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Orth to be honored as Virginia Outstanding Scientist

28 February 2018, Gloucester Mathews Gazette Journal (USA)


As a seagrass expert, Orth spends a good amount of time examining eelgrass and other underwater growth in its natural environment. This photo was taken off the coast of Australia, which has some of, if not the, largest seagrass beds in the world.

It’s funny how a simple twist of fate can make such a big difference in a person’s life.
When he was an undergraduate student, Dr. Robert “JJ” Orth had already been rejected by several grad schools and was just about to give up on his plans for a career in science and enlist in the Navy when a call to the Virginia Institute of Science changed his life.

Tonight, Orth—an expert in seagrass biology at VIMS—will be honored as one of three Virginia Outstanding Scientists for 2018 by Gov. Ralph Northam as part of the Outstanding STEM Awards.

Orth’s path began in college when he was a sophomore studying biology at Rutgers. His father introduced him to a then up-and-coming field called oceanography.

Orth spoke of how life’s “small turns” have led to major career moments. After completing his bachelor’s degree, he applied to seven graduate schools … and was rejected by each.

He weighed his options and was considering joining the Navy when a lab partner who was studying physiology told Orth of a marine institute in Virginia where he was applying—the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

Orth applied but did not hear back for some time. He spoke with a recruiter about the Navy and was close to enlisting, but gave VIMS one final call to check on his application before he committed to signing his contract with the military.

“There was a 30-second silence,” Orth said, after he asked the secretary about the status of his application. He feared he would not be accepted as the silence dragged on until, from the background on the other end of the line, he heard, “Yeah, let the guy in.”

Orth would make the most of the opportunity.

His work includes seagrass biology and ecology with a focus on restoration science, a press release from the governor’s office stated. Among his achievements is a seagrass mapping program that is used by the federal government, Virginia and Maryland.

“I thank these extraordinary awardees and everyone who works hard to make Virginia a leader in these important fields,” Northam said of Orth and the other award winners.

More information:Click Here


A day to play

28 February 2018, Splash Pensacola Beach (USA)

Seagrasses are underwater plants that provide homes to many different types of marine life. To learn more about seagrasses, marine creatures that live in seagrasses and ways to protect them, come to the 18th annual Seagrass Awareness Celebration Saturday, March 24, from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at Shoreline Park South in Gulf Breeze.

This is a free family event that will include opportunities to enjoy live marine life in touch tanks and an “eat a seagrass bed.” Those attending can also make a shark tooth necklace; take part in seining, games and fishing; view marine creatures and marine debris; participate in arts and crafts; enjoy delicious food; take time to study a variety of displays; learn about boating and water safety; explore kayaking; and check out more opportunities for fun.

Make plans now to attend this exciting day full of activities. Bring family and friends and be sure and come prepared with water, sunscreen, hats, water shoes and lawn chairs.

In addition, the City of Gulf Breeze will be hosting Spring Fest and the Gulf Breeze Rotary Club will sponsor the annual Gumbo Cook-off at the Gulf Breeze Recreation Center. There will be lots of fun for the whole family on March 24.

More information: Click Here


Mexico works with Texas on combating Cancun, Riviera Maya seagrass

29 January 2018, Riviera Maya News (Mexico)


As a seagrass expert, Orth spends a good amount of time examining eelgrass and other underwater growth in its natural environment. This photo was taken off the coast of Australia, which has some of, if not the, largest seagrass beds in the world.

Cancun and Riviera Maya tourism sectors have, for the past year, been working with the University of Galveston on dealing with the seaweed that seasonally lands on Mexican beaches.

In an attempt to combat the arrival of sargasso, the State Secretariat of Tourism (Sedetur) implemented a containment program with the help of the University of Galveston.

Much like a daily weather report, satellite images taken by the University of Galveston in Texas show how and where the sea grass moves in the Caribbean Sea, providing Mexico with a three-day forecast of its arrival.

Marisol Vanegas Pérez, head of Sedetur says, “We take the images of that satellite and determine what will arrive and when because we have three days of forecasting. This tells how it will be today, tomorrow and on the third day.

“We know that if the grass is going to land on a certain area we have to prepare the squads to clean the area when it arrives. That is what all the directors of tourism, of associations and the people who deal with sargasso do during the days,” he said adding “It is up to the municipal authorities and even the staff of the hotels, depending on the area, to prepare a crew. Thanks to the monitoring they know in advance if they will be affected.”

“You have to read the report. You have to look at it and you have to act accordingly. It’s a very interesting report that allows us to make decisions.

“We add a photo of the 15 most emblematic beaches in the state, from Chetumal to Holbox. In the report a daily photograph is uploaded and at 8:00 a.m. they receive in real time, the photograph of the beach in that moment and if it is covered with sargasso or not.

“This helps them to organize the time of their people who have to dispose of it,” he said.

The report features satellite photos and images collected from the University of Galveston that shows the sargassum spots. Municipality officials helping to monitor the sea grass were given a course by Sedetur to learn how to interpret the satellite images.

“It is a tool to expedite their decision making and know what will happen in these three days. They receive the photos every day. We have been with the program for more than a year,” he said.

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Court rejected claims that Adani posed threat to Great Barrier Reef

28 March 2018, The Australian (Australia)

An international campaign has successfully branded Adani’s proposed Carmichael coal mine a “carbon bomb” that is set to blow up the Great Barrier Reef.

But the Galilee Basin is a long way from the Queensland coast and even further from the reef.

Carmichael may pose genuine environmental concerns in terms of water use, land clearing and habitat loss. There may well be environmental impacts from increased shipping through reef waters and from an expanded Abbot Point coal terminal near wetlands. But the bigger claim that Adani poses an existential threat to the Great Barrier Reef that can be avoided by banning the mine has been tested in the Federal Court and rejected.

The Australian Conservation Foundation took the federal environment minister to court claiming he failed to take account of the climate change impact of the Adani project and potential harm to the reef when he approved it. ACF argued the harmful effects of climate change (ocean temperature and acidification) were the most serious threat to the reef, would get worse, and depended on how effectively the issue of rising levels of greenhouse gases was addressed world wide.

ACF asked the Federal Court to find the environment minister should have taken greenhouse gases from combustion of coal from the mine into greater account.

However, the federal minister argued that any increase in global greenhouse gas emissions from the Adani mine would depend on a number of variables.

This included:

  • Whether the mined coal would replace coal currently provided by other suppliers;
  • Whether the burning of the mined coal would be a substitute for other energy sources;
  • The efficiency of coal burning power plants; and
  • The international obligations of coal burning countries to address emissions within their respective borders.

The Federal Court did not rule on whether the Adani mine was a good thing or not.

But the trial judge supported the environment minister’s right to make the decision he did.

And a full bench of the Federal Court upheld the original judgment after ACF appealed.

An international campaign has successfully branded Adani’s proposed Carmichael coal mine a “carbon bomb” that is set to blow up the Great Barrier Reef.

But the Galilee Basin is a long way from the Queensland coast and even further from the reef.

Carmichael may pose genuine environmental concerns in terms of water use, land clearing and habitat loss. There may well be environmental impacts from increased shipping through reef waters and from an expanded Abbot Point coal terminal near wetlands. But the bigger claim that Adani poses an existential threat to the Great Barrier Reef that can be avoided by banning the mine has been tested in the Federal Court and rejected.

The Australian Conservation Foundation took the federal environment minister to court claiming he failed to take account of the climate change impact of the Adani project and potential harm to the reef when he approved it. ACF argued the harmful effects of climate change (ocean temperature and acidification) were the most serious threat to the reef, would get worse, and depended on how effectively the issue of rising levels of greenhouse gases was addressed world wide.

ACF asked the Federal Court to find the environment minister should have taken greenhouse gases from combustion of coal from the mine into greater account.

More information: Click Here



Long-awaited dredging project to proceed in Trinity Inlet

28 February 2018, TropicNow (Australia)

Dredging of Trinity Inlet is expected to start in early 2019 after the State Co-Ordinator General today approved the $120 million project.

Economic modelling suggests the $120 million project will generate an estimated $850 million benefit to the local tourism sector over the next two decades with increased passenger expenditure, port charges and associated supplies and servicing.

The approval by the Co-Ordinator General comes with 290 conditions, aimed at protecting water quality and the Great Barrier Reef. The project faces just one hurdle, with approval from the Federal Government required before it can proceed.

Today's approval has already drawn fire from a range of critics on both sides of the political divide. Port advocates claim it will only extend the inlet's capabilities to welcome larger ships for another decade, while environmentalists say the project should not proceed due to the Inlet's proximity to the Great Barrier Reef.

Speaking in Cairns today, State Development Minister Cameron Dick said the project will be a "game-changer" for the local tourism industry.

Mr Dick said that a total of 183 cruise ships are predicted to visit Cairns by 2031, creating 2730 direct and indirect full-time equivalent ongoing jobs in the region.

"The Cairns Shipping Development Project will allow for over 100 additional cruise ships to berth annually in the Port of Cairns by 2031," he said.

“This will potentially result in a tripling of the number of passenger days spent in Cairns each year due to cruise ship tourism, being an increase of 225,000 passenger days each year by 2031.

“In his evaluation report, the Coordinator-General evaluated all the possible environmental impacts and sets comprehensive conditions to manage potential impacts on Trinity Inlet within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area and state marine park.

