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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

 

 

 

 

 

There's now an app for mapping seagrass, the oceans' great carbon sink

14 June 2018, Mongabay.com

The online tool SeagrassSpotter aggregates reported sightings of seagrass ecosystems from around the world to help in the effort to conserve the underwater plants. PHOTO CREDIT: SeagrassSpotter

The launch of an online crowdsourcing database for seagrass hopes to breathe new life into efforts to conserve the underwater flowering plants, which act as both important habitats for marine species and a major store of carbon dioxide.

Patchy mapping of seagrass meadows has hampered efforts to protect the plants (which are distinct from seaweed) from threats such as coastal development, sedimentation, coral farming and sand mining, according to Richard Unsworth, a marine biologist at Swansea University in the U.K. and co-founder of environmental charity Project Seagrass.

The group on June 4 launched SeagrassSpotter, a collaborative initiative that allows anyone with a camera to upload images of seagrass sightings and tagged locations from anywhere in the world. The online tool also provides species information to help ordinary users identify the seagrass they find. The platform is accessible via website or mobile app for Android and iOS.

“We’re asking people visiting the coast or going out to sea — for diving, fishing, kayaking — to keep their eyes out for seagrass so that they can take a picture [to] upload to our website,” Unsworth told Mongabay. “The more people that get involved the more likely we are to develop a better understanding of the world’s seagrass.”

Seagrasses grow in shallow coastal regions, providing a crucial nursery habitat for young fish of many species. Previous reports suggest that more than 600 species of fish in Southeast Asia alone rely on these meadows for their growth and development. Seagrass beds are also an important home for marine invertebrates, such as sea cucumbers, prawns and crabs.

Some seagrass meadows also serve to store large quantities of so-called blue carbon, the carbon dioxide absorbed by the world’s oceans and coastal ecosystems. It’s been estimated that seagrass meadows may be able to store more CO2 in their roots than all the world’s rainforests.

Seagrasses are disappearing at rates that rival those of coral reefs and tropical rainforests, losing as much as 7 percent of their area each year, according to the IUCN. More than 70 species of seagrass worldwide cover a global area estimated at up to 600,000 square kilometers (about 232,000 square miles) — an area larger than the island of Madagascar.

“We increasingly know how seagrasses support biodiverse fauna but we know little about how to manage them to be resilient into the future and how to restore these systems once they’ve been lost,” Unsworth said.

He pointed to Indonesia as an example of a seagrass hotspot, where the dearth of knowledge about the plants could potentially lead to the extinction of these underwater gardens across the archipelago.

Indonesia is widely considered an important country for seagrass conservation. In 1994, researchers estimated the country was home to 30,000 square kilometers (11,600 square miles) of seagrass, perhaps the world’s largest concentration of the plant. But in June 2017, the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), a government-funded research agency, put the country’s seagrass cover at just 1,507 square kilometers (582 square miles).

“Having worked extensively on seagrass in Indonesia since 2003, I see that seagrass is largely not on the conservation radar,” Unsworth said.

“When you visit marine parks and places with seagrass, its conservation is commonly not included or just there as a token inclusion. The focus is always on coral reefs, even though often the majority of the fishing effort is on nearshore shallow seagrass.”

The platform also provides information on seagrass species to help with identification. PHOTO CREDIT: SeagrassSpotter

At least two studies by researchers in Indonesia have attempted to map seagrass meadows in certain locations, but both noted that nationwide mapping efforts were practically non-existent.

According to Unsworth, LIPI now runs a seagrass monitoring program, but it’s only on seagrass meadows in marine parks where threats aren’t as prevalent and widespread as in other, unprotected, coastal regions in Indonesia.

“Funding for projects by NGOs largely ignores seagrass or when budgets are stretched, they always pull the seagrass component first,” he said. “Having met with fisheries officers, park managers and local government officials over many years, my overwhelming opinion is that seagrass is not considered to be of much importance.”

A search of the academic literature on coral reefs versus seagrass in Indonesia reveals that five times as many studies published about the former than the latter in the period between 1970 and 2018, Unsworth said.

He also pointed to dataset compiled by the U.N. Environment Programme’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre showing huge gaps where seagrass has been mapped.

