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This page includes news articles of international and national interest. Seagrass-Watch HQ does not guarantee, and accepts no legal liability whatsoever arising from or connected to, the accuracy, reliability, currency or completeness of any news material contained on this page or on any linked site. The material on this page may include the views or recommendations of third parties, which do not necessarily reflect the views of the program nor it's supporters, or indicate commitment to a particular course of action

 

 

 

 

 

Burdekin farmers improving local wetlands to help the reef

26 April 2017, QLD Government Media Statements (Australia)

A new $300,000 project in the Burdekin will see cane farmers improving the health of local wetlands to help the Great Barrier Reef.

Minister for the Great Barrier Reef Steven Miles said the Connecting cane farmers to local wetlands project would be run by NQ Dry Tropics NRM and its partners.

“The project will trial ways to improve the function of Horseshoe Lagoon near Giru and Lilliesmere Lagoon near Ayr, through changes to on-farm practices, with the aim of reducing nutrients entering local waterways,” Mr Miles said.

“Wetlands are a crucial part of our landscape carrying out many functions, from reducing floods to producing clean water and providing important habitat for many animals and plants.

“They are the great ‘connectors’ across our landscape providing places for our enjoyment and relaxation.

“By improving practices and the health of the wetlands, this project will show that practice change can lead to increased productivity, profit and environmental benefits while developing an engagement model for future projects.”

Mr Miles said the Queensland Government was pleased to fund the project.

“We deliberately look for projects that can meet those three objectives because we strongly believe that productive farming can co-exist alongside the healthy reef”.

NQ Dry Tropics NRM CEO, Dr Scott Crawford, said that healthy wetlands were essential for a healthy Reef:

"Research and modelling has shown that water quality on the reef can be improved by restoring the function of coastal wetlands to trap sediment, nutrients and other land-based pollutants,” Dr Crawford said.

“NQ Dry Tropics will work closely with cane farmers to develop baseline information and monitor environmental and social changes over time.

‘We believe this will result in an engagement and water quality monitoring model that could be adopted for other projects in other locations.

“Cane farmers can get involved with the project on a voluntary basis and they will benefit greatly from being able to see the positive water quality impacts of their activities in real time," he said.

Mr Miles said the project was part of a funding pool of $1.22 million dedicated to help the Great Barrier Reef through four science projects.

The other projects are similarly focussed, and look to help manage sediment and nutrient losses in priority reef catchment areas of the Burdekin, Fitzroy and Mackay Whitsundays.

“The projects selected came ahead of 35 others and were selected due to their location in priority catchments, among other factors.

“The Burdekin project will fill a need for more one-on-one work with cane farmers in the area and help manage nutrient losses in that region, a priority reef catchment.”

Mr Miles said the tenders were a part of the continued investment in research, development and innovation projects by the Office of Great Barrier Reef.

“We continue to support innovative projects that foster improvements in management practice to provide on-ground success and improve reef water quality and will be announcing more projects of this nature in the near future”.

More information is available on www.qld.gov.au/FarmingInReefCatchments.

More information: Click Here


 

 

Seagrass Survey event to host nature-themed activities

24 April 2017, Bradenton Herald (Australia)

While the chance has sailed to volunteer to collect seagrass data in Sarasota Bay, the third Seagrass Survey will still give the public an opportunity to learn hands-on about the underwater habitat.

Seagrass is important to keeping bay ecosystems healthy, by providing food and shelter for all sorts of marine animals. According to Sarasota County, 70 percent of Florida’s fisheries species spend most of their lives in seagrass beds.

As volunteers gear up to paddle through Sarasota Bay to count and identify its seagrass species early Saturday, the public is invited to participate in free nature-themed activities at the Sarasota Sailing Squadron next to Ken Thompson Park from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The activities include scallop shell necklace crafts, dip-netting, mini reef ball decorating, a demonstration on fixing fishing nets and games for children. Live music will play in the area and food will be available for purchase.

The event is being hosted by Sarasota County, Sarasota Bay Estuary Program and local partners. For more information, contact the Sarasota County Contact Center at 941-861-5000 or go online at www.scgov.net.

More information: Click Here


 

 

Climate change threatens fish supply

25 April 2017, Malaya (Philippines)

That’s reason for concern to a country that consumes a lot more fish than the global average of 15 kilograms annually.

The 56 percent of Filipinos who live in coastal areas consume 43 kg a year; those inland consume 23 kg per annum. Marine resources, in fact, contribute up to 36 percent to food supply.

The figures – and the warning – come from Dr. Vincent Hilomen, executive director for Priority Programs, Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Already, Philippine coral reefs are degraded, the seed source for seaweeds is declining, seagrass beds are heavily stressed and mangroves are degraded, he said during the Regional Scientific Conference hosted by the National Academy of Science and Technology.

Hilomen said local marine invertebrate resources like shells and mollusks are in a declining state, as are demersal or bottom dwelling fish, small pelagic fish in the mid-layer of the sea, sharks and rays. Only tuna, except for bigeye tuna, is in a stable condition, he said.

“Because temperature affects biological clocks of many marine organisms, global warming confuses their biological cycles,” Hilomen said, adding this can compromise reproduction.

“More scary is the fact that increased temperatures can push fish away from the tropics to higher latitudes and deeper waters,” he said, pointing out that when fish migrate to higher latitudes to escape warm waters, food security in a tropical country like the Philippines “will be compromised.”

The result is that the maximum catch potential of about 1,000 exploited marine fish and invertebrate species worldwide will be re distributed to other areas, he said.

Global warming melts polar ice caps, leading to sea level rise. Sea level rise, together with groundwater pumping, may enhance salt water intrusion that “may eventually lead to lowland agriculture failure,” Hilomen said.

“Agricultural failure may also lead to the movement of farmers to coastal areas, creating additional pressure on coastal fisheries,” he added.

There will be change in species composition as sea level rise may favor faster growing species in new areas, he said. Mangroves that are spawning, feeding and nursery grounds of many food fish, for example, will be affected.

“One of the worst perennial threats is coastal sedimentation which can make the water turbid, making it difficult for seagrass to grow. Worse still, it can bury and suffocate coral reefs,” Hilomen said.

To prevent or mitigate the loss of fish habitat, spawning, nursery and feeding grounds of fish need to be identified and protected, he said. Studies have shown that areas with mangrove, seagrass and coral reefs perform better as refuge and should be given priority.

To ease the impact of fish migration, species more tolerant to temperature variability must be identified and studied for possible sea ranching. Aquaculture must select sites and observe proper stocking density, feeding volume and frequency.

Saline-tolerant fish species and the spatial distribution and migration patterns of fish must be researched. Early warning systems of marine biodiversity and habitat must be developed. Post harvest technologies and food safety must be developed. Vulnerability assessments of coastal areas must be conducted.

Fish reproductive schedules must be determined so that partial closures of fisheries in some areas are put in place. The sequence of which species to harvest over a season must also be identified.

To help mitigate the flooding of low lying areas due to sea level rise, Hilomen said areas vulnerable to flooding must be mapped. Evacuation and relocation plans must be formulated. Flood prevention structures such as drains and pumping stations must be constructed.

More information: Click Here


 

 

Seagrass meadow research project aided by app launch

24 April 2017, BBC News (UK)

Marine conservationists have launched an app to encourage the public to identify and monitor underwater seagrass meadows.

Research by Project Seagrass, formed by scientists from Cardiff University and Swansea University, has shown the meadows are in a "perilous state".

Seagrasses are plants that form dense underwater beds in shallow water.

It is hoped people will use the app to help scientists with monitoring, conservation and education efforts.

"The app provides ocean enthusiasts around the world with an opportunity to become citizen scientists who contribute to marine conservation with just a few taps of their phone", said Benjamin Jones, project co-founder and research assistant at Cardiff University's Sustainable Places Research Institute.