“They include managing marine water quality, plant clearing and activity in the state marine park."


Port advocate and former Federal election candidate Daniel McCarthy said the project was only suitable for current cruise liners, with future vessels likely to be too large for the scope of dredging approved today.

The approved project reducing the volume of dredging by 77 per cent compared to the previous LNP Government plan, down from 4.4 million cubic metres to 1 million cubic metres. All capital dredge material will be placed on land rather than at sea as previously proposed.

"Whilst we welcome the project as a good step in the right direction, sadly as expected the down-scaled project will only extend working life of the Cairns Port by 8 to 10 years," he said.

"Both State and Federal Governments and both Labor and Liberal have once again bowed to the ‘gang Greens’ and let international bodies like UNESCO to call the shots on our regional economy."

More information: Click Here



Chilika lake largest habitat of Irrawaddy dolphins globally

27 February 2018, India Today (India)

The Chilika lake in Odisha has emerged as the single largest habitat of Irrawaddy dolphins in the world with the spotting of 155 such animals, a Chilika Development Authority (CDA) official said.

The finding is based on the preliminary report of the first ever Annual Monitoring of the lake held on Saturday, CDA Chief Executive Susanta Nanda said. The Annual Monitoring was conducted by the CDA to count the number of the marine mammals and to study the hydrological impacts of removal of pen culture (locally known as gherries), he said yesterday.

The number is more compared to the last years figure of around 100 dolphins during the annual census, Nanda said. Stating that the results of the monitoring are being analysed by plotting the locational GPS, Nanda said the finer details were likely to take some time. "The dolphins are now seen in different sectors of the lake where they were not seen before due to removal of obstruction for their migration," Nanda said.

While dolphins are seen in different parts of the lake has raised the hope of eco-tourism, Nanda said high degree of cautions was necessary to preserve them by taking up responsible tourism. The monitoring also revealed that the lake houses around 0.9 million birds which is similar to the trend of population over the years.

No new species is identified during the monitoring, he said. However, it has been observed that the birds, mainly the migratory ducks, have started colonising new areas previously covered by pen culture as their new habitat, he said. The CDA official said Barunakuda and Krushnaprasad offered tremendous opportunity for eco-tourism due to congregation of the winter birds along these new areas. Some waders have already started leaving the lake, but other migratory birds have prolonged their stay mainly because of cool nights and increased available food in the lagoon, the preliminary report said.

The sea grass bed which was reduced to 86 square km in 2016 has now shown a marked improvement and with ground trothing stands at 135 sq km indicating improved hydrological condition of the lake, it said. "This will provide ample opportunity for the mud crabs to grow. The presence of Sponge, which was found by the ZSI in the lake before 1985 and had disappeared thereafter, have made their appearance indicating a clean and healthy eco-system," the report said adding that Spongillaalba species was identified by the monitoring team in certain locations. The use of zero nets for fishing has also been reduced significantly, but they still pose the maximum threats to the eco-system of the lake as they increase siltation.

All the three channels and the Palur canal are free from obstruction. But, the number of nets used in the outer channel for fishing is silting up the channel at a very fast pace, it said. Nanda said this problem was needed to be discussed with the fishermen of these localities to prolong the life of the lagoon by promoting responsible fishery and adhering to certain self restrictions to reduce the siltation.

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Study found that fisheries discarding edible fish, pose a threat to food security

26 February 2018, Tech Explorist (press release)


Waste not, want not. PHOTO CREDIT: Benjamin Jones

New research suggests small-scale artisanal fisheries in Sri Lanka are throwing away more marine species than they keep.

The study conducted by Cardiff University and Swansea University in collaboration with Susantha Udagedara of the Blue Resources Trust investigated small-scale fishers in Sri Lanka were throwing away more than 50 fish for every trip they made.

Scientists investigated the amount and sizes of fish that were being discarded at a landing site in Puttalam Lagoon. For all 63 fishing trips examined over the course of a week, all catches were sorted on land and no fish were returned to the sea. They recorded 2,752 fish being thrown away.

Notwithstanding the reason for rejecting them was not always clear, fish might have been perceived too small, or not significant enough to sell. In all cases, fishers caught many species they weren’t originally targeting, which is called bycatch. These were frequently juvenile fish, prominent to the sustainability of the lagoon.

Of the 62 species recorded in the survey, more than 82% were routinely discarded. 32% of people living in the lagoon, typical of the kind found in the country, are in poverty – equating to 5,000 households. The team calculated that bycatch could provide three fish a day for every household.

Benjamin Jones, a researcher at the Sustainable Places Research Institute and lead author of the study, said, “In this era of increasing food insecurity, these findings represent a serious concern for Sri Lanka. These discarded fish could have helped to feed the poorest people living in nearby communities.”

Co-author Dr. Richard Unsworth of Swansea University said, “These alarming findings add to other similar observations made by our team across the Indo-Pacific region where many fish are commonly wasted in even small-scale fisheries. This places the food security of dependent people clearly in doubt.”

In addition, analyzing the discarded species discovered on the shore, the team likewise used interview data from people living around the lagoon to examine trends and investigate fish markets to gauge customer preferences.

All fishers said they preferred fishing in seagrass meadows because of the abundance of fish they can catch there.

Benjamin Jones added, “Seagrass meadows are a nursery for baby fish. If these fish are being removed and simply thrown away as we’ve discovered, very few are reaching adulthood – or the stage at which they would normally reproduce. This leaves their future in doubt.”

Dr. Leanne Cullen-Unsworth, a Research Fellow at the Sustainable Places Research Institute, said, “Billions of people rely on fish for protein, and small-scale fisheries provide over 50 million people with jobs. These findings provide concerns for not only people in poverty but the people that depend on these fisheries for their livelihoods. If this continues, there simply won’t be a fishery.”

The study discovered fishers targeting shrimp, which is exported to countries such as Japan and the USA, had higher levels of bycatch. Potentially 90% of the world’s fish stocks are threatened by over-fishing – when more fish are caught than the population can replace.

Lastly, they conclude as it is possible poor social networks are preventing discards reaching the wider community. They recommend the establishment of sustainable management practices through community integration and education as well as reducing unnecessary food waste.

More information:Click Here



Lagoon report shows a waterway in peril

22 February 2018, Florida Today (USA)



The Indian River Lagoon flunked by most measures on a regional environmental group's first report card of the estuary's ecological health.

The Marine Resources Council, a nonprofit group based in Palm Bay, unveiled early findings Thursday evening from a two-year, $180,000 study of the lagoon's health — the estuary's first ecological report card of sorts.

"You can see that these grades are pretty much failing throughout," MRC executive director Leesa Souto said to a crowd of more than 100 people at the Gleason Performing Arts Center at Florida Institute of Technology.

Souto was pointing to a color-coded map of the northern lagoon, which showed mostly red and orange, indicating poor water quality.

The study was funded almost entirely from local foundations and private donors, and included a $47,000 grant from the National Estuary Program.

MRC examined various segments of the lagoon, looking at 20 years of water quality and habitat data, including measures of chlorophyll, nitrogen, phosphorus, seagrass and the typical cloudiness of the water.

They divided the lagoon into 10 areas and created a standardized scoring system, ranging from 0 to 100.

The report card provides a baseline for comparison of lagoon restoration efforts. It was inspired by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s annual community report and is based on repeatable scientific methods to measure progress of restoration efforts.

MRC assigned various lagoon segments numerical scores, based on how close they came to meeting established targets for seagrass growth, water pollution reductions and other parameters.

In 2016 and 2015, no section of the lagoon passed. In 2014, the Mosquito Lagoon passed MRC's scoring criteria.

The full report card won't be released until further review, Souto said, and the full report won't be published until April.

Part of the study focused on identifying additional data needs.

More than half the lagoon's seagrass died off in 2011 when a "superbloom" of algae fouled most of the lagoon, blocking sunlight from reaching the seagrass.

Robert Weaver, an associate professor of ocean engineering at FIT, urged the audience to reduce their lagoon "footprint."

He encouraged homeowners to get their septic tanks inspected. "That's something we can all do to limit our footprint on the lagoon," Weaver said.

Duane DeFreese, executive director of the Indian River Lagoon Council, does not expect much state money for the lagoon this year. So he urged the community to push state representatives for recurring funding for the lagoon.

Brevard County's half-cent sales tax is expected to raise $340 million over 10 years for lagoon cleanups, said Brandon Smith, environmental specialist with Brevard County.

Much of that money will go toward dredging out organic muck, which clouds up the lagoon, blocking sunlight to seagrass and fueling excess algae growth.

"We're looking at new projects all the time," Smith said. "There are 63 projects due to start this year."

Water quality in the northern and southern lagoon has been fairly good recently, DeFreese said.

But the Banana River and Sykes Creek areas in the central lagoon have been suffering from a brown tide algae bloom.

"This is not the time we want to see algal blooms," DeFreese said.

"We have to do more than want change, we have to be willing to change," he said.

During a question-and-answer session, one citizen asked whether the lagoon is safe for recreation.

"If it looks bad, and if it smells bad, and the government was telling you it was safe, would you go in?" DeFreese said. "For me, if I don't like the look of it, and I don't like the smell of it, I don't go in it."