“The gaps are places where the environmental conditions suggest seagrass should be prevalent,” Unsworth said. “This includes many areas where I personally have observed extensive seagrass, such as Buton, Selayar, Central Sulawesi.”

The latest figures from LIPI indicate that only 40 percent of seagrass in Indonesia is considered in healthy condition. Coastal land development, sedimentation, waste pollution, coral aquaculture and sand mining are the top threats to Indonesia’s seagrass.

Unsworth and his team of researchers published a report in April that indicates 90 percent of the seagrass meadows they examined in Indonesia had been extensively damaged and degraded over the past five years.

“Seagrasses in some parts of Indonesia are very well mapped, but across the nation knowledge is very poor and this comes at an important time given what we know about the losses of seagrass,” he said.

Other countries, like Australia, have also reported findings of extensive seagrass meadows in seabeds deeper than 20 meters (66 feet), but “next to no deepwater seagrass has ever been documented in Indonesia,” Unsworth said.

“This is probably because no one has ever looked for it,” he said.

To date, SeagrassSpotter has collected more than 1,000 records of seagrass around the U.K. and northern Europe. Globally, the group hopes to obtain at least 100,000 records by engaging people from around the world to collect data about seagrass in their locality. All collected data will be freely available to the public.

“If people don’t know where seagrass is and why it’s of value,” Unsworth said, “then they won’t take action to preserve it.”

More information: Click Here


 

 

Groups working together to replant seagrasses in the Caloosahatchee

14 June 2018, Island Reporter (USA)

The Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program and Calusa Waterkeeper are working with partners - including Johnson Engineering and Sea & Shoreline Aquatic Restoration - local residents and volunteers to replant seagrasses in the tidal Caloosahatchee River.

The kick-off event with dignitaries will begin on June 18 at 10 a.m. in Centennial Park in Fort Myers. The event will begin with opening remarks from the major organizations participating in the project, as well as from the dignitaries present including Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen. The remarks will be followed by a 15-minute demonstration on-site plants and exclusion cages that will be used. After, volunteers will leave by boats to go to other actual planting locations.

The project is to restore the Tidal Caloosahatchee River's submerged aquatic vegetation communities. The species planted are Ruppia maritime, commonly known as Ruppia, and Vallisneria Americana, commonly known as tape or eel grass. Aquatic vegetation is an important part of estuarine ecosystems, providing vital reproductive and nursery habitat for fish in addition to food for grazers such as manatees and turtles. They also improve water quality and clarity by removing nutrients and sediment. The Caloosahatchee River has historically supported vast seagrass beds. However, much of the coverage has been lost in recent years due in part to alterations in water flows to the Tidal Caloosahatchee River.

The project will entail creating five planting areas covered by herbivore exclusion cages to protect the seedlings while they are getting established, in five locations on the north and south shores of the Caloosahatchee River between the Interstate 75 and US 41 bridges. The sites were selected to be along waterfront residents who wanted to participate in the project. CHNEP and Calusa Waterkeeper staff and volunteers, along with staff from Johnson Engineering and Sea & Shoreline, will install the plantings and cages, as well as participating in the ongoing maintenance and monitoring efforts.

The Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program applied for and was funded through a grant agreement from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Florida Coastal Management Program, with monies provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Centennial Park is at 2101 Edwards Drive.

More information: Click Here



 

US House Republicans probe green group lawsuits against Defense Dept

13 June 2018, WSAU News (USA)

Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday sought information from the Defense Secretary about lawsuits filed by nonprofit environmental groups against his department, as they probed possible foreign influence on such groups.

"We are interested in environmental litigation by U.S. based 501(c) organizations against the Department of Defense and its negative impact on our national security," House Natural Resources Committee Chair Rob Bishop and oversight subcommittee Chair Bruce Westerman wrote in a letter to Defense Secretary James Mattis.

While some of these lawsuits "represent sincere and justified concerns about the effect of federal actions on the environment," they said "foreign adversaries" can use those lawsuits as a tool to "reduce U.S. defense capabilities."

The letter comes a week after the lawmakers wrote to the head of nonprofit the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) to demand documents about its relationship with the Chinese government, accusing it of possibly "being influenced or coerced by foreign interests."

The House Committee on Natural Resources is monitoring several other environmental groups and "will seek inquiry as appropriate," a committee spokeswoman said in an email.