The team hopes to create a more comprehensive picture of seagrass meadows around the globe.

It hopes it will inspire new scientific research and conservation measures that can help protect ocean habitats.

More information: Click Here


 

 

Researching the demise of the dugong

22 April, China Daily

Channa Suraweera was shocked when the picture of a dead dugong jumped into his eyes for the first time. Seeing the thick red vestige under its nose indicated how blood would have spurted through its nostrils, says Suraweera, an officer with the Wildlife Conservation Department in Sri Lanka.

“It must have been an extremely painful death. Three dugong deaths have been reported since the beginning of this year, all by Sri Lankan Navy.”

The dugong, a medium-sized marine mammal, can be seen in aquariums around the world, their chubby face, gentle eyes and what seems like a permanent smile endearing them to millions. However, outside the haven that aquariums offer, in many waters that the creature used to call home dugongs have been hunted down to extinction or near extinction.

The waters of Sri Lanka are no exception, including the Gulf of Mannar, a large shallow bay between the southeastern tip of India and the west coast of Sri Lanka.

“Every two months or so we lose an animal,” says Arjan Rajasuriya, of the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Since January 2015, Rajasuriya, who is based in Sri Lank a, has been part of a project in which the United Nations Environment Program teams up with regional and international NGOs and the Sri Lankan government in an effort to protect the endangered species.

But if the dugong is to be protected properly a lot more needs to be learned about the animal, which is notorious for its reclusiveness.

Among the main goals of the program, known as the Dugong and Seagrass Conservation Project, is to map sea grass meadows, the sole habitat and source of food for the vegetarian marine mammal that lives in the shallow seawater off the coast.

“The dugong subsists on sea grass — no sea grass, no dugong,” says Rajasuriya, who has been involved in protecting Sri Lanka’s coast for more than 30 years and yet, astonishingly, has never seen a live dugong in the region.

“On the other hand, the existence of large patches of sea grass meadow, especially those with grazing signs, could be a strong indicator that there are dugongs around.

“With all the mapping we have done and will do — scuba divers are sent to measure the extent and density of the meadows — we are trying to set up a database which would then inform our protection efforts.”

One crucial factor behind the dramatic decrease of dugongs is the destruction of sea grass meadows, often by bottom trawling. Another factor is dynamiting, an illegal method of fishing. Typically, with dugongs killed by dynamiting blood spurts from their nose, in the kind of scene that so shocked Channa Suraweera.

“Bottom trawling is a fishing method whereby the fishnet is towed along the sea floor, damaging everything along the way,” says Laksman Peiris, deputy director of Wildlife Conservation Department. “Ninety percent of dugong killed is killed by this net.

“Though not encouraged, bottom trawling is legal in Sri Lanka. The fishermen may not be aiming for the dugong, but a dugong caught accidentally by the fishnet has a slim chance of survival. That’s because dugong, being a mammal, has to come to the surface of the water every six or seven minutes to breathe. Being caught by a net that lies at the bottom of the ocean, a dugong has no choice but to die a terrible death.”

Suraweera, who once examined the body of a dugong killed by bottom trawling, has an acute sense of what a terrible death means. “Its lungs are filled with water. Can you imagine water seeping gradually into its lungs while the animal struggles desperately but in vain?

“A fisherman, after throwing his net into the ocean, only comes back every half or one hour to examine his catch,” says Prasanna Weerakkody, of the Oceans Research & Con-

Fishermen may not be aiming for the dugong, but a dugong caught accidentally by the fishnet has a slim chance of survival.”

servation Association, a Canadian NGO with a Sri Lankan presence which is also part of the dugong project.

“By that time the dugong may have already died. Even if it’s not dead it’s almost impossible for the fisherman to release the dugong since that means cutting off the entire net and losing all the catch.”

Asked why the government has not required the fishermen to release the dugong and then be compensated for their loss, Suraweera says this is because the dugong, once released, will swim away. “You have to prove that you have indeed caught a dugong.”

Mobile app

However, this concern doesn’t seem like a big issue, bearing in mind that for the past few months the Wildlife Conservation Department has been promoting a mobile app that enables users to take a picture of a dugong wherever they see it and then report the sighting directly to the department.

“The app can be downloaded by any mobile using the Android system,” Suraweera says. “And we are actually giving free mobiles to fishermen operating within what we believe are dugong-active waters. We also have four other categories: dolphin, whale, turtle and unknown. Initially we planned to have a separate category of illegal fishing but later vetoed the idea, since this may ring alarm bells for fishermen and alienate them.”

Weerakkody warned that to achieve any success with the local community, sensitivity is of crucial importance.

“We’ve done research with the local fishermen community. Every time our research team goes into a village we pretend to be someone else — a film crew, for example. And in the initial period we will not show any interest in dugong — just getting to know the villagers and

building trust. We’ll get to our point eventually, but even if someone tells us something that’s really important, we’ll never give out the source.”

Modern technology

TheOceansResearch&Conservation Association team is also trying to track down dugongs with the help of modern technology, sonar for example.

“Sonar, which stands for sound navigation and ranging, is a technique that uses sound propagation for the purpose of, among other things, underwater object detection,” Weerakkody says.

Once a moving object of roughly a dugong’s size — an adult dugong measures up to three meters — is detected, the team sends underwater divers, or a drone, which is essentially a flying camera, to verify it.

“It’s impossible to send the divers during the monsoon season when the sea gets choppy,” Weerakkody says. “As to the drone, we have adapted one that was once used for filming weddings. We would like to have a more advanced one, one used for military purposes, for example. But that would be simply beyond our means at this stage.”

The drone, bought with project money, usually flies to a height of 500 meters. When the sea is clear it can film objects lying as deep as five meters underwater.

“But sometimes, dugongs can be staying somewhere deeper in the ocean — ten meters underwater maybe — and that would be hard for us,” says Weerakkody, who, when asked, says he would also love to have an underwater drone.

Both the sonar and the drone can also be used for mapping sea grass meadows.

Peiris says that most of the time a dead dugong will end up in some black market in Sri Lanka where, weighing between 250 kg and 400 kg, it is chopped up and sold, possibly to local restaurants.

In fact in the early 20th century there was a fishery for dugong in Sri Lanka. One hundred to one hundred fifty dugongs were taken annually in the Mannar Gulf in the 1950s. The Sri Lanka Civil War, fought between 1983 and 2009, meant that the surrounding waters were closed off for three decades. The end of that war was welcomed by animal protectionists with mixed feelings.

“These days thousands of fishing boats that use bottom trawling pass by the same water over one night,” Suraweera says.

“With its long life span of 70 years or more, and slow rate of reproduction, the dugong as a species is especially vulnerable to extinction. I’ve seen dugong bodies — adults’ and babies’. I hope that one day I can see a live dugong, and that would be lovely.”

More information: Click Here


 

 

Spreading seagrass die-off raises worries about health, future of Biscayne Bay

21 April 2017, Miami Herald (USA)

Biscayne Bay’s seagrass footprint — the dark area in the bay — shrank from 2011 (above) to 2016 (below).
 

Something is wrong in the north end of Biscayne Bay, where — despite decades of dredging and boat traffic and polluted stormwater runoff — thick meadows of seagrass once kept water gin clear and filled with marine life.

Nearly half the basin’s manatee grass has died. Many of the fish have fled. And on windy days, or with every passing Cigarette boat, mud swirls up from the bottom. It’s essentially a dust bowl, only underwater.

Ben Mostkoff, who has lived within blocks of the bay for nearly six decades, has watched the die-off spread, turning large swaths lifeless in what not long ago was a favorite inshore snorkeling spot.

“This entire basin was so clear that on rough days when we would want to go out boating and it was too rough, we would come in here,” said Mostkoff, a former Miami-Dade County ecologist who started the county’s artificial reef program. The waters were filled with “tarpon, snook, snapper, lots of grunt, even tropical fish on the ledges and sea trout. All kinds of sea trout. And manatees would be in here as well.”