More information: Click Here


Seychelles announces two new marine protected areas the size of Great Britain

22 February 2018, (Seychelles)

Aerial view of Aldabra. Photo by Simisa via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0).

The government of Seychelles has announced the creation of two new marine protected areas covering 210,000 square kilometers, the size of the island of Great Britain.
The first marine protected area includes 74,400 square kilometers of waters surrounding the extremely isolated Aldabra archipelago that is home to the world’s largest population of rare giant tortoises.

The second marine protected area covers 136,000 square kilometers of a commercially important stretch of ocean between the Amirantes group of islands and Fortune Bank.

The creation of the marine protected areas is part of a debt-for-nature deal that will allow the Seychelles to restructure its national debt in exchange for protecting 30 percent of its exclusive economic zone.

Seychelles, a small island nation located off East Africa in the Indian Ocean, has announced the creation of two new marine protected areas covering 210,000 square kilometers (81,100 square miles), according to a press release from the U.S.-based conservation group The Nature Conservancy (TNC). The area covered by the two parks is the size of the island of Great Britain.

The first marine protected area includes 74,400 square kilometers (28,700 square miles) of waters surrounding the extremely isolated Aldabra archipelago, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that has remained largely untouched by people.

The Aldabra Atoll is home to the elusive dugong (Dugong dugon) and the world’s largest population of about 100,000 rare giant tortoises (Aldabrachelys gigantea). The islands are also important nesting grounds for hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) and green turtles (Chelonia mydas).

The Seychelles government designated the two new marine protected areas as part of a debt-for-nature deal drawn up with the help of TNC. The deal allows Seychelles to restructure part of its national debt in exchange for its commitment to increase marine protection from 0.04 percent of its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) to 30 percent.

“Seychelles’ commitment to increase the protected area of its ocean from 0.04 percent to 30 percent came out of a groundbreaking debt refinancing it designed with TNC and key stakeholders in 2015,” TNC said in the press release. “Seychelles was able to pay off an outstanding sovereign debt with $21 million TNC raised. The transaction, structured by TNC’s conservation investing unit, NatureVest, means a portion of Seychelles’ debt repayments will now fund innovative marine protection and climate adaptation projects.”

The debt-for-nature swap involves private funders such as the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation (which also provides funding to Mongabay), China Global Conservation Fund of TNC, The Jeremy and Hannelore Grantham Environmental Trust, Lyda Hill Foundation, Oak Foundation, Oceans 5, Turnbull Burnstein Family Charitable Fund, and Waitt Foundation.

The marine protected areas are being launched in two phases. The two parks announced on Feb. 21 are part of the first phase, covering a little more than half of the 30 percent protection goal for Seychelles’ total EEZ of 1.37 million square kilometers (529,000 square miles). The second phase is expected to be completed by 2020.

To create the parks, the government relied on marine survey data from the Pristine Seas expedition team, a National Geographic initiative, as well as on consultations with more than a hundred stakeholders, according to TNC.

The second marine protected area covers 136,000 square kilometers (52,500 square miles) of a commercially important stretch of ocean between the Amirantes group of coral islands and Fortune Bank. This region is important for both tourism and fishing activities, some of which will be allowed under stricter regulations, according to TNC.

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This adorable, thumbnail-sized pygmy squid is a new species

22 February 2018, Earth Touch News

Idiosepius hallami attached to a seagrass blade in Cudgen Creek, northern New South Wales. PHOTO CREDITS: M. Reid

It's a familiar story: when it comes to getting our attention, bigger, more charismatic species have an undeniable advantage. And it's no different among squid kind. Every time the stupendously sized giant squid (genus Architeuthis) pokes so much as a tentacle from its deep-sea haunts, the headlines soon follow. Archie's much tinier cephalopod kin, meanwhile, have a much harder time getting their 15 minutes of internet fame. And that's unfortunate, say researchers Jan Strugnell and Mandy Reid, because these overlooked animals play an important role in marine ecosystems.

The research duo recently helped to add a new name to the roster of Australia's small-time squid. Meet the Hallam's pygmy squid, officially known as Idiosepius hallami.

"We know a lot more about the larger (and often edible) squid species, but these tiny ones are often overlooked," said Strugnell, an associate professor at James Cook University in Queensland, in a press release.

Like many species discoveries, this one got its start somewhere you might not expect: in a museum. Strugnell and Reid first stumbled across their squid subject in the preserved specimen collection of the Australian Museum in Sydney, and the find sent them on a mission to collect additional specimens, so these could be specially preserved for molecular sequencing.

On one such field trip, the collected squid surprised the researchers by putting on a mating display right there in their petri dish.

"People are often surprised to know that so many marine animals are still undiscovered and unnamed. Many are sitting in museum collections waiting to be studied," said Reid, a collections manager at the Australian Museum Research Institute.

This particular find is significant, say the researchers, because of the many unanswered questions we still have about small squid: scientists don't know how many species exist out there, for example, or where they are distributed – both in Australian waters and beyond.

"This discovery led to a broader examination of all the species known from this family of tiny squids and also resulted in a revised classification and better understanding of the group as a whole," explained Strugnell.

The Hallam's pygmy squid can be found in the waters of eastern Australia, from Queensland's Shoalwater Bay to Narooma in southern New South Wales. The animals may be tiny, Reid notes, but studying them has broader implications for conservation.

"They live among mangroves and seagrass, which are under threat and are among the planet's most effective carbon absorbers. So, an increased understanding of these habitats and what lives in them is of great importance."

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Plantwatch: seagrass meadows are vital – but in serious decline

21 February 2018, The Guardian (UK)

Meadows of seagrass are one of our great but sorely neglected wild plant spectacles. This humble plant spreads out in lush green carpets that can stretch for miles around much of Britain’s coast. There they shelter young fish and shellfish, as well as protecting against erosion of the coast by storms and floods, by trapping sediment in their roots.

And the seagrass meadows also play a big part in fighting climate change. They soak up carbon dioxide and hold tremendous stores of carbon on the sea floor, more than twice the carbon stored by a forest of similar area. And across the world, seagrasses are believed to lock away more than 10% of all the carbon buried each year in the oceans.

Seagrasses around the UK are in serious decline, though, and their immense reservoirs of carbon are being released. Development and dredging are to blame, as well as pollution from sewage and farming washing huge amounts of nutrients into the sea, which kills the seagrasses. Old sewage plants overflow with untreated sewage during heavy rainfalls, which is illegal but common. And excessive nutrients from livestock waste slurry runs off into rivers and ends up in the sea.

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Proper Governance Needed To Protect Multi-Million Mpas

20 February 2018, Bahamas Tribune (Bahamas)

THE multi-million dollar benefits generated by the Bahamas' Marine Protected Areas (MPA) will be endangered unless proper management systems are implemented, a study has warned.

An economic valuation of ecosystems in the Bahamas' 40 MPAs, conducted for local environmental organisations, said the "economic value of the fisheries and tourism sectors" is "at risk" unless the necessary financing and governance systems are put in place.

The report, conducted by the Natural Capital Project, said just 10 per cent of the Bahamas' MPAs possess final management plans while another 15 have draft versions. This means that less than half the nation's MPAs are overseen by properly structured governance frameworks.

The specific threats identified in the study, which was carried out for the Bahamas National Trust (BNT), The Nature Conservancy and the Bahamas Reef Environment Education Foundation (BREEF), include undermining $67.6 million in annual tourist spending - and 383,000 visitor days - generated by visits to the MPAs.

These areas also contain ecosystems responsible for producing more than $23.5 million in yearly habitat value as breeding grounds for the spiny lobster, generating more than 50 per cent of crawfish sector activity, six million pounds of catch and some 1,300 Bahamian jobs.

MPA ecosystems were also identified as providing a natural coastal defence to hurricanes, protecting some $806 million in annual income and the 40,000 residents who live along the coastline of Bahamian islands.

And the mangroves and seagrass within the MPA network were found to store 400 million tons of carbon, saving $5 billion annually in terms of harmful emissions avoided.

"Effective management is important for maintaining and growing the economic value of the ecosystem services within the existing network of MPAs, as the examples of Southwest New Providence Marine Managed Area (SWMMA) and Andros show," the Natural Capital Project report said.

"Only four out of the 40 existing MPAs have management plans finalised; 15 sites have draft plans. Without effective management and financing to protect coastal and marine ecosystems, the Bahamas puts at risk the economic value of its fisheries and tourism sectors and increases its vulnerability to hurricanes and climate change."

The study added that the "economic value and benefits" associated with the MPAs, and their coastal and marine ecosystems, meant their management needed to be included within the Bahamas' major planning processes.

"The economic value of ecosystem services and the livelihoods they support indicate the importance of managing the MPA network now in order to help safeguard against the loss of economic and societal benefits to Bahamians, the Caribbean and people worldwide in the future," the report's authors warned.

"According to our analysis, visitation within MPAs provides $67.6 million annually in tourism expenditures; 2.6 per cent of overall expenditures in 2015. Ecosystems within the existing MPA network are worth more than $23.5 million annually in nursery habitat values for spiny lobster.