In Wednesday's letter, the lawmakers pointed to lawsuits by the NRDC dating back to the 1990s that aimed to stop the use of sonar and underwater explosives by the Navy because of its impact on mammals. They said environmental litigation has restricted Navy training exercises and testing, and jeopardizes its ability to detect diesel electric submarines by China.

The lawmakers also cited a lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity that aimed to block the relocation of a Marine Corps air station in Japan because of its potential harm to a marine mammal, the Okinawa dugong. A court hearing on that case is scheduled for June 28.

Peter Galvin, co-founder of the Center for Biological Diversity, said in an email that House Republicans are targeting green groups' international connections at a time when they should be investigating the Trump administration.

"So they're going to ignore the Trump connections with the Russians and go straight to investigating efforts to save endangered wildlife like the Okinawa dugong? It's an anti-wildlife agenda in search of a wild conspiracy theory," Galvin said.

Earlier this year Bishop targeted outdoor retailer Patagonia for its web campaign opposing the Interior Department's decision to reduce the size of two Utah national monuments, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante, calling the company a "special interest group."

More information: Click Here



 

NABARD officials review project to rehabilitate marine life

13 June 2018, The Hindu (India)

A team of officials from the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) on Wednesday completed its two-day review of a project aimed at rehabilitating marine life habitats in the Gulf of Mannar.

The review, which was assisted by marine biologists from the Suganthi Devadason Marine Research Institute (SDMRI), was conducted for sanctioning a second tranche of the ₹24.74-crore project.

SDMRI marine biologists snorkeled into the water off the coasts of Van and Kariachelli islands and clicked underwater pictures, which were reviewed by K. Vijayapandiyan, District Development Manager, and other officials.

The project was started in 2015 and is scheduled to be completed in 2020. Controlling the erosion of Van Island, which was on the verge of submersion, was one of the top priorities of the project. Under the project, thousands of artificial reef modules were deployed to be placed 25 metres off the coast of the island.

Further, in Kariachelli and Vilanguchelli islands, sea-grass and coral-reef rehabilitation were also taken up under the project.

For coral rehabilitation, small cement slabs tied with coral fragments were attached to a concrete frame and placed underwater. To enhance the population of sea-grass which has been depleting due to practices like bottom trawling, it was tied to a frame and placed underwater.

The officials were satisfied with the progress. “Van island, which had an area of 20 hectares, was reduced to 1.5 hectares in 2015. But, after deployment of the artificial reef modules, accretion has taken place, and the island now has an area of 3.3 hectares during low tide,” said an official.

The team also visited Rama paramedical institute in Thalamuthu Nagar, where the rural bank funds vocational training for nurses. Under the project, 64 eco-development committees have been formed to improve the socio-economic condition of people living in the coastal villages.

More information: Click Here



 

No-anchoring zones could be introduced in Studland Bay under plans to protect seahorses

13 June 2016, Bournemouth Echo (UK)

No-anchoring zones could be introduced in Studland Bay under plans to protect seahorses

NO-ANCHORING zones could be introduced in a bay popular with boat owners under plans for a new marine conservation zone (MCZ) to protect rare seahorses and other sealife.

Studland Bay, which is home to the spiny seahorse and the short-snouted seahorse, has been recommended as one of 41 MCZs across the UK.

Dense seagrass meadows, which thrive in the area, provide shelter for the seahorses, with Studland being the only known place in the UK where the spiny seahorse breeds. However, it is also a very popular location for recreational boaters. During the height of summer, more than 100 boats visit the bay. The majority of these anchor up, ripping out the delicate seagrass.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has set out three options for management of the site to prevent further damage.

The cheapest option would not impose restrictions on anchoring but would require the replacement of the current moorings with eco-moorings, which are designed to have very little impact on the seabed.

The second option would involve the introduction of no-anchoring zones in areas of seagrass and the installation of eco-moorings. Outside of the seagrass areas, mooring restrictions would be lifted.

The third, and most costly, option would introduce no-anchoring zones over areas of mapped seagrass and remove all moorings from the seagrass areas. However, this would lead to a number of boats being displaced from the area.

Conservationists have been campaigning for Studland Bay to be protected for more than a decade.

In 2015, a petition opposing Defra’s decision at that time not to put the bay forward as a potential MCZ attracted over 250,000 signatures.