The decline of the shallow basin between the Julia Tuttle and 79th Street causeways is just the latest sign of trouble for the urban bay. Beginning in about 2005, after twin hurricanes pounded South Florida, problems started popping up all over: a persistent algae bloom in the central section coated seagrass with macroalgae not found anywhere else in the bay; disappearing coral and sponges killed off by a toxic blue-green bloom at the less developed southern end; and shrinking fish populations just about everywhere.

By one measure — an ongoing study by county biologists discussed this week at a regional science conference — Biscayne Bay has lost more than 21 square miles of sea-grass over the past decade. That’s an expanse bigger than city of Miami Beach.

What’s driving the latest die-off in Tuttle basin remains open to speculation. Dan Kipnis, a fishing boat skipper turned environmental and climate advocate, believes it might be related to the recent filling of old dredge pits, which was meant to correct earlier damage but clouded water and likely altered water chemistry. Or it could be the usual suspects that have worsened water quality across the bay: aging leaky septic systems, water flowing from dirty canals filled with high levels of nutrients that don’t jibe with the bay’s need for low phosphorus levels; or periods of drought followed by heavy rain that upset salinity.

The biggest new X factor for some scientists could be the increased pumping of untreated stormwater from Miami Beach. The city has installed a massive pumping system that filters out large debris and oil but does nothing to treat nutrients like fertilizer or dog poop from yards or human waste from leaky sewer pipes.

Or perhaps it’s some combination of any or all the above, said Gary Milano, a former biologist with the county’s environmental department.

“It could be five different things and one of the things is the breaking point,” he said. “It’s death from a thousand cuts.”

Efforts are now underway to launch a rescue mission. County environmental regulators are finishing up a study to present to commissioners. And advocates are sounding alarms. On Saturday, the 35th annual Baynanza cleanup was held, possibly generating more attention and reminding the people who live around the bay what might be lost, and what needs to be done as South Florida wrestles with impacts from climate change.

“Whatever it is, once [seagrass] starts to die, it’s like a catalyst and it just keeps perpetuating itself,” said Susan Markley, who served as the county’s natural resources division chief and retired in 2014. “My own feeling is Biscayne Bay, like Florida Bay, is kind of on the knife’s edge.”

Perhaps because it so urban, the conditions in the bay have received little attention, compared to even-worse problems in Florida Bay, the Indian River and and other algae-plagued coastal waters farther up the coast. But among environmentalists, local regulators, the marine industry and business interests in Miami-Dade, there is growing concern that too little is being done to assess and address the problems — beginning with the basic step of monitoring changes in water quality in the bay.

The South Florida Water Management District, amid ongoing budget cuts, eliminated about 30 percent of the bay’s monitoring stations in 2014, leaving the county to scramble to find money to maintain both water quality monitoring and seagrass tracking. Efforts to track the effects of the beach’s pumps are still in the works.

In January, the Miami-Dade County Chamber of Commerce convened a panel of experts to educate business leaders on the growing woes. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, fearful that the bay had reached a “tipping point,” also designated the bay a special focus area to corral its resources in 2014. But so far, funding has been limited, said Joan Browder, the NOAA biologist based on Virginia Key serving as chief investigator on the project.

Earlier this year, Browder applied for more funding, but it’s unclear whether NOAA, which has been targeted by the administration of President Donald Trump for cuts, will follow through.

“There’s all this richness around us and a lot of it is dependent on Biscayne Bay — the real estate, the tourism, the restaurants,” she said. “Yet there is not very much money being spent to protect the bay. It’s like using a resource but not doing anything to keep it perpetuating.”

Its bounty can get easily overlooked in the hubbub surrounding it. The seagrass beds, that stretch 50 miles in NOAA’s study area from Dumfoundling Bay near Aventura to Barnes Sound near the Card Sound bridge, are among the planet’s largest continuous beds. In a 2013 study, researchers at NOAA, Florida International University and the University of Miami found the beds comparable to meadows around Australia’s world-renowned Great Barrier reef, with at least seven different grasses. They play a key part in keeping the whole coast healthy, providing nursery space for baby fish and habitat for shrimp and other little crustaceans, that lure bigger fish, like snapper, sea trout, snook, bonefish and tarpon.

And those draw an even bigger catch — a commercial fishing fleet, deep-pocketed anglers, divers, boaters and a recreational marine industry valued at $12.7 billion, according to a 2014 Florida Sea Grant study.

The bay has been beaten down before — and rebounded — but it happened only with a serious investment in monitoring and regulation.

Over the years, acres of bay bottom had been dredged to provide fill for causeways and nearly 20 artificial islands. Deep trenches crisscrossed parts of the bay. Untreated stormwater and sewage also flowed freely from the Miami River, the Little River, canals and waste systems. The historic flow of freshwater from the Everglades had also largely been cut off by development and flood control structures.

By the 1970s alarms were sounding. Florida designated the bay a marine preserve from the Oleta River to Card Sound. Activists began pushing to expand Biscayne National Monument, created in 1968 as development pressure mounted, into a full-fledged national park. Miami-Dade, which elected its leaders from countywide seats back then, also declared the entire bay a county park. At the time, it seemed like the whole county had a stake in its well-being.

“Unlike a lot of big estuarine systems in our state or even other parts of the country, almost all of Biscayne Bay is in the jurisdiction of Miami-Dade County,” Markely said. “All the commissioners were elected county-wide, so they all had that big picture perspective.”

Regulators also upped monitoring, with the county ordering an exhaustive physical that tried to measure vital signs: what lived on the bay bottom, the size of the seagrass beds, the number and kind of fish, shrimps and crabs, and the speed and direction of currents to determine how basins flushed. The county, and later state water managers, also set up a network of monitoring stations, mostly on the west side, to keep an eye on water conditions flowing out of canals and off land, Markley said.

All that information was then used to come up with a plan to improve water quality and bottom conditions in the bay. And the Tuttle basin thrived — at least until the seagrass started disappearing, a trend first noted in 2013.

“You could see every blade of grass, every little fish swimming around,” said Kipnis, the fishing guide.

It’s not that way now. Whatever the cause, the seagrass beds in Tuttle basin have shrunk and large parts of the bay elsewhere are now covered in macro algae, which doesn’t support anywhere near the marine life of a healthy seagrass. The bottom growth resembles seaweed and it can smother, and quickly replace, seagrass.

“It rolls along until it hits something like seagrass and then, if conditions are right, it starts explosively growing,” said Craig Grossenbacher, who heads Miami-Dade’s Natural Resources Planning section, which is in the midst of investigating the Tuttle basin die-off.

Water quality problems plague many of South Florida’s coastal waters. Rivers and estuaries on both sides of the coast have been repeatedly hammered by the release of excess, nutrient-laden water from Lake Okeechobee. The Indian River Lagoon, stretching along a handful of East Coast counties, has been in a downward spiral for decades, hit by multiple algae blooms and dolphin deaths. Florida Bay, the backyard of the Florida Keys and coastal Everglades, has cycled through a series of seagrass die-offs and algae blooms, which scientists largely blame on the reduction of historic freshwater flow from the Everglades.

A push this year by Senate President Joe Negron to speed up a key piece of Everglades restoration — a 60,000-acre reservoir that would have delivered more freshwater — was dramatically scaled back to just 14,000 acres. If approved by the Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott, it could provide some relief in coming years from Lake O pollution for the St. Lucie, Caloosahatchee and Indian rivers upstate.

But the project doesn’t promise much water or help for the southern end of the Everglades system — particularly for Biscayne Bay.