"The nursery habitat within the MPA network contributes to 50 per cent of the overall value of the lobster fishery, which in turn provides more than 1,300 active lobster jobs. In addition, ecosystems in the network reduce the risk of coastal hazards, such as Hurricanes Mathew and Joaquin, to nearly 40,000 people living along coastlines throughout the country and $806 million in annual income. Mangroves and seagrass within the MPA network store 400 million tons of carbon, worth $5 billion in avoided emissions globally."

The Natural Capital Project study warned that all these economic, environmental and storm protection benefits were coming under increased pressure from "a growing intensity of activities in the coastal zone".

Pointing to the importance of MPAs as hurricane defences, the report warned: "Half the population of San Salvador and one-third of the population of the Berry Islands are at lower risk from coastal hazards due to ecosystems within MPAs.

"More than 30,000 people on New Providence live in areas partially protected by corals in SWMMA and coastal forests in Bonefish National Park. The economic value of coral reefs, seagrass beds, mangroves, and coppice within MPAs for reducing the storm risk of coastal communities depends on exposure (shallow, wide shelfs are associated with storm surge) and proximity to coastal populations."

Noting that ecosystem value varied across the MPA network, the study added: "The higher tourism expenditures attributable to Southwest New Providence Marine Managed Area and Exuma Cays Land & Sea Park illustrate the importance of infrastructure and access for supporting tourism, and highlight how investing in protection and management of coral reef and fish communities can foster a world-renowned location for tourism.

"Habitats in Andros West Side National Park and Marls of Abaco store the most carbon in the network, valued at more than $3.5 billion, and $500 million in avoided carbon emissions, respectively."

The Natural Capital Project study, dated November 2017, was carried out as part of Bahamas Protected, a three-year initiative designed to improve and expand the MPAs so that the economic value of their ecosystems is protected.

"Taken in conjunction with information about costs of implementation and threats to habitats that provide services, the economic value of ecosystem services can help to ensure that management strategies maximise net benefits to MPA-adjacent communities and all Bahamians," it said.

"By fostering an iterative process between ecosystem service valuation and stakeholder engagement, Bahamas Protected has the opportunity to understand how management decisions made today will influence the sustainability and economic value of ecosystems into the future."

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Healthy Harbour report: Are we getting the whole story?

20 February 2018, Gladstone Observer (Australia)

PROCESS engineer and environmentalist Jan Arens has slammed the recently released Gladstone Healthy Harbour Report card, claiming it is an attempt at "window dressing" and the results do not reflect reality.

The report card, based on data collected between July 2016 and June 2017, uses a system of grading A to E.

It awarded seagrass and coral habitats within the harbour an overall grade of D. Meanwhile, it gave water quality an overall A at 87 per cent and sediment quality a B.

Mr Arens said something didn't add up if water quality was considered excellent.

"If the corals, seagrass and mud-crabs are doing so poorly, we are not measuring the right things," he said.

"Coral in particular is doing so poorly, scoring just E's and D's by their own metrics, their assessment of water quality is A ratings, it just doesn't add up."

"Doesn't their own data suggest that the habitat is being hammered by something?"

GHHP chair Paul Birch said the 213-page technical report, which provided details of the testing and monitoring, was available for anyone to access at

"Regarding any questions or concerns for further monitoring, (we are) always open to talk to community members", he said.

CQUniversity professor and head of the GHHP independent science panel John Rolfe explained during the launch of this year's report card last week that seagrass and corals were slow to recover from cyclone damage.

Prof Rolfe said dugongs feeding on seagrass also impacted its score.

He said micro-algae living on corals in the Gladstone Harbour had also slowed their recovery from cyclone damage.

Mr Arens said while most were being positive about the quality of water in the harbour, he struggled to understand the score of 87 per cent.

"During early discussions with Dr Ian Poiner, (then) chair of the GHHP Independent Science Panel, all data was going to be publicly available, but this is not the case," he said.

Mr Arens said millions of dollars of taxpayer money was spent each year on monitoring the harbour and producing the healthy harbour report card and technical report but the way the information was collected was not accessible to members of the public.

He has previously filed freedom of information requests in a bid to learn more about the results and data collection.

"I have no doubt everyone involved is trying to do the right thing," he said, adding he did not question the measurements recorded by scientists.

"It is a shame that the actual science is hidden from the public."

Mr Arens, a geologist and process engineer who has been studying water quality for the past 17 years, said the harbour needed evidence-based scientific assessment, not a "score".

"He said the idea of the Healthy Harbour Report card being pushed into schools as science "caused the hairs on the back of the neck to stand up".

"Our harbour's environment is not competing, it needs no score, it needs evidence-based scientific assessment, unambiguous and free for all to explore and understand," he said.

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Marine patrols to intensify following dead dugong discovery on Abu Dhabi coast

18 February 2018, The National (UAE)


Coastal patrols will be stepped up after new evidence of over-fishing and the use of illegal nets in UAE waters washed ashore over the weekend.

Illegal fishing nets are suspected to have been responsible for the deaths of five dugongs and one unborn dugong that appeared on the shores of Saadiyat Island, while the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment announced it will be monitoring fish markets during the breeding seasons of vulnerable species.

Some species are to receive increased protection from over-fishing next month through a campaign supporting tighter regulations on the catching of emperor (sheri) and rabbit (safi) fish.

Trading of this fish, whether imported or locally caught, is banned in markets and outlets during the breeding season, which is between March 1 and April 30.

An awareness campaign is being rolled out among fishermen and traders by the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment.

“This decision will bring a positive impact on increasing the fish stock, especially sheri and safi,” said Salah Abdullah Al Rayssi, Director of the Fisheries Sustainability Department at MOCCAE.

“This will help promote a sustainable marine environment and fish conservation, production and trade in the country, which is a key element of achieving Vision 2021.”

Stocks of emperor and rabbat fish are depleting due to uncontrolled fishing during breeding season, which in turn denies the opportunity to rebuild natural stocks.

MOCCAE will issue penalties if the markets and fishing companies fail to comply under the ministerial decision number 18 of 2012 regarding the violators of regulatory decisions on marine life.

Three males and two female dugongs were found on a public beach in recent weeks in an incident described by environmentalists as a ‘a harsh blow’ to one of Abu Dhabi’s most treasured, yet vulnerable, species.

One of the females was pregnant with a fully developed calf.

The discovery has prompted species scientists and marine biologists to strive to determine the cause of death, and to step up patrols of critical areas inhabited by dugongs.

Early indications and autopsy tests have suggested the deaths were caused by drowning after the animals were caught in an illegal fishing net known as Hiyali.

Arabella Willing, resident marine biologist and head of conservation at the Park Hyatt, Abu Dhabi performed the post mortem examinations on the dugongs recently beached in Saadiyat marine national park.

“We know they died fairly quickly, but there were clear signs on the pregnant female that she had become entangled in a net,” she said.

“It’s very difficult to pinpoint exactly what caused them to drown, but it was likely an illegal net.

“We are patrolling Saadiyat fairly often as it is a well used area. I think this will encourage more patrols to go out onto the water.

“Dugongs are fairly shy, and seeing them alive is rare. I’ve seen far more dead ones than alive ones unfortunately.

“The penalties are strict, but it is a difficult job to pinpoint who is using these nets.”

The drift nets, which reach in length from 500 metres to one kilometre, are used illegally by fishermen to catch king fish that are then sold in markets.

The nets are deployed at depths of about 10m and left to drift, but threaten dugongs that have poor eyesight.

Fishermen return to collect nets based on calculations about currents, but the nets are often lost and then pose a further risk to marine wildlife once they are abandoned.

A report was compiled in 2017 to assess shark species in the region who are also at risk from overfishing and the use of nets.

While divers have reported regular sightings of some sharks, such as bamboo and black tips, on the east coast and near Abu Dhabi, other species are facing extinction.

Experts found more than 50 per cent of sharks in the region have an elevated risk of extinction, and are either very endangered, endangered or vulnerable.

“Those species need more attention, such as the hammerhead, eagle rays or guitar fish that all need attention,” said a source who worked on the 2017 report on regional sharks.

“We know that sawfish are almost completely extinct in the whole Arabian Gulf, as they are elsewhere in the world ... These are the kind of species we should be drawing attention to.

“The primary cause of this issue is over-fishing and degradation of habitat is a secondary issue. If coral reefs continue to disappear, many more species will not survive.

Vision 2021 is a long-term socio-economical development plan that aims to make the UAE "one of the best countries in the world" by the year 2021, when the UAE will celebrate the Golden Jubilee of its formation.

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Illegal fishing nets blamed as 5 dugongs washed ashore

17 February 2018, Khaleej Times (Abu Dhabi)

One of the dead dugongs found on the Saadiyat Public Beach.Abu Dhabi is home to the world's second largest population of dugongs.

Four dugongs - three males and one female - have been found washed ashore on Abu Dhabi's Saadiyat Public Beach in recent weeks, in what may be the biggest single die-off of one of Abu Dhabi's most vulnerable species.

In addition, another dead dugong, an expecting mother with a fully-developed calf, was discovered last week.

Following the incident, a team from the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi (EAD) made up of species scientists and marine biologists have been racing against time to determine the cause of death and to intensify monitoring of critical areas. The results of the investigation and necropsy indicate that the most probable cause of death was drowning in an illegal fishing net, locally known as 'hiyali'.