Neil Garrick-Maidment, director of The Seahorse Trust, said news of the proposed designation was “amazing” and a “testament to the hard work of so many people”.

Writing on the trust’s Facebook page, he said: “Now the hard work starts to put together a team, which we hope to be part of, who will oversee the establishment of the MCZ and make it a better place for the seahorses and other species that once thrived there.”

Five other proposed MCZ around Dorset include: Purbeck Coast, Albert Field (off Durlston Head), Southbourne Rough, South of Portland, and West of Wight Barfleur.

Dorset Wildlife Trust's marine, policy and evidence manager, Peter Tinsley, said the zones are not necessarily 'no go areas', but if afforded this protection the sites will have to be managed appropriately.

However, he added the designation of Studland Bay was likely to be contentious as recreational boaters fear their activities will be curtailed.

A six-week consultation period has been launched so views can be gathered on the proposed MCZs.

No new activities deemed damaging – such as dredging, or significant coastal or offshore development – will be allowed to take place in these areas. Existing harmful activities will be minimised or stopped to allow important habitats to be restored over time.

MCZs are just one type of the many Marine Protected Areas in place around the UK to conserve rare, threatened and nationally important habitats and species for future generations.

Dorset already has three MCZs out of a current total of 50 nationwide.

More information: Click Here


 

 

Seagrasses can offset climate change

13 June 2018, The Straits Times (Singapore)

The verdant meadows of the sea are up to 35 times better than rainforests at storing carbon and are nurseries for all manner of marine creatures. Yet, about 40 per cent of the world's seagrass may have been lost due to human activity.

Found in coastal waters all over the world, apart from at the poles, seagrasses play a part in mitigating climate change by burying carbon under the seabed for up to thousands of years.

Such carbon, stored in coastal ecosystems like seagrass meadows, is often referred to as blue carbon.

And this potent ability to mitigate climate change is helping to drive conservation efforts for seagrass, said Dr Siti Yaakub, a marine ecologist at the environmental consultant company DHI Water & Environment.

Ms Samantha Lai, a PhD student at the National University of Singapore (NUS) who is studying the resilience and restoration of seagrass in Singapore, said: "At the global level, seagrass conservation efforts consist of monitoring seagrass meadows by student scientists or researchers... restoring areas of degrading meadows by planting seagrass seeds or shoots... and by protecting areas from impact or destruction."

While much of the world's seagrass has been lost, there is a silver lining. Recent research done by local scientists, including Dr Siti, and Australian collaborators found seagrasses in parts of South-east Asia - including Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Singapore - to be resilient to natural and man-made stressors.

Dr Siti said: "We found that the meadows in this region are very genetically diverse. This means they are resilient to stressors like climate change, disease and all kinds of anthropogenic stressors (such as land reclamation, which destroys the habitat for seagrasses)."

Their genetic diversity is also good news for the marine life that depends on it, noted Ms Lai.

Were seagrasses to disappear, coastal sediments could erode and this erosion would not only negatively affect environments upland such as mangroves, but also environments further down, such as corals, she pointed out.

If the plants lack such diversity, then people run the risk of a "massive die-out", Dr Siti added.

One question that marine ecologists cannot answer for sure is how much seagrass there is overall, especially in South-east Asia. "There are pockets (of research done) in South-east Asia, where there's a lot of information, but for the vast region, it's a big data gap, a big black hole of no information," Dr Siti said.

To help plug this, more than 200 seagrass researchers, students and managers from non-profit organisations have gathered in Singapore for the World Seagrass Conference and the 13th International Seagrass Biology Workshop (ISBW) to share their research and engage the public. The meetings, which began on Monday and will end on Sunday, are organised by the DHI Group, the National Parks Board and NUS.

In line with the theme of translating science into action, there will be a two-hour public talk today at UTown at NUS at 7pm, featuring seagrass researchers from Australia, Malaysia and Sweden.

Members of the public can register for the talk for free at the ISBW website (www.isbw13.org).

Environmental and economic benefits

SEAGRASS ECOSYSTEMS

Despite their name, seagrasses are flowering plants that can be found all over the world in shallow coastlines, except for the poles.

They form extensive beds or meadows, which can consist of only one species of seagrass or multiple species in mixed beds. There are about 60 known seagrass species, with the highest number found in the tropics.