Advocates for the bay say Biscayne projects have often been put on the back burner in Everglades restoration plans or been repeatedly scaled back. Under Scott, money for research and water monitoring also has dried up. His administration has slashed spending on environmental issues, trimming the Department of Environmental Protection and calling water management districts to cut taxes for the past five years. In the cost-cutting, the South Florida Water Management District slashed $243,435 to pay for 20 stations in Biscayne Bay.

The district did not respond Thursday to a call for comment.

“There did seem to be a loss of political will to continue the monitoring because it’s expensive,” said biologist Jim Fourqurean, a seagrass expert at Florida International University.

The worry, said Markley, is that because so much of the coast surrounding the bay has been developed, state and federal environmental agencies may consider problems — like treating stormwater — too expensive or difficult to fix.

She doesn’t expect the bay to be socked with that “horrible green slime” that has fouled the Indian and St. Lucie river after Lake O dumping. But gin clear waters in Tuttle basin could be a thing of the past unless more resources are quickly put into figuring out what’s going and how to stop it.

“This is like eyes wide shut,” said Mostkoff. “Everybody is seeing what’s happening and not reacting.”

An earlier version of this story reported that Miami-Dade County stopped monitoring seagrass after the South Florida Water Management District cut funding. The county later used money from its general fund to continue efforts.

More information: Click Here


 

 

Legends tell of dugong curses

19 April 2017, Ryukyushimpo (Japan)

“If you harass a mermaid you will be cursed.” The dugong was a model for the legends of mermaids and is a designated for special protection in Japan. There is much folklore about the dugong in Okinawa, and in every tale it is said that harming a dugong will invite misfortune. In Oura Bay in Nago, where traces of dugong feeding have been confirmed, there are plans to begin construction on land reclamation work in conjunction with the construction of a new base in nearby Henoko, and dugong lovers are expressing concern.

Oura Bay and Cape Henoko in Nago are known as one of the dugong’s few habitats. However, according to surveys conducted by the Okinawa Defense Bureau in conjunction with the new base construction, no dugong have been seen there since massive concrete blocks were sunk to the bottom of Oura Bay in January 2015.

Takeshi Kohara, an author who wrote a section about dugong-related legends In the book “Illustrated Encyclopedia of Ryukyu Yokai”, says “It is also said that the 1771 Great Yaeyama Tsunami was divine punishment brought about by a dugong. If we threaten their living environment, there could be consequences.”

When we asked the Okinawa Defense Bureau about dugong legends, they replied, “We cannot respond to hypothetical questions. We want it to be understood that we are putting in our utmost effort to reduce the burden on Okinawa.”

Kiyomi Oshiro, 67, of Nago says she has heard tales of the dugong since she was a small child. “Who will benefit from purposely harassing [dugongs] and destroying their habitat? If human arrogance goes too far, we will pay the consequences someday,” says Oshiro.

More information: Click Here



 

Dugongs make Gold Coast waters home

17 April 2017, Gold Coast Bulletin (Australia)

Dugong near Crabb Island in the Gold Coast's Broadwater on Saturday. Photo Credit: Mark Bustin

A NUMBER of dugongs are making their home in Gold Coast waters, much to the delight of marine experts.

A herd of the roly-poly marine mammals has been living in the Broadwater near Crabb Island for almost six months.

It is not known what prompted the southern move from Moreton Island but Sea World marine sciences director Trevor Long said he was surprised and pleased.

“We don’t have a lot of study on (why they are here). We have been focusing on the Moreton Island population,” Mr Long said.

On Saturday, Gold Coaster Mark Bustin captured footage of one of the dugongs frolicking in front of his houseboat for about 20 minutes.

“I didn’t expect to see a dugong on the Gold Coast,” he said.

“He was an old-looking beast but looked very healthy and relaxed. He had a lot of scars on his back — possibly from boat strikes.”

The vulnerable species is threatened due to boat strikes, illegal hunting and habitat destruction.

Mr Long said global dugong (sea cow) populations had been declining and the species was listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

“People need to be aware that dugongs are in the area and if people can avoid riding jet skis in the shallow waters, where the dugongs feed on the grass beds, that will help,” Mr Long said.

More information: Click Here



 

Entsch cops backlash

16 April 2017, Geelong Advertiser (Australia)

WARREN Entsch was right to expect a backlash to his comments about indigenous fishers exploiting native title law to use massive gill nets in net-free zones.

The Leichhardt MP went on the offensive last week after Cairns fishers complained reports of suspected illegal fishing in Trinity Inlet were not being investigated due to skin colour.

He came out arguing commercial nets should be banned for everyone in a net-free zone, including traditional owners.

“I do anticipate a backlash. It happens every time I talk about dugongs and turtles and it will no doubt happen again,” Mr Entsch said.

“I’m not going to back off. I’ve always been a very strong advocate for legitimate traditional hunting rights, but those who want to create mischief will say I’m trying to take away their rights.

“I cannot, under any scenario, see how commercial gill nets fit the criteria of traditional fishing.”

Mr Entsch said wildlife activists like Colin Riddell from the Bob Irwin Wildlife and Conservation Foundation wanted him to go even further in his criticism, so he anticipated being “flogged from both sides”.

He was right about Mr Riddell.

The Cairns-based former abattoir worker calls himself “The Dugong Man” and has dedicated much of his life to protecting animal rights.

He wants dugong hunting banned outright and the closure of a land rights loophole that allows the use of enormous commercial nets in restricted fishing areas.

“I’m sick and tired of him always having 50c each way,” Mr Riddell said.

“Warren has to come out strong and say he is opposed to any hunting of threatened species – of anyone taking undersized anything.”

Mr Riddell criticised Mr Entsch for passing blame to the State Government and failing to report his professed huge catches being sold illegally in remote Far North communities.

“It is a federal offence. If he knows about fish being illegally sold on beaches, he should be reporting the people who are selling them,” Mr Riddell said.

Indigenous fishing remains a touchy topic in Canberra, with the Australian Crime Commission handing over a report that found “no substantive evidence” of illegal dugong and turtle meat trade in Queensland.

The findings have still not been publicly released, although Mr Entsch believed the $2 million investigation was flawed.

More information: Click Here


 

 

Dugong habitats shrink by a quarter

13 April 2017, The National (UAE)

Scientists warn that their numbers could fall further unless Gulf countries adopt a coordinated plan to safeguard dugongs and their feeding grounds after research shows only the UAE has legal protection plan in place.

Researchers have called for stronger international efforts to protect the Arabian Gulf’s dugongs after their work revealed that the areas where the creatures are found has shrunk by a quarter.

The scientists have highlighted that the UAE is the only Gulf nation to properly protect the seagrass-eating mammals, numbers of which they warned could fall further.

"It is crucial for countries in the Gulf to work together to implement a comprehensive transboundary plan," said Dalal Al Abdulrazzak, the study’s lead author.

Such a plan would include habitat protection, population monitoring and efforts to reduce inadvertent catching by fishing vessels, known as bycatch.

"At present there are no regional management plan to conserve dugong populations in the Gulf. Only the UAE has protection measures in place," said Dr Al Abdulrazzak.

In the journal Zoology in the Middle East, Dr Al Abdulrazzak and Prof Daniel Pauly, both based at Vancouver’s University of British Columbia, said that their analysis of records of dugong distribution showed that dugongs were once found more widely in the Gulf than thought.

The scientists, who looked at papers dating back to the 1800s, found that dugongs once inhabited the seas off Kuwait and Iran. Dugongs recorded off Iran now are considered "vagrant".

By reconstructing past distributions, the researchers have calculated that the dugong range in the Gulf has shrunk by about 26 per cent, falling from a high of 41,236 square kilometres to 30,606 square kilometres.

This indicates that the Gulf population has shrunk more than thought.

Although the Gulf dugong population is the world’s second largest, estimated at about 7,300 individuals, the researchers said the density is much lower than for dugongs in some other areas.