Abu Dhabi is home to the world's second largest population of dugongs, with around 3,000 found mostly in the waters around Bu Tinah Island, part of the Marawah Marine Biosphere Reserve. Dugongs, their foraging habitats and their migratory routes in the UAE have been protected under Federal Law No. 23 and No. 24 since 1999.

The UAE is also a signatory to the UN Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species, making it an international commitment to protect dugongs.

Dr Shaikha Salem Al Dhaheri, excutive director of the terrestrial and marine biodiversity sector at EAD, said: "This discovery is a harsh blow to one of Abu Dhabi's most vulnerable species and it may be the biggest single die-off of dugongs recorded in a decade. It once again affirms the vulnerability of this species to human threats and the pressing need for fishermen to end irresponsible fishing practices.

"EAD's research has demonstrated that the majority of commercial and recreational fishermen are fully aware of the laws prohibiting the use of illegal nets and the protected status of dugongs in the UAE. However, in spite of the regulations in place and the awareness being raised, many fishermen continue to use hiyali nets, because it is a particularly lucrative method of fishing.

"As the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Founder of the UAE, stressed, environmental protection is not a matter only for government officials. It is an issue that should concern us all. And so, we call on all fishermen to fish in a responsible way," she said.

The EAD has now intensified its monitoring of critical areas within and outside marine protected areas and is meeting regularly with fishermen, calling on them not to use the illegal hiyali net and to report the locations of any abandoned fishing nets.

Commercial and recreational fishermen caught using illegal and banned fishing gear and methods will be prosecuted. First-time offenders can receive fines of up to Dh50,000 and/or an imprisonment term of not less than three months, while second-time offenders can receive fines of up to Dh100,000 and/or an imprisonment term of not less than one year.

Other causes of dugong death included habitat loss, marine pollution and collisions with speeding boats.

Know the shy vulnerable marine mammal

  • Dugongs are the only marine mammals which are herbivore.
  • The Arabian Gulf and Red Sea host around 7,000 dugongs.
  • Dugongs have been traditionally persecuted by humans for their meat and oil.
  • Dugongs are more closely related to elephants than to whales or dolphins.
  • Dugongs are shy, secretive.
  • Dugongs are often referred to as "sea cows" because they feed almost exclusively on seagrass. They can eat up to 30kgs of seagrass daily and can weigh anywhere from 230-500kgs.
  • Dugongs sometimes breathe by "standing" on their tail with their heads above water

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Queen conch dying out in the Bahamas despite marine parks

16 February 2018, (Bahamas)

Research of the Bahamian queen conch population is on going. Video Credit: Shedd Aquarium

It’s hard to adequately describe the importance of conch to the Bahamas. Conchs are ingrained in the culture; there are conch festivals, conch homecomings and conch-cracking competitions. On the Bahamian coat of arms, a queen conch takes pride of place, sitting right at the top.

But new research finds that the queen conch (Strombus gigas), economically important as food and for its decorative shell, is facing unprecedented fishing pressure throughout its Caribbean range.

The study in the Marine Ecology Progress Series journal found widespread decline and an aging population among the conchs of the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park (ECLSP), a marine protected area (MPA) in the Bahamas. The plight of this previously abundant and well-protected conch population is a troubling blow for this iconic marine mollusc.

“Besides being a staple to the local diet, harvesting and sale of conch supports entire island economies,” the Bahamas National Trust (BNT), a non-profit organization that manages the country’s national parks, said in a statement. Conch meat is an important part of the Bahamian economy; domestic consumption is difficult to quantify but exports alone bring in an estimated $3.3 million a year.

Not only are conchs economically and culturally important, but they also play a vital role in the marine ecosystem. Conch eggs and larvae, produced in the hundreds of thousands, are an important food source for a number of vulnerable and endangered marine creatures. Conchs also feed on the algae found on sea grass, preventing the sea grass from being smothered.

Fueled by a growing tourism industry and an expanding export market, demand for conchs skyrocketed in the 1970s. Bahamian fishermen were quick to capitalize: conch landings in the country rose from an estimated 750 tonnes per year in 1970 to a peak of 6,368 tonnes in 2006. Despite CITES listing conch as an Appendix II species in 1992, thus subjecting its trade to rigorous restrictions, fishing pressure continued to grow, and conservationists fear this large take of conchs is leading to population declines.

Researcher surveying in sea grass bed. Queen conch larvae known as ‘veligers’ typically settle in shallower sea grass areas to develop. PHOTO CREDIT: Carolyn Belak

Conchs, which can live up to 30 years, do not reach sexual maturity till 3 to 5 years of age, meaning that declining populations can take a long time to recover. To add to their woes, conch breeding behavior relies on large spawning groups known as “aggregations.” If their densities fall below 47 adults per hectare (about 19 per acre), then they do not reproduce, further hampering their ability to recover from overexploitation.

The Bahamas’ extensive network of MPAs was previously a beacon of hope for the beleaguered conch population. The BNT banned fishing in the ECLSP in 1986, and an initial survey conducted in the early 1990s found conch densities as much as 31 times higher than surrounding fished areas. These early results were so positive that conservationists hoped the successful ECLSP population could help repopulate downstream fisheries.

However, repeat surveys in 2011 and 2016 highlighted an alarming downward trend.

“Despite the fact that the park has been generally well protected from fishing during the last 20 years, queen conch stocks have diminished substantially,” says Allan Stoner, a leading expert on the queen conch and chief scientist for the Community Conch conservation organization and co-author of the survey paper.

The team found a clue to the underlying cause of the declines in the increasing ages of conchs in the ECLSP. Once a conch shell has reached its full length, it starts to thicken, and scientists use this thickness of the shell to estimate age. The survey found predominantly old and large adults in the park, with a shortage of juveniles to replace them.

The team has two main theories for the lack of juveniles in the park. The first is that the ECLSP’s success may in fact be part of the problem.

“We think there may be a counterintuitive influence of protection on conch in the park caused by higher populations of predators,” says Andy Kough, research biologist with the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago and lead author of the survey study.

While very few predators besides humans are capable of breaching an adult conch shell, the developing shells of juveniles place them firmly on the underwater menu.

“It may very well be that higher populations of protected predators inside the park are devouring young conch before they are able to grow a big and thick enough shell to protect them,” Kough says.

The second theory is more worrying.

“Juvenile conch are not recruiting to the park from outside, and the park population is slowly dying of old age,” Stoner says.

In the free-swimming larval stage, young conch may be carried many miles along ocean currents. This means that the larvae produced by the breeding adults in the park do not stay within the park, making the ECLSP population dependent on a healthy breeding population upstream.

Scientists are now focusing on identifying the larval source for the ECLSP.

“We are primed to answer this question using new technologies such as biophysical modelling,” Kough says.

However, finding the larval source is only half the battle, as the situation for conch outside protected areas is bleak. Surveys conducted by Community Conch in fishing areas have revealed that queen conch populations in the Bahamas are near collapse.

In contrast to the ECLSP population, conch in fishing grounds have become younger with time as adults are harvested faster than they can be replaced. With a declining breeding population, Stoner says the prognosis is unmistakable: “When there are no juvenile conch in the nurseries, there can be no subsequent fishery.”

For Kough and Stoner, it’s clear that the primary driver of the conch decline in the Bahamas is overfishing. Stoner believes conch fishery management needs to be reformed if Bahamian conchs are to have a sustainable future.

This sentiment is echoed by the BNT, which says that while enforcing current regulations is an issue, the regulations themselves need refinement. It suggests that regulations such as the requirement that conchs must have a “well developed and fully flared lip” before being harvested are imprecise and open to interpretation.

To compound the issue of imprecision, previous research by Stoner has shown that a fully flared lip does not indicate the point of sexual maturity. As a consequence, conchs are being legally harvested before they have had a chance to reproduce, thereby crippling the fisheries future.

Another key issue Stoner identifies is the growing use of surface-supplied air systems that allow fishermen to access conchs previously out of reach to free divers — effectively meaning no conch is safe from fisheries.

Time may be running out for the conchs of the Bahamas. It’s a pattern that has played out before across the queen conch’s range: collapsed populations and closed fisheries in Bermuda, Cuba, Colombia, the United States, Mexico and Venezuela offer an uncomfortable vision for the future in the Bahamas should things not change.

Attempts to reintroduce conchs in other areas have proved unsuccessful, with low survival rates and high costs. For example, the collapsed Florida fishery has still not recovered after 30 years, despite a complete fishing ban and a number of reintroduction efforts. With no backup option, conservationists say protecting existing wild stocks now is imperative.

Current efforts in the Bahamas are centered around a national “Conchservation” campaign that began in 2013. Conchservation is a widespread collaboration between the BNT and a number of government and non-government organizations. Through a mixture of public awareness, research and policy change, the campaign aims to create a sustainable conch fishery in the Bahamas.

The BNT says Conchservation has received a mixed response: “People want to protect conch but no one wants to change their behaviour or legislation to protect it.”

Conservationists have proposed a number of potential measures such as a closed season, quotas, export bans, bans on surface-supplied air systems, or a standardized lip thickness (to ensure conchs have time to breed before being taken). The BNT is finalizing its position on the specific regulation it intends to pursue through the Conchservation campaign. (The government formally recognized the BNT as an official adviser to government in 2010, placing the organization in an ideal position to influence policy.)