Seagrass meadows can reduce the amount of bacteria that can cause disease in humans and marine life such as corals. A 2003 study found that chemicals from seagrass tissue can kill or stop the growth of bacterial pathogens that affect humans, fish and invertebrates.

Seagrasses also provide shelter and food for a wide range of animals, including fish, crabs, sea turtles, dugongs, birds and tiny invertebrates.

BLUE CARBON STORAGE

Seagrasses can bury organic carbon, often referred to as blue carbon, into the seabed.

Although seagrass meadows occupy less than 0.2 per cent of the area of the world's oceans, scientists estimate that these meadows bury roughly 10 per cent of organic carbon in the oceans each year.

While tropical rainforests can store carbon for decades, seagrass ecosystems are capable of storing carbon for millennia, and at a rate 35 times faster than rainforests can.

SUPPORT OF GLOBAL FISHERIES

Seagrass meadows support fisheries and so are important for seafood supply.

In the Indo-Pacific, 746 species of fish are known to depend on seagrass meadows. The species of fish associated with seagrass contribute to both industrial and small-scale fisheries.

 

More information: Click Here


 

 

Richard Lilley: Help us put seagrass meadows on the map

09 June 2018, The Scotsman ( Scotland)

In Scotland we are lucky. Our beautiful nation is blessed with a wealth of productive coastal habitats that provision us with some of the best seafood on the planet. Our waters support an abundance of whitefish, such as the internationally prized Atlantic cod; they are rich with lobster and langoustine and are home to shellfish royalty – the king and queen scallops.

With all this on our doorstep, we have every right to feel fortunate. We have a rich and diverse seafood sector. However, it wasn’t always this way. In fact, truth be told, it was better. In Scotland (as is the case globally) marine habitat loss is widespread. Last year we sadly witnessed damage to a rare flame shell reef in Loch Carron, while at the same time, our seas are now having to deal with the large-scale impacts associated with climate change and widespread pollution.

With all this on our doorstep, we have every right to feel fortunate. We have a rich and diverse seafood sector. However, it wasn’t always this way. In fact, truth be told, it was better. In Scotland (as is the case globally) marine habitat loss is widespread. Last year we sadly witnessed damage to a rare flame shell reef in Loch Carron, while at the same time, our seas are now having to deal with the large-scale impacts associated with climate change and widespread pollution.

However, we must not despair, rather we must work together to find solutions and bring to the public consciousness a sense of optimism for the future of our blue planet. Many leaders are now seeking the support of passionate and committed citizens to map the important marine habitats that support our fisheries, and to provide the vital data that can support their effective management.

One such habitat is seagrass. Seagrasses are flowering plants that live in shallow, sheltered areas along our coast. These sensitive plants are different from seaweed and show bright green leaves. These leaves form large, dense meadows under the sea like underwater gardens full of life. Research last week has confirmed the value of these meadows in supporting world fisheries production and thus the pressing need to put more effort into their conservation.

There is no easier way for people around the world to help protect seagrass than by getting involved with the collection of information about this precious resource. Understanding where seagrass is and mapping its distribution is an important part of conserving it and preventing its loss. To date, the world has mapped around 300,000 km2 of seagrass, yet experts have speculated that there could be up to 4 million km2 of seagrass – all of which needs mapping.

To celebrate World Oceans Day, Project Seagrass, a marine charity, has released a global version of the smartphone app SeagrassSpotter and is encouraging people to take part in this Citizen Science project. Both the website and phone app allow people from all around the world to help scientists understand and conserve globally important seagrass meadows.

To celebrate World Oceans Day, Project Seagrass, a marine charity, has released a global version of the smartphone app SeagrassSpotter and is encouraging people to take part in this Citizen Science project. Both the website and phone app allow people from all around the world to help scientists understand and conserve globally important seagrass meadows.

In Scotland, our “Call to Action” is immediate. It is hoped that any data collected this summer will be able to directly inform the future management of Scotland’s seagrass meadows in the autumn, especially since seagrass has already been identified as one of 11 of the most vulnerable Priority Marine Features by the Scottish Government. This updated version of SeagrassSpotter.org includes the first easy-to-use identification guide for seagrasses. Simply put, a user can take a photo of intertidal seagrass using the app, or, for other devices, people can simply upload a picture taken with any camera direct to the website. The user will then be asked to identify and describe what they’ve seen using a simple key.