The study highlights threats from dredging, trawling and land reclamation, all of which damage seagrass habitats, and bycatch and oil spills.

"As we gain a better understanding of the historical trajectories for dugongs in the Gulf, the need for improved management becomes clearer," said the authors.

The researchers stated that "dugongs in the Gulf are only offered protection in the waters of the United Arab Emirates", this coming from a federal law and an Emiri decree.

Lance Morgan, president and chief executive of the US-based Marine Conservation Institute, agreed that Gulf countries should work together to protect the mammal.

"For dugong populations to recover, it is crucially important that governments cooperate on regional plans for their conservation and management and to protect seagrass beds," he said.

A memorandum of understanding on the conservation and management of dugongs and their habitats was launched in Abu Dhabi in 2007 and is managed by the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) office in Abu Dhabi.

Among states bordering the Gulf, only the UAE and Saudi Arabia are signatories.

"It is very likely that the Gulf states share the same population of dugongs, so it is critical that all the Gulf range states (Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE) cooperate to protect dugongs and their seagrass meadows. The CMS dugong memorandum can help this cooperation," said Donna Kwan, CMS programme officer for dugongs.

She said one of the biggest challenges was not to enforce legal protection of dugongs but to identify why they are still at risk and find ways to reduce threats.

"We would absolutely encourage Gulf states to join the memorandum and commit to cooperate closely to protect dugongs and provide the necessary resources to make that work a success," said Matthew Collis, acting director for international environmental agreements at the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

For the dugong study, the researchers found 155 records, many in libraries overseas, although records also came from the UAE, including data collected by the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature classes dugongs as "vulnerable" and estimates that, over the past 60 years, their numbers have fallen globally by 30 per cent.

Last month, 23 of the 40 countries with dugongs met in Abu Dhabi to discuss ways to protect them. Abu Dhabi also hosts the headquarters are for the Dugong and Seagrass Conservation project, an international effort to preserve dugongs and their habitats linked to the Mohammed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund.

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Islands of Perdido Foundation launches Save Our Seagrass campaign

12 April 2017, Mulletwrapper (USA)

The Alabama Coastal Foundation (ACF), City of Orange Beach, Islands of Perdido Foundation hosted a press conference on the waters off Bird Island to officially designate Friday, April 7, 2017 as Orange Beach Seagrass Day. The purpose of the day is to bring attention to the Islands of Perdido Foundation’s Save Our Seagrass education campaign. The campaign centers around raising awareness of the value and needed protection of the vital seagrass beds in the area.

City Councilman and Islands of Perdido Foundation trustee, Jeff Silvers read the proclamation.

A main focus of the Save Our Seagrass campaign is educating people about avoiding these sensitive habitat areas while out recreating via putting out new signage at boat launches, working with area boat and jet ski rental companies, and lessons plans taught in local 5th grade classrooms. The aim is to ensure existing seagrass is protected and conserved, and hopefully even increased.

The designation is a special reminder of Orange Beach’s valuable seagrass habitat and all the benefits it provides our community, as well as the great responsibility of preserving it for future generations.

The Islands of Perdido Foundation wa formed to raise awareness and involvement in preserving Robinson Island and surrounding smaller islands (Bird, Walker, Rabbit, and Gilchrist) in Orange Beach, with emphasis on preservation, restoration, research, and education.

The City of Orange Beach purchased Robinson Island in 2004 for $4.2 million. The procured a BP funded grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to purchase Walker Island for $162,000 in 2013.

“I believe in the small, local projects,” said Phillip West, coastal resource manager for the city in a NWF website story about the purchase. “Some folks say it’s a whole lot better to protect big spaces. I get that.

“But we’re in a largely urban environment. You can’t tell me that pocket wetlands or pockets of habitat spaced throughout [the area] don’t serve a meaningful role. We’re in this neotropical migratory songbird flyway and they don’t want to just land on condo roofs.”
“Having survived the ravages of nature, dredging, drilling, boating and building, Robinson Island faces a new challenge: sun worshippers who set their anchors, chaises and coolers on its beaches and walk their dogs on its sand and grass,’’ said Bob Serata on nwf.org.

The Alabama Coastal Foundation’s mission is to improve and protect Alabama’s coastal environment through cooperation, education and participation. The organization pursues practical solutions to conservation challenges in a non-partisan manner and is dedicated to partner with businesses, local government and other non-profits to achieve common ground solutions to our environmental problems.
To learn more about programs, become a member, or volunteer, visit joinACF.org.

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Dugong numbers off Trang up again despite smaller seagrass areas

11 April 2017, The Nation (Thailand)

Officials and volunteers tag a dugong for tracking

THE NUMBER of dugongs in the sea off Trang has risen to a decade high of 169, according to a recent survey of the “sea cow” population by the Marine and Coastal Resources Research and Development Centre.

Centre director Kongkiat Kittiwattanawong, who headed the expert team that carried out the survey from March 24 to 30, said if the authorities could keep the dugong fatality rate at under five deaths a year the population would grow to at least 200 dugongs in four years.

The experts took gyroplane trips and used a drone to count and determine the approximate number of dugongs in an effort to conserve thes rare mammals. This year’s tally of 169 is a gradual increase from 160 dugongs in 2016, 145 in 2015, and 135 in 2014.

The latest aerial survey found more than 10 pairs of dugong mothers and calves – a positive sign that joint efforts to conserve them have made progress.

Kongkiat thanked local fishing communities for helping by not using dangerous fishing gear. However, the team still found one dugong with its tail entangled in a seine fishing net – the same one spotted last year – near Koh Libong, he said.

The dugongs’ habitat also seemed to shrink; a large number of them were found further into Koh Libong’s dugong sanctuary zone, as the Koh Mook and Haad Chaomai National Park areas now see higher volumes of fishing boats and tourist boats, |he said.

Thailand’s last and largest dugong herd was in the seagrass fields around Koh Libong, which have shrunk sharply, from 12,173 square rai in 2006 to 7,306 square rai in 2011. These fields have been decimated by large cargo ships that ply the main shipping route near the island as well as increased sediment levels.

The drop in seagrass meadows, plus fishermen’s use of dangerous tools, have contributed to the dugong herd’s decline.

From 1998-2010, the number of dugongs off Trang was up to 200 but that declined to 150 in 2011, then 135 in 2012 and the lowest total of 125 in 2013.

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Sri Lanka Navy arrests two people transporting 82 Kg of dugong meat

10 April 2017, Colombo Page (Sri Lanka)

Sri Lanka Navy personnel, acting on a tip off have arrested two people, who were transporting 82 kilograms of dugong (sea hog) meat.

The naval personnel attached to the North Central Naval Command Sunday apprehended the two suspects who were illegally transporting the dugong meat at Oluthuduwai in the North.

Dugong is a protect endangered species categorized as the "most endangered mammal" in Sri Lanka.

During the arrest, the Navy personnel have recovered 82 Kg dugong meat and three knives in possession of the suspects.

The apprehended suspects and seized goods were handed over to the Wildlife Department for further investigations.

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Two-thirds of Great Barrier Reef hit by back-to-back mass coral bleaching

10 April 2017, James Cook University (Australia)

Orpheus Island bleaching. Photo Credit: Greg Torda

For the second time in just 12 months, scientists have recorded severe coral bleaching across huge tracts of the Great Barrier Reef after completing aerial surveys along its entire length. In 2016, bleaching was most severe in the northern third of the Reef, while one year on, the middle third has experienced the most intense coral bleaching.

“The combined impact of this back-to-back bleaching stretches for 1,500 km (900 miles), leaving only the southern third unscathed,” says Prof. Terry Hughes, Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, who undertook the aerial surveys in both 2016 and 2017.

“The bleaching is caused by record-breaking temperatures driven by global warming. This year, 2017, we are seeing mass bleaching, even without the assistance of El Niño conditions.”

