19 August 2014, The Japan Times (Japan)
A dugong, a rare marine mammal that inhabits waters around Okinawa, was spotted about 5 km east of Henoko on Sunday, the same day as seabed surveys started before landfill operations begin at the relocation site for the U.S. Marine Corps’ Air Station Futenma.
A dugong, a threatened species due to the loss and degradation of underwater sea-grass meadows, was spotted and photographed from a helicopter by a Kyodo News reporter.
“There’s no doubt this is a dugong,” confirmed Mariko Abe of the Nature Conservation Society of Japan, who specializes in the area’s ecosystem.
The dugong, a species of marine mammal which is believed to be the source of the mermaid and siren myths, was watched for about 10 minutes at around 4:25 p.m. when it repeatedly appeared at the surface and then dived.
The mammal’s large nostrils on the muscular upper lip, which enable it to breathe when it surfaces, and its tail fluke were also visible.
In the Henoko coastal area, just a few kilometers away from where the mammal was spotted, a barge was readied Sunday. Around it, orange buoys and other floating devices have been installed to mark the restricted area where the survey of the seabed will be carried out.
Outside the marked-off area, as many as 15 Japan Coast Guard patrol ships were on duty in an effort to keep protesters away from the site.
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18 August 2014, ABC Online (Australia)
Australian authorities are failing to protect the country's greatest natural icon, the Great Barrier Reef, by approving the dumping of dredge spoil inside the marine park, a former government official says.
Jon Day, until recently the director of Heritage Conservation at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), has told the ABC's Four Corners that not enough was being done to repair the reef.
He says the dumping of dredge spoil will put more pressure on the reef, which is already in decline.
In January, the GBRMPA approved a plan to dump 3 million cubic metres of dredge spoil inside the marine park for the expansion of Queensland's Abbot Point coal port.
Tonight Four Corners reveals the fraught year-long struggle within the GBRMPA against this proposal by scientists and senior officials who feared the effect it could have on an already weakened reef system.
The decision has been widely condemned by senior marine scientists and was criticised by UNESCO's World Heritage Committee, which will decide next year whether to declare the reef as "in danger".
Mr Day, who resigned from the authority last month, says alternatives to sea dumping for Abbot Point were not properly considered.
He says the dumping will add to the stress already on the reef from agricultural run-off, overfishing and extreme weather.
"If we take that into account and if we did a proper evaluation of all the alternatives, that decision would not have been made," he said.
"Our own legislative mandate says 'the long-term protection and conservation of the values', and we're not doing that."
But GBRMPA chairman Russell Reichelt says the disposal will only be done under tough environmental conditions and will not do long-term harm to the reef.
Four Corners can also reveal discussions are taking place which could see the reversal of the Abbot Point dumping decision.
Inquiries are underway into an alternative to sea dumping.
Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt, who also approved the dumping, told Four Corners that Abbot Point was a "line in the sand" and he has guaranteed that no further dumping will take place in the marine park under his watch.
"I made the decision that this would be the last time, that we were changing the practice," he said.
"Since then we have stopped four inherited proposals from proceeding which would have seen material deposited into the marine park."
Last week GBRMPA released its 2014 outlook report which outlined the poor health of the reef and painted a bleak picture, citing climate change and ocean acidification as the greatest long-term threats to the reef.
"Even with the recent management initiatives to reduce threats and improve resilience, the overall outlook for the Great Barrier Reef is poor, has worsened since 2009, and is expected to further deteriorate in the future," the agency said in its report.
Watch the full report, Battle For The Reef, on Four Corners
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|Under pressure: Sediment on coral in the Great Barrier Reef.|
16 August 2014, Cadtle Hills News (Australia)
Hornsby Council has launched a campaign to raise awareness of the fragile seagrass beds in the Hawkesbury Estuary, urging boat users to take care around them.
Mayor Steve Russell said the seagrass beds were vitally important to the health of the estuary, as they act as nurseries for young fish.
“Boat propellers, anchors and mooring chains can very easily damage them – even small scars reduce resistance to erosion and lead to far greater damage,” Cr Russell — who lives on the river and drives his boat to work every day — said.