This updated version of SeagrassSpotter.org includes the first easy-to-use identification guide for seagrasses. Simply put, a user can take a photo of intertidal seagrass using the app, or, for other devices, people can simply upload a picture taken with any camera direct to the website. The user will then be asked to identify and describe what they’ve seen using a simple key.

People in Scotland can use it any time, for example while out walking the dog or when out snorkelling or scuba diving with friends. Alternatively, you can now use it while on holiday anywhere. To date Seagrass Spotter has collected over 1,000 records of seagrass around Scotland and northern Europe; but at Project Seagrass we now hope to make this success global. We hope to obtain hundreds of thousands of records by engaging people from all around the world to collect data about seagrass in their locality. With more data we can provide the evidence needed to support seagrass zones, special areas of the seabed that can be officially recognised and protected from threats. There is a rapid global decline in seagrass and when seagrass is lost there is strong evidence globally that fisheries and their stocks can become compromised with profound negative economic consequences. Dr Richard Lilley is a marine biologist and founding director at Project Seagrass, www.SeagrassSpotter.org

More information: Click Here


 

 

'The State of the Ocean is Not as Bad as the Mass Media Puts It' – Professor

09 June 2018, Sputnik International

June 8th marks the annual celebration of World Oceans Day. The theme for 2018 is aimed at preventing plastic pollution and encouraging solutions to a healthy ocean. According to reports, the theme was prompted by the eight million tons of plastic that end up in the oceans each year.

Radio Sputnik discussed this with Carlos M. Duarte, Professor of Marine Science at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Carlos M. Duarte: I'm celebrating Oceans Day by being in Kiel, Germany at a workshop, thinking about the future of the ocean and the solutions to the many problems that the ocean has. And in fact the key, the good message, is that we've put forward the idea that the state of the ocean is not as bad as may be reflected in the mass media, and the options to recover the ocean to a healthy state are far better than we currently think, and we can rebuild and help the ocean within one generation.

Sputnik: We hear about calamities all the time. Why are you so positive?

Carlos M. Duarte: Because I think we have been doing a very poor exercise as a scientific community in communicating the state of the ocean where we have emphasized the many problems and the problems you mention are real problems that are affecting and impacting on the ocean. But we have not communicated equally, and in a balanced manner, the positive developments and the solutions.

So in fact now we are [changing our strategy] now in the scientific community; globally shifting from one of documenting problems to one of taking action in solutions. And in fact we've just realized that we are lagging behind society in taking action and now [even] many private citizens. We've mentioned plastic pollution; there's this youngster in the Netherlands that has developed a program called global ocean clean-up that pledges that we will remove plastic from the ocean. But he's not a scientist. But the scientific community is kind of now lagging behind society in the eagerness to take a stand and solve the problems.

We need to step up and solve the problems but we also need to communicate the good news: for instance humpback whales, which had been hunted almost to extinction by 1970, have now recovered globally. The population has grown from no more than 200 animals left to more than 40 thousand. And the same has happened with elephant seals and other seals. We don't emphasize enough the achievements that conservation methods have delivered to the ocean. And yes, we have many problems, but if we stop [merely] documenting the problems and we contribute solutions to society, we'll be celebrating Ocean Day in a far more positive manner than we will otherwise be doing.

Sputnik: What can you say about the state of coral? We hear about the Great Barrier Reef, what's going on with that? Can you outline for us some of the positive dynamics?

Carlos M. Duarte: In terms of positive news regarding habitat, since the second half of the 20th century, we lost about 30-40% of major habitats like mangroves, sea grass meadows and the salt marshes and more recently coral reefs. But if we look at the loss rates, for many of these habitats, the loss rates have been reduced and now the losses have stopped. For instance, around Europe we just documented that in the first decade of the century there's been actually a net gain in the sea grass area. So not only have we stopped the losses, but we have reversed the trend and started to see some improvements and increases in salt marshes, sea grass, and mangroves. In corals, the main challenge is the difficulties in the impact with further warming and climate change. But the possible glimpse of hope is that first this is not occurring across the entire globe, so for instance, in the Red Sea, water temperatures are already very high and that's where I do in my research: there, the corals are extremely resilient to very high temperatures.