Commenting on the recent study of the ECLSP, the BNT emphasizes the importance of an MPA network that encompasses the entire life cycle of the queen conch. With the BNT overseeing the Bahamas’ pledge to protect 20 percent of its marine coastal habitat by 2020, there is hope that this may soon become a reality.

Possibly the greatest challenge for conch advocates will be to convince policymakers that the economic cost of protecting conchs is necessary and worthwhile. The marine resources minister, V. Alfred Gray, made clear in 2013 his opposition to an export ban. “It could be catastrophic to the Bahamas and the fishers of the country [to end exports] because we do not have too many industries,” he said in a speech.

As is so often the case, the fate of the queen conch in the Bahamas will ultimately depend on the action or inaction of the islands’ government.

“Of course all of these options require rigorous enforcement of the regulations,” Stoner says. “Increased political will is needed for any changes to occur.”

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Industry and healthy harbour not exclusive: GPC

16 February 2018, Gladstone Observer (Australia)

Mr O'Sullivan said GPC was mainly considered the "canary in the mine" when looking at the latest healthy harbour report cards, including water and sediment quality and seagrass results.

With little change to the environmental factors between 2016 and 2017, which scored a C overall, Mr O'Sullivan said the results showed industry could sustainably operate near waterways.

Mr O'Sullivan said GPC led the way in environmental studies and practices, including the world-first research undertaken with James Cook University which delved into sunlight's impact on seagrass growth.

"It was very much a product of the 2000s that people and organisations started environmental monitoring, but we started far before then," he said.

"We weren't told to start monitoring by a regulator, we voluntarily said it's our harbour so we need to monitor it.

"That's our philosophy, don't wait for someone to ask us to change our practices, but instead to take a lead role in being a good, corporate citizen."

Although the study was generally well received, Mr O'Sullivan said there could be some improvements to its interpretation.

For example, he said seagrass species composition which scored a zero at the inner harbour, was taken from the lowest indicator during the study.

Mr O'Sullivan said this was because there was one species of seagrass at the Gladstone Harbour.

"I understand there's a scientific process, but in my mind, we need to look closely at how we come up with a methodology and score that gives the average reader the best snapshot of what's happening out there," he said.

Head of the independent science panel John Rolfe said seagrass was slow to recover from flood and cyclone events.

Also contributing to the d-grade for seagrass was the increased number of dugong feeding on it.

"We don't think there's a lot we could do for seagrass, there has been some suggestion though that we could explore planting juvenile seagrass," Mr Rolfe said.

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Seaweed and Seagrass Buffer the Acidity of the Nearby Ocean

15 February 2018, Hakai Magazine

Ocean acidification is already threatening marine life around the world, and conditions are only expected to worsen in the coming years. But for certain shoreline environments, there may be a workaround. Researchers have discovered that marine vegetation such as seaweed and seagrass exert such a strong mitigating effect on local water acidification that they could alleviate some of the impacts on coastal ecosystems.

“What we found is that across a broad range of communities—from those that have sea anemones to those with tons of algae and shellfish—we still see the same pattern,” says Cascade Sorte, an ecologist at the University of California, Irvine, and senior author of the new report. “The more primary producers there are, the more amenable the pH conditions for shellfish and other species that are sensitive to ocean acidification.”

Most predictions about ocean acidification have focused on broad-scale impacts in open water. But coastal environments play by different chemical and biological rules than the open ocean, so findings from one system will not necessarily apply to the other.

With this in mind, Sorte and her coauthor Nyssa Silbiger set out to see if coastal vegetation could buffer ocean acidification by taking up excess carbon dioxide. Until now, the idea had never been tested across broad geographic areas and diverse biological communities. Sorte and Silbiger selected 57 tide pools at four sites along an 1,800-kilometer stretch of the coast from Oregon to Southern California. They characterized the physical and biological components of each pool—counting and classifying the species present, for example, and taking various chemical measurements—and then statistically analyzed those factors’ influence on the water’s acidity.

Sorte expected geography to exert a strong influence on acidity levels, but she was surprised to find that biology was by far the most significant predictor. “That’s analogous to saying the amount of algae present is more important than whether a tide pool is found in Oregon versus California,” she says. “Biology can completely trump location.”

She and Silbiger also found that the greater the amount of vegetation present, the higher the rate of calcification for shell-forming species. This implies that seagrass and algae could help protect the ability of shell-forming creatures like sea snails, oysters, and mussels from being degraded by acidification—a problem that’s already present in some places and is predicted to become more pronounced over the next century.

Sorte says the acidification-buffering effects will likely be limited to places with more abundant vegetation and relatively little water movement, as opposed to the open ocean or coastal areas where plants and algae populations have been degraded. But the good news is there are still many areas that could benefit.

Scientists, fishers, and farmers alike will likely welcome this news. Matthew Moretti, president of Wild Ocean Aquaculture and Bangs Island Mussels in Maine, for example, already grows kelp to boost his farm’s bottom line. But Moretti says it’s “an added bonus” to learn that the kelp may also be helping his shellfish thrive.

“If seaweed can lower the acidity of ocean water within a certain area, that’s potentially very useful to us,” he says. “Any help we can get to improve the conditions of our mussels and scallops is very encouraging and welcome.”

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Sewage and livestock waste is killing Britain's seagrass meadows – new study

15 February The Conversation (UK)

Microscopic algae smothering seagrass leaves. PHOTO CREDIT: Richard Unsworth

Britain’s seagrass is a refuge for numerous species of fish, stabilises sandy beaches, and helps to lock away the carbon which humans produce. The meadows that surround the country’s coast have been called the “canaries of the sea”, due to their sensitivity to a changing environment. And like a canary in a coal mine, their health can be used as an indicator of the condition of coastal areas.

We know that the seagrass meadows surrounding the UK are in a perilous state of decline, and our recently published research has now uncovered one of the biggest causes. Our study suggests that a major driver of seagrass decline is nutrient pollution from sewage and livestock waste.

Though a new finding, it sadly comes as no surprise, given that about 40% of rivers in England and Wales are polluted with sewage.

This nutrient pollution puts the long term viability of seagrass meadows in doubt. Over-enrichment results in the suffocation of seagrass. The nutrients cause microscopic algae – called epiphytes – to smother the seagrass leaves, decreasing their ability to capture light, ultimately killing them, and destroying the habitat for fish and other marine animals.

In addition to this environmental impact, we found that several areas, including the Thames waterway seagrass, and a meadow in Studland Bay, Dorset – which are popular with swimmers and boaters – were considerably enriched in nutrients from sewage, livestock effluent and/or human waste. Despite this, neither location, nor any other we identified with the same problem, were classed as unsuitable for swimmers.

Outdated treatment
Clearly, we have a massive problem at hand – but water companies, farmers and the government have not done and are still not doing enough to prevent it.

Though efforts have been made to develop a British marine protected area network, and EU legislation has improved water quality in the last few decades, we have found these initiatives to be insufficient. Ten of the 11 sites we studied were in areas with designated EU protection, but most of these seagrass meadows were still polluted with nutrients derived from urban sewage and livestock waste.

So how has this happened? Analysis of the seagrass tissues points to constant sewage exposure. Old and outdated water treatment facilities are one of the likely culprits, resulting in discharges of untreated sewage during times of heavy rainfall. These are legal, but evidently the capacity of these facilities is insufficient to handle the country’s needs, and waterways are suffering because of it.

There is also the problem of livestock waste. Farming is now one of the UK’s leading causes of water pollution, and inefficiencies in storage and disposal of slurry mean that it ends up in rivers and coastal waters.

Local and national
Evidently, in addition to national and international initiatives, we need to start quickly identifying and understanding all local threats to seagrass. Especially if we are going to harmonise conservation goals with sustainable economic development. Only by finding out specifically where the nutrients affecting seagrass areas have come from can we really start to think about a targeted solution for each meadow.

Unfortunately, to date, the conservation of specific seagrass meadows is rarely based on the explicit consideration of local threats and drivers. Instead, projects focus on conserving seagrass as part of a broader plan, incorporating other specific habitats or species. While this may be effective at dealing with problems such as fisheries impacts, and is certainly a step forward for the marine environment, it doesn’t deal with the persistent and chronic problem of pollution – which can go largely unnoticed.

Poor water quality isn’t just a problem for seagrass in the British Isles, it’s a global concern. But if we want to solve it, we must look beyond “protecting” seagrasses with legislation, and challenge the way we think about marine protection overall. Serious infrastructure changes and better management of river catchments – for example, restoration of riverbanks – are vital if we are going to develop long term waste water management plans that span both land and sea.

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Study finds depleting seagrass meadows may decrease blue carbon storage

14 February 2018, Dauphin Island Sea Lab (USA)

Below the surface view of study area shows loss of seagrass where the shaded cages were placed during the study. (Above left)
Dr. Just Cebrian and Josh Hulsey collect cages used during the study. (Above)
The lighter sediment samples collected from the study area contains less organic carbon while the darker is rich in organic carbon. (Left)

A recent study by Dauphin Island Sea Lab researcher Dr. Just Cebrian and graduate student Caitlin Wessel, and led by Dr. Stacey Trevathan-Tackett of Deakin University, expands our understanding of seagrasses and their importance to our environment.