The aerial surveys in 2017 covered more than 8,000 km (5,000 miles) and scored nearly 800 individual coral reefs closely matching the aerial surveys in 2016 that were carried out by the same two observers.

Dr. James Kerry, who also undertook the aerial surveys, explains further, “this is the fourth time the Great Barrier Reef has bleached severely – in 1998, 2002, 2016, and now in 2017. Bleached corals are not necessarily dead corals, but in the severe central region we anticipate high levels of coral loss.”

“It takes at least a decade for a full recovery of even the fastest growing corals, so mass bleaching events 12 months apart offers zero prospect of recovery for reefs that were damaged in 2016.”

Coupled with the 2017 mass bleaching event, Tropical Cyclone Debbie struck a corridor of the Great Barrier Reef at the end of March. The intense, slow-moving system was likely to have caused varying levels of damage along a path up to 100 km in width. Any cooling effects related to the cyclone are likely to be negligible in relation to the damage it caused, which unfortunately struck a section of the reef that had largely escaped the worst of the bleaching.

“Clearly the reef is struggling with multiple impacts,” explains Prof. Hughes. “Without a doubt the most pressing of these is global warming. As temperatures continue to rise the corals will experience more and more of these events: 1°C of warming so far has already caused four events in the past 19 years.”

‘Ultimately, we need to cut carbon emissions, and the window to do so is rapidly closing.”

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Cyclone Debbie leaves Whitsunday Islands reefs in ruins

09 April 2017, ABC Online (Australia)

Several reefs around Queensland's Whitsunday Islands have been destroyed or very badly damaged by Cyclone Debbie, a survey has revealed.

Authorities are not sure how much of the vast Great Barrier Reef network has been killed or affected by the category-four storm and if or how long it will take to recover.

Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) began its study last week and they are expected to continue through the coming week.

Early surveys have found popular snorkelling spot Blue Pearl Bay, near Hayman Island, and Manta Ray Bay, off Hook Island, sustained extensive damage in the cyclone.

Reefs off Hook Island's Luncheon Bay, Maureens Cove and Butterfly Bay are also partly destroyed.

The cyclone's eye crossed the islands nearly two weeks ago, generating wind gusts up to 260 kilometres per hour.

Coral was snapped and a blanket of algae has grown over the dead and rotting coral, which lies pulverised on the sea floor.

Some that survived has turned white, having bleached due to stress.

Only large coral, called bommies, have been left standing in some of the areas surveyed so far.

Senior GBRMPA ranger Darren Larcombe said the entire substrate at Manta Ray Bay has been wiped out.

Some areas which were protected from the winds, such as Stonehaven near Hook Island, was found to have healthy coral.

"We are finding small areas of reasonable coral, there's damage and it's widespread, but there are pockets of nice coral that's reasonably healthy," he said.

The cyclone's cost to tourism has not been calculated, but tourism operators said the region was open for business.

Tourism operators from Cairns have been called in to help find sites that may have survived.

Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators' Brendon Robinson said wet weather, strong winds and poor visibility had hampered efforts to assess the damage.

"The feedback that's coming back is the more sheltered areas have come out a bit better, but they all seem to have suffered some form of damage," he said.
Tourism operators open for business

Nineteen-year-old Anna Renwick has volunteered to help scientists with the survey until her dive company starts fully operating again.

They are snorkelling but not yet diving.

"We don't have a place to go diving at the moment," she said.

"It's going to take a couple of weeks."

Park rangers have been working non-stop to clean up the debris from popular camping sites on the Whitsunday and Airlie Beach.

Hill Inlet and Tongue Point are already open and Whitehaven Beach will be ready by Easter.

Tourism Whitsundays spokesman Craig Turner said the region is ready to start receiving visitors again.

"The Whitsundays is known as an aquatic playground, sailing, cruising around the islands, we're still able to achieve a great result for the tourists," he said.

More information: Click Here


 

 

Excitement among locals as fisher nets rare creature in Kwale

06 April 2017, SDE Entertainment News (Kenya)

KWS, Fisheries officials and locals at Mwaembe village in Kwale County looking at the rare fish

A carcass of the endangered dugong fish species has been trapped by a fishman’s net in Mwaembe village, Kwale, sparking excitement among locals and marine experts.

Marine scientists said the endangered fish species, which was caught on Tuesday, had not been sighted in Kenya’s coastal waters for years.

About 30 dugongs are believed to live in these waters but a recent census found none.

Dugongs, sea cows or Nguva in Kiswahili, are related to elephants. The fish breastfeeds its calf with its two tits.

A dugong is a large grey mammal measuring three metres and weighing 400kg with a whale-like tail that moves up and down. The fish is also known as marine cow as it feeds on sea grass.

Single calf

Dugongs give birth under water to a single calf at three to seven-year intervals and the calf stays with the mother drinking milk from her tits. Dugongs reach their adult size between four and 17 years.

Hassan Juma, the fisherman who netted the dead fish, said it got entangled in a fishing net that he had set the night before.

“We had gone to the sea to look for our net but on reaching there we realised that it had moved deeper and was heavier,” he said.

When he looked closely, he saw the animal, which he had never seen before and alerted elders who helped him to drag it offshore.

Bakari Hamis, the chairperson of Mwaembe Beach Management Unit, said locals wanted to eat the mammal, which is a protected fish species.

Mchambi Juma, a Mwaembe village resident who demanded to be given a piece of the fish, said the last time the animal was sighted in the area was in 1975.

“Let them give us this fish, which is so sweet. Let them not make us cry. The last time we caught this kind of fish was in 1975. The fish is usually cooked with its own oil and it is better than any other food I have ever eaten,” he said.

Dr Judith Nyunja, head of research in the Kenya Wildlife Service Coast conservation area, said dugongs were rarely found in East Africa’s coastal line.

“Recently we did an aerial survey of the dugong along the coastline but we didn’t see any and therefore we are very fortunate to spot this one. It is however unfortunate that we have caught it dead but all in all we are happy that we have found it,” said Dr Nyunja.

She said the animal would be kept in a museum in Mombasa. According to the Wildlife Act, anyone found with the mammal should be fined Sh20 million or be imprisoned for life.

And as the animal was loaded onto a boat to start its journey to Shimoni and then Mombasa, Mwaembe residents were disappointed for being denied a chance to taste the fish, which one of the oldest residents termed the best food ever.

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Superpowered seagrasses: the hidden gems of the plant world

06 April 2017, Cherwell Online (UK)

If you’ve ever swum in the sea around the UK, you’ve no doubt had to carefully pick your way around those unpleasant, slippery patches of seaweed. Seaweeds seem incredibly plant-like—with long, often green ‘leaves’ connected together on the seafloor—but they are actually a quite disparate group of multicellular red, brown and green algae. The Green Algae are in fact the group which contained the ancestors of all plants, from the tallest of the trees to the miniature succulent sitting in your bedroom. Perfectly adapting to life on land, terrestrial plants have massively diversified, spreading across the continents in the process. However, only a handful of species have returned to the environment of their algal ancestors, living a fully aquatic lifestyle for the duration of their life-cycle. These unique plants are the seagrasses.

Populating only 0.2 percent of the world’s oceans, these seagrasses are of hugely disproportionate ecological importance for the wider ecosystem, with the full extent of their impact only just beginning to be understood.

It is well known that terrestrial ecosystems, such as our rainforests, lock away much of the carbon we produce—a phenomenon known as a carbon sink. But in 2012 it was found that seagrasses store about twice the average amount of carbon per hectare when compared to the land plants, making seagrasses much more effective carbon sinks. Following this revelation, the term ‘blue carbon’ was coined to describe the carbon captured by seagrasses in the world’s oceans, reflecting their growing importance.