Hornsby Cuncil has also created a pamphlet and posters, to be distributed throughout the area, with information boaters need to avoid damaging the seagrass.
“The message is a simple one – don’t tangle with seagrass,” Cr Russell said.
Points to remember when boating:
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16 August 2014, Care2.com
Seagrass deserves just as much attention as the tropical rainforest
The rainforest gets a lot of attention. There are many Save the Rainforest campaigns, and while there is certainly much more work to be done to ensure that we do what we can to stop deforestation, there’s no denying that it’s definitely a part of our collective environmental conscience. Seagrass, on the other hand, is a different story.
When was the last time you saw a Save the Seagrass initiative? Probably never. Seagrass deserves just as much attention as the tropical rainforest, because it’s disappearing just as quickly, to the tune of two soccer fields an hour.
Why is seagrass so important? It plays an essential role in the lives of juvenile fish, providing them with a habitat in which they can thrive. For example, a new study shows that seagrass contains higher fish abundance than adjacent sand. This has a big impact when we’re thinking about commercial fishing. As the report’s abstract explains, “Although fisheries are of major economic and food security importance we still know little about specific juvenile habitats that support such production. This is a major issue given the degradation to and lack of protection afforded to potential juvenile habitats such as seagrass meadows.”
If we don’t protect those areas of seagrass, those fish in turn will have a harder time surviving. “When you start to lose these habitats you’ll see smaller juveniles and smaller fish stocks,” Dr. Richard Unsworth, lead researcher on the study, told the BBC.
Seagrass deserves as much attention as some of the other sensitive environments that have taken the headlines in terms of environmental causes. “The rate of loss is equal to that occurring in tropical rainforests and on coral reefs yet it receives a fraction of the attention,” Dr. Unsworth said.
Seagrass is up against a lot. It’s facing the problems of ocean acidification, coastal development and degraded water quality, and the problem is being felt around the globe. Part of a complex ecosystem, the loss of seagrass has many impacts beyond just fish. As a 2009 report by the National Academy of Sciences stated:
“Losses of seagrass meadows will continue to reduce the energy subsidies they provide to other ecosystems such as adjacent coral reefs or distant areas such as deep-sea bottoms, diminishing the net secondary productivity of these habitats (14). Seagrass losses also threaten the future of endangered species such as Chinook salmon (39) and the habitat for many other organisms. Seagrass losses decrease primary production, carbon sequestration, and nutrient cycling in the coastal zone (5).”
Ultimately, with the current rate of seagrass loss, we’re looking at serious environmental and economic consequences. “If the current rate of seagrass loss is sustained or continues to accelerate, the ecological losses will also increase, causing even greater ill-afforded economic losses,” wrote the authors of the NAS report.
Maybe it’s time we paid a little more attention to protecting seagrass.
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12 August 2014, BBC News (UK)
Seagrass - here with a conger eel - is usually found in sheltered waters, including coves and moorings
Underwater fish "meadows" are being lost at the same rate as the Amazon rain forests, researchers have warned.
Seagrass is a key habitat for feeding and sheltering young fish, including plaice, haddock and pollock.
But every hour an area the size of two football pitches is destroyed.
Scientists from Swansea University believe the habitats need to be protected otherwise fishing stocks could be affected.
"The rate of loss is equal to that occurring in tropical rainforests and on coral reefs yet it receives a fraction of the attention," said Dr Richard Unsworth, lead researcher.
"If you're a small fish, like a juvenile cod, then you need food and shelter. Seagrass meadows provide both."
The biggest threat is from poor water quality and damage caused by boat anchors and moorings.
The Swansea research, for the Natural Environment Research Council (Nerc), is part of a global conservation effort to save seagrass.
The team, using baited underwater camera systems and netting, took a year to measure the size and number of fish in seagrass meadows in the seas around Britain, and compared the results with nearby sand habitats.
Seagrass is found just off the shoreline so is vulnerable to pollution and disturbance by marine anchors
The study included Porthdinllaen and Pen-y-Chain on the Llyn peninsula in Gwynedd.