Seagrasses provide the perfect habitat for young fishes and shrimp, and also play a globally significant role in capturing and storing carbon dioxide. Marine scientists refer to mangrove, saltmarsh, and seagrass ecosystems as “blue carbon”, because these ocean systems capture and store carbon extremely well and for a long periods of time.

These seagrasses also play a key role keeping coastlines stable as they help decrease erosion.

The publication, ‘Effects of small-scale, shading-induced seagrass loss on blue carbon storage: Implications for management of degraded seagrass ecosystems’, appeared recently in the Journal of Applied Ecology. The study focused on how seagrasses mitigate the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere and erosion.

“For this study, we mimicked docks by shading areas of the coastline along Johnson’s Beach within Florida’s Big Lagoon Gulf Island National Seashore,” Dr. Cebrian explained. “We measured the quantity of carbon retained in the system before placing the shade, during the placement of the shade, and nearly a year after removing the shade.”

The team deployed the shade cages in June of 2013, and removed the cages in January of 2014. The results of this study showed that the seagrass in unshaded plots remained stable, while the seagrass in shaded areas died off, leaving the study plots bare.

“With the loss of the seagrasses in these areas, the quantity of sediment carbon retention decreased, meaning less carbon dioxide was being removed from the atmosphere and held within these blue carbon sinks,” Dr. Cebrian said. “What’s even more interesting is that returning to these areas nearly a year after removing the shade cages, seagrass growth was minimal.”

This study provides direct evidence that the loss of seagrass by shading decreases the carbon stored within the sediment and leads to an increase in erosion. With future monitoring of the Johnson’s Beach sites in the coming years, the researchers hope to find a recovery of the seagrass meadows, ultimately leading to an increase sediment carbon stores. However, the recovery of those seagrass meadows within a year of the study concluding was not significant.

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Baymen reject state's program to restore bay bottoms

12 February 2018, Shelter Island Reporter (USA)

More than 30 baymen and anglers attended a February 7 Town Hall meeting to tell the town board to abandon working with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) on restoring sea grasses — also called eelgrass — to bay bottoms.

“I don’t want any part of this,” said Marcus Kaasik about the 20-page draft of a plan Councilman Jim Colligan developed with his colleagues and two town committees to map out a restoration strategy.

“This whole thing has to go away,” Tom Field said, and the town should instead focus “aggressively” on storm water runoff and the spraying of pesticides.

The baymen told the Town Board they know Island waters better than anyone. The problem isn’t how to preserve and protect seagrass, also called eelgrass, but how to deal with water pollution and pesticide spraying.

Mr. Colligan apologized for not seeking their advice earlier in the process and said it was his error. Councilman Paul Shepherd explained that the board had not gone to the DEC for advice. Instead, DEC official Soren Dahl had made presentations to the board — the latest in December.

Mr. Dahl has been assigned by the DEC Bureau of Marine Resources to meet officials on a local level to develop plans to protect eelgrass and encourage it to flourish. Eelgrass is a long plant that provides a habitat for flounders, bay scallops, clams and other aquatic life.

According to a Nature Conservancy report, almost 65 percent of the seagrass meadows are gone from southern New England and New York waters, beginning their long and perilous decline in the mid-1970s, according to the report.

The New York State Seagrass Protection Act of 2012 calls for the development of seagrass areas and to work with local governments, businesses, fishermen, environmental groups and individuals to come up with plans to stop the erosion of the natural resource.

Seagrass is harmed by several factors, Mr. Dahl told the board at a previous meeting, including a lack of light filtering through water and “physical disturbance,” or boats, moorings and anchors scouring out the meadows. He showed the board newly developed moorings that prevent the meadows from being ruined.

Mr. Dahl added that individual municipalities can prevent the disappearance of seagrass through management plans. He praised Shelter Island for developing its comprehensive plan of action to keep the bay and harbor bottoms flourishing.

What was particularly upsetting to those attending the February 7 meeting was what they saw as threats of fines and the implication that some of their practices were hurting eelgrass beds.

They referred specifically to a section in the written plan that called on the town to promote “less harmful practices to eelgrass habitats” and suggested boating and fishing registrations, access permits, passes and licenses. It also called for fines for violations.

Many of the bayman saw this as a real threat to their livelihoods.

Town Attorney Bob DeStefano Jr. noted that even if the board adopted the entire plan as written, it’s not a law and so can’t be enforced. It would take a separate law passed by the board to take any actions.

Peconic Bay waters were in good shape until problems with brown tides started several years ago, several baymen said, blaming pollution from sewage plants in Riverhead, Greenport and Shelter Island Heights.

Noting that he has been scalloping in these waters for years, Steve Lenox said there was never any problem with eelgrass until the brown tides.

Since the closing of the Bergen site that used to handle scavenger wastes, the pollution has increased with dumping of wastes into the Sound, he said.

The Shelter Island Heights sewer plant meets all requirements, according to Heights Property Owners Corporation General Manager Stella Lagudis.

Chris Tehan said when he first started to work for the Building Department, he tried to enforce the town’s law about not spraying pesticides in areas near waterways, but was told by the board to stop because the law difficult to enforce.

Those attending the February 7 meeting were in agreement that efforts to protect and restore Shelter Island waters should come not from the state, but groups working to clean up the Peconic Estuary.

“Nobody in this room doesn’t want to see eelgrass come back,” Keith Clark said.

“We’ve always taken care of ourselves on Shelter Island,” Richard Surozenski said. “I don’t think anybody wants any rules carved in stone.”

“Nobody’s looking to jam anything down anyone’s throat,” Mr. Colligan said.

At the suggestion of Supervisor Gary Gerth, a small group of baymen will form a committee to meet a few times a year to work with town officials.

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Planning Minister John Rau requests EPA investigate relocating Flinders Ports dredge spoil on land

09 February 2018, The Advertiser (Australia)

Planning Minister John Rau requests EPA investigate relocating Flinders Ports dredge spoil on land

PLANNING minister John Rau wants the Environmental Protection Authority to investigate the disposal on land of Flinders Ports dredging operations.

SA’s largest port operator has applied to the State Planning Commission to widen the existing shipping channel at Outer Harbor by 40m for a distance of 7km.

Its proposal would require dredging 1.55 million cubic metres of sea matter, which it plans to dump 38km offshore in Gulf St Vincent

Local environmental groups, Wildcatch Fisheries and SA Best candidate Gary Johanson have been up in arms over the plan after a similar operation in 2005 killed 2000ha of sea grass and devastated fish stocks.

“Due to community concerns regarding the Flinders Ports development application, I have requested further information from the EPA before I make a decision,” Mr Rau said.

“The 2005 dredging of the Port River resulted in significant environmental harm.

“I have requested advice from the EPA about whether the proposed development conditions are sufficient to prevent such significant environmental harm from occurring again.

“I have also asked the EPA for advice on the environmental risks associated with disposing of the dredging waste on land.”

Mr Johanson, who has been pushing for the material to be used to build up land at Gillman, said it showed the community could exert pressure on the government.

He said rather than by truck, as he had previously suggested, a pipe would be the best option.

But this idea was dismissed last week by the EPA as being an “unacceptable alternative” owing to a risk of the pipe breaking and leaking into the mangroves.

Flinders Ports chief executive Vincent Tremaine has ruled the option out.

“Quite factually, the unacceptably high environmental and operational risks associated with placing the dredged materials on land make such an option totally unviable,” he said.

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Slinging Sediment

07 February 2018, Hakai Magazine

Seagrass meadows take up less than 0.1 percent of the world’s oceans; nevertheless, they are considered a huge carbon sink. Seagrass draws carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, using it to fuel its own growth through photosynthesis. When the seagrass dies, much of this carbon is locked away in the sediment. Estimates from more than a decade of what’s called “blue carbon” research suggest seagrass beds store as much as 83,000 metric tonnes of carbon per square kilometer—three times as much as forests—and lock it away for millennia.

These dramatic rates of carbon storage have caused scientists, conservationists, and others to champion seagrass beds as a way to mitigate climate change. But there’s one problem: the numbers may be wrong.

“Researchers in the blue carbon community have overestimated how much carbon stays buried in seagrass beds,” says Sophia Johannessen, a geochemical oceanographer with Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO). “They certainly don’t store as much carbon as is currently claimed in the big international studies.”

Johannessen’s conclusions, which were published last year in the scientific journal Environmental Research Letters, have wide-ranging implications for scientists’ understanding of the planet’s carbon balance. Typically, scientists think seagrass meadows are responsible for 18 percent of the ocean’s carbon storage. Johannessen says those estimates could be 10, or even as much as 3,000 times, too high.

Johannessen’s findings have been met with resistance from the blue carbon research community. Yet if she’s right, they could cause an important recalculation of marine carbon cycling.

More than that, Johannessen’s findings could shake up the burgeoning carbon offset industry. Greenhouse gas markets base the sales of carbon credits from seagrass bed restoration projects on estimates of how much carbon they store. If seagrass stores less carbon than thought, the value of these seagrass beds plummets. Similarly, if carbon credits are awarded on the basis of overblown estimates, the net effect could be an unintended increase in the amount of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere.

So how, according to Johannessen, did blue carbon researchers get their estimates so wrong?

Johannessen says it all comes down to bad math. Blue carbon researchers, she says, misunderstand how marine sediments receive, process, and store organic carbon.