A study published in January hinted that this hitherto underdog of the plant world may have even more hidden benefits. They examined the effect of seagrasses on the amount of potentially pathogenic bacteria emanating from sewage pollution in the sea water, as well as on land when exposed during the low tide. They found a clear difference: 50 per cent fewer bacteria were found at sites with seagrass than those without. The mechanism behind this impressive reduction in disease has yet to be established, though there are a number of hypotheses. The authors suggest the blades of the grasses may act to reduce water flow and therefore cause more sediment, containing bacteria, to fall to the sea floor, though this is simply one of many hypotheses. Perhaps the microbiome around the seagrasses outcompetes pathogenic bacteria from the sewage, similar to the bacterial competition seen in the human gut. Or maybe the plants launch an effective immune response, directly removing the bacteria from the sea. Although the study only showed an effect of this difference in bacterial concentrations on coral (which had significantly less disease when located near seagrass), these findings raise the strong possibility that the seagrasses could be highly effective when used to filter out sewage bacteria that cause harm to human health.

Unfortunately, seagrasses are yet another example of organisms suffering at the hands human activity. 29 per cent of the meadows known to exist at the beginning of the twentieth century are thought to have disappeared after suffering destruction through processes such as seabed dredging. However, hope remains. In the face of climate change, these remarkable plants have displayed yet another valuable characteristic: they show high degrees of phenotypic plasticity, the ability by which an organism can change its physical shape and behaviour in response to rapidly changing environmental conditions.

Studies have shown that these formidable grasses can acclimatise to chronically poor water quality by changing their physiological and morphological characteristics, using mechanisms such as increasing their cellular starch levels. Some species are even able to withstand periods of prolonged light deprivation. Research into these remarkable plants is still undergoing and promises to continue, undoubtedly expanding our understanding of their incredible abilities.

It’s time to acknowledge the underwater underdog of plant world. If we can save and cherish them, seagrasses will prove to be great assets in buffering the human impact on the environment, as well as helping us fight disease and better our everyday lives.

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Your Food Will Now Be Packed In Biodegradable Seagrass Packaging

05 April 2017, Industry Leaders Magazine

The world is developing at a high velocity and people are getting busier with their fast-paced lives. Due to time constraints, more companies are releasing ready-to-make, pre-cooked, ready-to-eat, or packaged snacks and beverages; leading to a surged usage of such products among consumers. With such change in life-styles and food-habits, more packaged food items are now available in the market. Packaged food and beverages have the advantage of consumption and direct disposal, cutting the wash and clean time utilization. An increase in the demand of such packaged food, has obviously led to a direct increase in the packaging technology. Reports state that the global packaging industry is worth an approximate $424-$430 billion, which is growing annually at around 3.5 percent

Biodegradable Seagrass Packaging

With the ever-increasing market of packaging foods, concerns about a sustainable environment are also on a rise. Governments around the world have started pressing on biodegradable and sustainable packaging technologies, in place of plastic packaging. Keeping all such factors in mind, an art student of Royal College, Felix Pottinger created an alternative for plastic food packages, with the use of seagrass.

Pottinger’s design uses washed-up seagrass, although his official site states that the project is still in its development stage. The seagrass-based concept of food packaging material reduces the packaging waste as well as prolongs food-durability. Pottinger’s project partners are his college – The Royal College of Art, Microsoft Research Lab, and Tesco.

Pottinger, a German designer, says that the seagrass-based material is not only fully biodegradable, but it also has antibacterial properties to keep the packaged food fresh.

Biodegradable Seagrass Packaging Keeps Your Food Fresh
The Royal College student says that the material used is a natural waste, and that according to his research it has an extreme resistance against mould. For the packaging process, a cellulose based extract is utilized to bind the dried seagrass fiber together. The mixture is then pressed in a metal mould after which it is baked till it dries entirely.

Felix also says that he uses the seagrass fiber from the beaches of the Mediterranean Coast only; and thus there is not industrial harvesting which can harm the seagrass or any water creatures. As of now, Pottinger has created only prototype POC packaging containers.

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Seagrasses in World Heritage Site Not Recovered Years After Heat Wave

05 April 2017, Newswise (Australia)

Left: Example of Amphibolis antarctica seagrass in Shark Bay, Australia, before 2011 heat wave. Right: A 2013 Shark Bay study site where seagrasses were depleted following the 2011 heat wave.

Massive seagrass beds in Western Australia’s Shark Bay — a UNESCO World Heritage Site — haven’t recovered much from the devastating heat wave of 2011, according to a new study demonstrating how certain vital ecosystems may change drastically in a warming climate.

The peer-reviewed study, published recently in Marine Ecology Progress Series, was led by Dr. Rob Nowicki, a Mote Marine Laboratory Postdoctoral Research Fellow who conducted the fieldwork while earning his doctorate from Florida International University (FIU). Dr. Michael Heithaus, Dean of FIU’s College of Arts & Sciences, and colleagues from multiple institutions have studied Shark Bay’s ecosystem for more than 20 years. The current study included partners from FIU, Deakin University in Australia and Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Shark Bay earned its World Heritage status, in part, because of its 1,853 square miles (4,800 square kilometers) of seagrass beds, which UNESCO’s website calls the “richest in the world.” This vast, subtropical ecosystem hosts thousands of large sharks, other fish, sea turtles, bottlenose dolphins and a critical population of dugongs, plant-eating mammals related to manatees.

“We were studying a relatively pristine ecosystem, but in summer 2011 we had the hottest water temperatures on record at the time, and we saw 70-90 percent losses of seagrasses at our study sites; no one expected it to be that bad,” Nowicki said. “After our colleagues documented the losses, we wanted to know how much the ecosystem might recover over a few years. If you take a punch and get up quickly, you’re ready for the next punch. But our study has suggested this system took a punch, and in the short term, it has not gotten back up.”

The researchers surveyed 63 sites in Shark Bay four times between 2012 and 2014 to assess seagrass recovery and changes. Before the heat wave, many sites were dominated by the temperate seagrass known as “wireweed” (Amphibolis antarctica), whose dense and tall thickets provide ample food and shelter for numerous species. The heat wave drastically thinned many wireweed beds, and in many places their rhizomes (underground stems) blackened and died, leaving bare sand.

The new study showed that surviving A. antarctica beds appeared stable but didn’t reclaim much turf. Instead, the tropical seagrass Halodule uninervis, a close relative of the shoalgrass native to Florida, began filling the gaps. H. uninvervis was spotted at 2 percent of sites in 2012, but had expanded to almost 30 percent of them by 2014.

“The seagrass hit hard was the most common species — and was dense like a mini forest,” said Heithaus, doctoral advisor to Nowicki and co-author of the study. “Losing that cover is really huge; it’s like going from a bushland in Africa to a well-mowed lawn.

Losing that much structure has consequences. “After the die-off, we also saw water clarity go down a ton,” Nowicki said. Fewer seagrasses were available to trap sediments, and decaying seagrass may have nourished a bloom of microscopic algae observed in 2014. Study authors say these consequences aren’t surprising, given the valuable ecosystem services healthy seagrass beds provide.

Seagrass beds stabilize sediments, preventing erosion and clarifying water. More seagrass biomass can store more carbon dioxide, decreasing its availability to harm ecosystems through climate change and ocean acidification. Dense seagrass beds are also critical for economically important fisheries. Seagrass meadows are valued at $1.9 trillion worldwide just for their role in cycling nutrients, according to a 2009 study by others in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. However, major seagrass ecosystems around the world have declined by about 7 percent per year since 1990, reminiscent of declines in coral reefs and other critical ecosystems.

In Shark Bay, beds of slow-growing A. antarctica seagrass may struggle to recover further, the study suggests. Shark Bay, located where temperate and tropical ecosystems overlap, is among the warmest areas that A. antarctica can occupy, and extreme warm temperatures are predicted to become more common with climate change.