In one seagrass site off the Gwynedd coast, divers found 42 fish species, 10 of which are important commercially.
"If there's lots of food available for them to eat and reduced predation, like there is in seagrass meadows, they don't spend all their time hunting for food so they're more likely to survive and put on weight faster," said Dr Unsworth.
"When you start to lose these habitats you'll see smaller juveniles and smaller fish stocks."
The research is part of a wider project assessing the benefits of seagrass meadows across the Atlantic, which is funded by the Welsh government and the EU.
"We want to work with partners around the country to look at trying to get this up the conservation agenda," said Dr Unsworth.
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Read more on Porthdinllaen : Seagrass-Watch Magazine: Issue 47
11 August 2014, Mongabay.com (USA)
Seagrass spathes (the part of the plant that contains its seeds) surrounded by netting that allow the seeds to fall to the seabed below. Photo by Jude Stalker.
Seagrass meadows form important parts of many ocean ecosystems, but is disappearing due to human impacts. However, a study published recently in PLOS ONE found eelgrass beds could benefit from a restoration technique using seed-filled pearl nets.
The technique, called Buoy-Deployed Seeding (BuDS), uses pearl nets filled with seed-containing “spathes,” which are much like peas in pea pods. The spathe-filled pearl nets are attached to a buoy anchored to the substrate so that the net sways with the tides. The seeds in the spathes develop naturally and drop to the floor as they ripen. This is closer to what happens in nature compared to other artificial seeding methods that broadcast mature seeds at once, according to Dr. Brian Ort, lead author of this study that was conducted at the Romberg Tiburon Center of San Francisco State University.
Eelgrass is a genus (Zostera) of a marine plant that has long, grass-like leaves, which grows in coastal waters and brackish ares around the world. It provides the foundation for entire ecosystems, just as corals do for a coral reef ecosystem, according to Ort.
“Eelgrass provides physical structure and shelter for many other organisms,” he explained. “Fish, including commercially important species, use it to hide from predators or prey. Some, like herring, use it as a nursery in which they lay their eggs, giving their young a safer place to grow before migrating to sea.”
Eelgrass and other seagrass species also provide ecosystem services that benefit humans.
Buoys are used to suspend the spathe nets high in the water so that their seeds disperse widely. Photo by Jude Stalker.
“Being rooted in the sediment, they stabilize substrates and shorelines, improving water quality and guarding against erosion, like terrestrial grasses do,” Ort said. “In addition, their shoots absorb wave energy, also protecting shorelines. This also improves water clarity by trapping fine sediments in the water column, allowing them to settle to the bottom.”
Eelgrass, however, is disappearing from sea floors due to human influences.
“Eelgrass is impacted by the filling of shallow waters, dredging,…boat anchoring and mooring chains, wave energy from boats, trawling, poor water clarity as a result of sediment, and nutrient run-off,” Ort said. “The elimination of shallow areas, for example by dredging a channel and then protecting the steepened shoreline by the use of rip-rap, also eliminates eelgrass habitat. Climate change, and the rising sea levels that come with it, is also reducing the amount of suitable habitat available for eelgrass.”
The study found that BuDS is especially effective for preserving genetic diversity. The method was tested in tanks filled with water from San Francisco Bay and with seed-filled nets floating in each. The seeds fell from the nets and started to grow as they matured, and the researchers compared the genetic diversity of the seedlings in the bins to that of the natural environment where the seeds were collected. They found the resulting crop of eelgrass was just as genetically diverse as the beds where they came from.
Genetically diverse ecosystems, in relation to homogeneous ones, are better able to survive through stressful situations since a wide variety of genes allow for more flexible adaptive responses. Likewise, genetically diverse patches of seagrass tend to be better at withstanding heat and grazing by geese, increasing the likelihood that restoration will succeed.
Several years ago, BuDS was used for a project to restore a meadow that had suddenly died a few years earlier. Currently, this method is used as part of the Living Shorelines Project in the San Francisco Bay area, which aims to protect shorelines with sustainable resources and natural vegetation in lieu of conventional shoreline reinforcement methods that degrade wildlife habitat.
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