“The authors of all the previous blue carbon papers have expertise in seagrass biology or terrestrial carbon burial, but they do not understand how marine sediments work,” she says.

In particular, she says the rate at which sediment builds up in seagrass beds has been overestimated, as have the concentrations of carbon within the sediments. And carbon storage estimates are made by multiplying those two factors.

Some blue carbon researchers, however, believe Johannessen is wrong. Yesterday, a group of scientists from Deakin University in Australia fired back, publishing a response in Environmental Research Letters criticizing her methods and conclusions. They insist that previously published carbon storage rates are indeed correct.

“Johannessen’s paper misreported, miscalculated, and cherry-picked what they reported,” says Peter Macreadie, head of Deakin’s Blue Carbon Lab and lead author of the response.

“The blue carbon world is aware of the limitations and scientific challenges ahead when it comes to measuring carbon dioxide abatement, but it’s unhelpful to have tire kickers who aren’t prepared to be part of the solution,” Macreadie says.

Johannessen says she’s only trying to help. In the past, when she has come across inaccurate storage estimates in international protocol documents, she made a point of reaching out to the authors, offering to explain how they could improve their methods and calculations. No one, she says, has taken her up on the offer.

Johannessen has ruffled some feathers with her bold claim, but she’s not alone in her assertion that blue carbon researchers have got their math wrong. Thomas Bianchi, a professor of geology at the University of Florida, says he understands her stance. Without an accurate representation of how carbon moves through marine sediments over time, he says, scientists have only snapshots of the current carbon storage.

The two camps are arguing over more than mud. The stakes—an accurate assessment of global carbon stores—are high. But Johannessen says there’s still time to make things right.

“There is nothing to be done about the scientific papers that are already published,” she says. “But it’s not the end of the world for the field.”

“This is how science advances,” she adds.

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Push to 'save' Blackcurrant Island

07 February 2018, Whitsunday Times (Australia)

OPPOSITION to the long discussed all-tide boat ramp at Blackcurrant Island in the Gloucester area has been getting louder at the communities of Dingo Beach and Hydeaway Bay.

A recent meeting of the newly formed Save Blackcurrant Island at the Dingo Beach pub drew more than 65 locals who oppose the proposed all-tide facility on the southern side of the island.

In December 2016 a GHD surveyor's report, commissioned by the Whitsunday Regional Council, listed the island as the sixth most favourable site from a total of eight sites investigated for the suitability of an all-tide facility.

In late 2016 the Whitsunday Regional Council resolved to further investigate option six at Blackcurrant Island and option four at Frog Rock.

In August 2017 council nominated the Blackcurrant Island site as its "preferred option” but said there was "no funding in its long term capital plan” and it would be seeking funding from the State Government to build the boat ramp.

In the lead up to the State election last November Queensland Labor committed $4 million for marine infrastructure if elected and defeated candidate Bronwyn Taha said the money would be spent at the Blackcurrant Island site after a community consultation period.

Since the re-election of the Palaszczuk government on January 2, dissent from the community gained an online presence with the creation of the Save Blackcurrant Island Facebook group, which now has 44 members.

In a statement, the Save Blackcurrant Island group said it was "alarmed at the potentially devastating and irreversible effects of the GHD design proposal on the delicate ecosystem”.

After a meeting with the mayor Andrew Willcox it was resolved by the group to submit a petition to the State Government.

The petition now has 510 local signatures and a second petition, hosted by, has garnered more than 1360 signatures.

The group states Blackcurrant Island is "surrounded by mangroves, sea grass and coral reefs that provide shelter, feeding and nesting areas for dugong, turtles, stingray, numerous fish species and other marine creatures”.

In mid-2016 a petition proposing to extend and make the existing boat ramp at Dingo Beach an all-tide facility gained the support of a 400 signatories.

However the Save Blackcurrant Island group is also opposed to any plan to dredge out the front of the Dingo Beach pub and allow all-tide access to the existing boat ramp.

The group is advocating for improvements to the existing boat ramp.

At a meeting at the Dingo Beach pub on Tuesday, owner of the Dingo Beach store Murray Cockburn said he was advocating for a dual lane boat ramp at the existing facility which would be slightly extended and would incorporate a swing basin at the end of the ramp.

"So when you put your boat in you put it in water and not on to the sand,” he said.

"And a pontoon so when people come in from fishing and its windy they don't have problems getting their boat on the trailer.”

Owner of the Dingo Beach pub Tony Sellers said most people of Dingo Beach and Hydeaway Bay didn't want the boat ramp at Blackcurrant Island and called on Division 4 councillor Peter Ramage to make his position on the project clear.

"Peter Ramage and Dave Clarke have told me they don't support it,” he said.

"But they need to let us know where the council really stands.”

A spokesperson for the Save Blackcurrant Island group said individual councillors voting in the council chamber did not reflect what they had personally told the people of the Gloucester area.

"They all tell us 'no, no, its never going to happen, we don't have the money and we don't want it' and yet (motions) get carried six to zero,” she said.

Cr Ramage was contacted for comment by the Whitsunday Times.

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Study: Fertilizer bans cut nutrients in Indian River Lagoon, but don't stop algae blooms

02 February 2018, TCPalm (USA)


Treasure Coast homeowners and businesses have to follow restrictions on how to water and fertilize their landscapes during the summer rainy season. The regulations are designed to help keep pollutants out of Florida waterways. TYLER TREADWAY/TCPALM Wochit

Fertilizer bans are doing a good job keeping nutrients out of the Indian River Lagoon, but not the type of nutrients that feed algae blooms.

That's the result of research to be presented Thursday during the Indian River Lagoon Symposium at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, a branch of Florida Atlantic University at Fort Pierce.

Between 2010 and 2015, nearly every municipality along the Indian River Lagoon approved laws designed to keep nutrients in fertilizer from running off lawns and into the St. Lucie River and the lagoon.

Most of the laws ban use of fertilizers with nitrogen and phosphorus during Florida's rainy season from June through September, when excess nutrients can feed algae blooms that shade and kill sea grass, as well as marine animals that depend on sea grass beds.

"The bans are reducing nutrient levels, particularly nitrogen, in the lagoon," said Brian Lapointe, a Harbor Branch researcher and co-author of the study.

Citing a report by Tetra Tech, an environmental consulting firm, Lapointe's study states the amount of nitrogen sold in fertilizer along the lagoon dropped 45,896 pounds between fiscal year 2013-14 and 2014-15.

"There may be less nitrogen in the water from fertilizer," Lapointe said, "but the effect isn't evident. That's because the nitrogen we're finding in the lagoon isn't the type you find in fertilizers, but it is the type that feeds algae blooms."

Algae blooms, Lapointe said, are bolstered by ammonia, "the reactive forms of nitrogen. To support an algae bloom, that's what you want."

That echoes a statement by Edie Widder, founder and lead scientist at Ocean Research & Conservation Association, who said ammonia "is like a Big Mac" to algae blooms.

The dominant source of ammonia in the lagoon, Lapointe said, is sewage.

Even with fertilizer bans, sewage runoff has caused an increase in nitrogen levels in the northern lagoon, especially in Brevard County, Lapointe said.

"Looking at all the data in the northern lagoon," Lapointe said, "we concluded that wastewater, in the form of septic leakage and antiquated sewage treatment facilities, is the big problem."

Ed Phlips, an algae expert at the University of Florida, agreed all kinds of algae "feed" on ammonia — and the brown algae that blooms in the northern lagoon "feeds" almost exclusively on it.

But other algae species, Phlips said, including the blue-green algae that blanketed the St. Lucie River in 2016, grow on the nitrogen found in fertilizer.

"Keeping all kinds of nutrients out of the lagoon is always a good thing," he said.

"I think we need to focus on pollution in the lagoon as a whole, and not get hung up on one thing, whether it's septic tanks or fertilizer," said Alexis Peralta, Indian River County's stormwater educator and fertilizer enforcement officer.

"We need to keep all the nutrients out," Peralta said, "and I think that in the four years our ordinance has been in place, we've made a real impact."

Citing sewage
Lapointe has reached similar conclusions about the impact of sewage in the lagoon before.

In a study published in the December issue of the journal "Harmful Algae," he stated septic tank runoff was a major contributor to the toxic blue-green algae blooms that festered in the St. Lucie River during the summer of 2016.

Like other scientists, Lapointe agreed the bloom was caused by algae in the water discharged from Lake Okeechobee to the river.

"But once the algae in the lake water got to the (St. Lucie) estuary, it exploded because of all the nitrogen, particularly ammonia, from septic systems," Lapointe said.

Lagoon symposium
Restoration will be the theme of the Indian River Lagoon Symposium on Thursday and Friday at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Fort Pierce.

Thursday will be geared toward scientists, as dozens of researchers will give presentations on their work to study and preserve the lagoon.

How wonky will it be? One presentation is titled "Integrating Flow: Cytometric and Molecular Tools to Characterize Bloom Dynamics of Nano- and Picplanktonic Algae in the Indian River Lagoon."

Friday's sessions are open to the public, with numerous organizations giving presentations and leading discussions about their work in the lagoon and how they need the public's help.

A group from the University of Central Florida will conduct a focus group to learn about public perceptions of the lagoon as part of a larger National Science Foundation project on lagoon restoration.

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