Because of its temperate-tropical overlap, Shark Bay has a diverse group of about 12 seagrass species — roughly twice as many as the entire state of Florida. Its diversity survives, along with other key features that helped earn the site’s World Heritage status.

It’s critical to continue investigating how the recent loss of some seagrass, a basis of the marine food web, will affect plant-eating animals and their predators in Shark Bay.

Some take-home messages are clear: It’s critical to monitor ecosystems well after a disturbance; they’re not guaranteed to bounce back. “It shows the importance of these long-term, comprehensive, ecosystem-level studies,” said Heithaus, referring to team efforts to study Shark Bay. “If we hadn’t been doing this since 1997 we wouldn’t have had the baseline data to know that the declines were a big deal.”

Also, if relatively pristine seagrass beds of Shark Bay are vulnerable to extreme weather, then it’s unclear how seagrass beds damaged by human activity will fare in the coming decades.

Nowicki says that minimizing local stressors, such as nutrient pollution from fertilizer runoff into bays and estuaries, may give seagrasses better odds amid climate change and other global stressors.

Said Nowicki: “If Shark Bay had poorer water quality, we might have lost a lot more.”

More information: Click Here

Original Study: Click Here


 

 

Shock as vandals damage eco friendly mooring in Tor Bay within days of it being installed

03 April 2017, Devon Live (UK)

Vandals have damaged a new eco mooring system in Tor Bay within days of it being installed. The specially designed mooring had been installed last week in an idyllic cove near Brixham in a move to preserve a hidden Devon wildlife habitat considered as important as coral reef.

Large parts of Tor Bay are designated a protected marine conversation zone. This includes beds of seagrass - one of the most biodiverse habitats on Earth on a par with coral reefs, but which are also one of the fastest declining.

The areas of seagrass provide a nursery area for many commercially important species such as pollock, scallops and cuttle fish to grow up, but also provide a home to the UK's charming native seahorses. The beds also provide coastal protection and help improve water quality.

However these fragile habitats are particularly sensitive to being damaged by the anchors of moored up boats. Mooring chains in particular can cause a lot of damage to the beds.

Now the new design of mooring has been created which will still allowing boat users to enjoy the beauty and sanctuary of Fishcombe Cove near Brixham.

But over the weekend vandals cut the ropes attaching the chains to buoys used for mooring and the chains have dropped to the seabed. Some buoys have been stolen which means chains could be scraping around the seabed with the weather and tides damaging the delicate seagrass .

Members of the Sea Torbay Coastal Management Partnership had only just celebrated the arrival of the new eco friendly (Seagrass) mooring arrive at its new home at Fishcombe Cove.

The deployment, carried out by local firm MTS, took less than two hours to complete and was watched over by representatives and partners from the various organisations and companies who have been involved in the project to date. It was an exciting moment when the mooring was dropped in place, as cheers were sent up from the watching party on the shore.

The eco mooring is different because the thicker chain at the concrete base on the sea bed is shorter than that on a regular mooring. As the surface buoy lowers with the tide, the then slacker chain cannot reach beyond the edge of the concrete base.

The remaining chain is thinner and is kept above the bed by a series of smaller buoys below the surface. It is the chain moving with the tide around the mooring on the sea bed that causes the damage.

Members of Sea Torbay, a voluntary partnership made up of various stakeholders from the private, public and voluntary sectors, including Torbay Coast and Countryside Trust, the Community Sea Grass project and Natural England, were present to see this exciting moment.

Heather Carstens, green infrastructure co-ordinator, Torbay Coast and Countryside Trust said: “What a brilliant day, to see this mooring being deployed. This Eco-mooring trial has been funded through Natural England as part of a wider project to help offer management measures to the marine conservation zone here in the Bay. Many people have been involved in this project and have worked very hard for it to come to fruition.

“Now the mooring is in place, it will be monitored over the season and we will be engaging with local boat users to encourage use of the mooring, which will hopefully result in less anchoring over this sensitive, fragile but very important habitat.

“These fragile habitats are particularly sensitive to anchoring activity and unfortunately this can cause a lot of damage to the beds. The mooring will offer a safe management measure for these important habitats whilst still allowing boat users to enjoy the beauty and sanctuary of Fishcombe Cove."

Sea Torbay thanked all the members of the partnership for their support, involvement and in particular their hard work to enable this project to succeed. They also thanked organisations for their support and involvement including Community Seagrass Initiative), Torbay Harbour, Salcombe Harbour, Marine and Towage Services, Natural England, Dale Grant Mediua, Marine Management Organisation, Jake Letori graphic design, AC Print, Bayside Marine.

More information: Click Here



 

Manatee Removed From Endangered Species List

01 April 2017, Brevard Times (USA)

The U.S. Department of the Interior announced on Thursday the downlisting of the West Indian manatee from endangered to threatened. Notable increases in manatee populations and improvements in its habitat allowed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to change the species’ status under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The downlisting means that the manatee is no longer considered in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range, but is likely to become so in the foreseeable future without continued ESA protections.

Reclassification of manatees has been pending since 2007, when the USFWS first announced its intention to move manatees from the endangered list — meaning they were in imminent danger of extinction — to the “threatened” list, meaning they possibly could become at risk of extinction in the foreseeable future.

Today’s estimated population of 6,620 Florida manatees is a dramatic turnaround from the 1970s, when just a few hundred individuals remained. But the manatees' continued high population count could spell trouble for the dying Indian River Lagoon. That's because an 800 to 1,200 pound adult sea cow can eat up 10% to 15% of its body weight daily in aquatic vegetation which mostly consists of seagrass.

As the below graphic shows, there appears to be an inverse relationship with the manatee population counts and seagrass acreage in the Indian River Lagoon whenever the manatee count exceeds around 1,700 on Florida's East Coast.

For the fist time in the decades-long debate between manatee activists and the boating community, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) acknowledged that the increased manatee population does have an effect on nutrient load and seagrass loss in the Indian River Lagoon following a Brevard Times investigation in 2014.

"At the time the seagrass TMDLs were developed [in 2009], manatees were not considered as major nutrient contributors to the Indian River Lagoon because not all the data needed to quantify the manatee nutrient contribution were available. It is worth noting that manatees have been part of the Indian River Lagoon ecosystem for a long time," FDEP stated in an email to Brevard Times.

"Based on the Department’s Nutrient and Dissolved Oxygen TMDLs for the Indian River Lagoon and Banana River Lagoon report (FDEP, 2009), the long-term annual average TN [Total Nitrogen] and TP [Total Phosphorous] loads entering the Indian River Lagoon system are about 1511 tons and 216 tons, respectively. The 25 to 109 tons of TN and 2 to 7 tons of TP contributed by manatees only account for about 1.7% to 6.7% of TN loads and 0.7% to 3.0% of TP loads entering the Indian River Lagoon system."

“Manatees should actually be classed as a “recovered” species — meaning they are neither endangered nor threatened, and not listed within the ESA," said Robert Atkins, president of Citizens For Florida’s Waterways, a Brevard County-based advocacy group for recreational boaters.

Atkins notes that delaying the decision longer than the decade it has taken would be a disservice to the integrity of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). "The people must have faith in the honest assessment of Government Agencies." In this case, Atkins emphasizes that the best available science confirms there is zero chance of manatee extinction over the next 100 years.

But the Save the Manatee Club contends that the declassification was premature and blames the Trump administration.

"FWS decided to prematurely downlist manatees without a proven viable plan for reducing record-high watercraft-related manatee deaths and without establishing a long-term plan for the anticipated loss of artificial winter warm water habitat on which more than 60% of the Florida manatee population depends," said Patrick Rose, Executive Director for Save the Manatee Club. "A federal reclassification at this time will seriously undermine the chances of securing the manatee’s long- term survival. With the new federal administration threating to cut 75% of regulations, including those that protect our wildlife and air and water quality, the move to downlist manatees can only be seen as a political one.”

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