So by understanding how they can cope with the temperatures 5-7 degrees above those that cause mortality elsewhere, we might be able to manage the future of the other corals in a more positive way. And we've heard about the devastating impact of El Niño warning events on the corals in the Great Barrier Reef, but what we need to communicate also is that there's now evidence of a very healthy recovery only a year and a half after the breaching occurred.

Sputnik: What's the most important thing to concentrate on? This year's Ocean Day concentrates on plastic waste. Is that the biggest threat to oceans right now?

Carlos M. Duarte: No, plastic waste is the one that has gained a lot of popularity but it's by far not the most important problem of the ocean at all. But it's one that is visible to the public because many other pollutants we just need highly sophisticated technology to attain them but a plastic piece in the ocean everybody can see. So that's the power of plastic pollution in terms of raising awareness: we need to build on that awareness to address the whole problem of pollution, but we are now [underscoring] that removing the pressure that we put on the ocean is not enough, and we need to intervene in a mode that is scientifically sound and generates benefits for society.

One of the interventions where we have already demonstrated success is in our capacity to recover habitats. But on some of the fronts, the news that I can convey can't be so optimistic. That would be climate change, where there's really no evidence that we're changing our trajectory; we continue to emit massive amounts of greenhouse gases and we might take a lot of action on habitat restoration but if we don't address the impact on the climate system then those other efforts might be wasted. So we need to also tackle this problem, that possibly is more difficult but also more pressing than plastic pollution, for instance.

More information: Click Here



 

Swimming with the mermaids in Northern Palawan

09 June 2018, Rappler (Philippines)

UP CLOSE. Divers stay 5 meters away from a grazing Aban, a dugong in Northern Palawan. PHOTO CREDIT: Danny Ocampo

This gentle marine mammal living the simplest of lives is one of the best caretakers of our seagrass habitats and the animals that live in them,' says dugong conversationist Dr Teri Aquino

My too-tight wetsuit’s turning into a sauna but I don’t mind. We’re aboard a double-decked dive boat in Calauit Island in oh-too-sunny Northern Palawan and today might finally be the day. Over the years, I’ve met some of the sea’s most amazing residents – from macho tiger sharks to playful dolphins – but one creature has been more elusive than others.

With underwater photographer Danny Ocampo and expert guides from the Tagbanua tribe, we’re finally hoping for some downtime with a dugong.

Dugongs are legendary sea creatures, having inspired lonely seamen’s "sightings" of mermaids (being out at sea for months or years, who can blame them). Their last relatives were Stellar’s sea cows (Hydrodamalis gigas), which were wiped out by hunters just 36 years after being discovered by scientists.

“It’s still early so we have a fairly good chance of sightings. Look for splashes or shadows near the surface,” explains our guide, Dodong Valera. We gaze at our swim-spotter swimming a hundred feet away, homemade plastic fins slapping the sea’s surface. “There are around 30 dugongs in this area. If we’re lucky, we’ll see the largest and friendliest of them all, Aban.”

My brain’s baking from the heat, so I nod absentmindedly and slop seawater inside my wetsuit, trying to cool down. Twenty minutes and a pound of sweat later, the spotter finally gives the signal: target sighted!

Excitedly, we become one with fin and rig and slide gleefully into a vast expanse of seagrass.

Sirenians

Dugongs (Dugong dugon) are distant cousins of elephants, growing up to 3 meters and weighing about 400 kilograms. Also called sea cows, they inhabit shallow waters of the Coral Triangle, wherever seagrass is most abundant. They are the fourth member of the order Sirenia, alongside the three manatee species. A fifth, the gigantic 8-meter long Steller’s sea cow, was completely wiped out by 1768. Dugong comes from the Malay word duyung, which means "lady of the sea."

Sizeable herds of dugongs once plied the Philippine archipelago until hunting and habitat destruction reduced numbers. Populations still hold out in Isabela, Mindanao, Guimaras and Palawan, but encounters are extremely rare.

Dugongs are thought to live as long as humans (about 70 years), but give birth to just one calf every 3 to 5 years. They are globally classified as vulnerable and are considered critically endangered in the Philippines because of their sparse numbers. Prior to our Coron trip, I’ve spent 20 years looking for one – they’re just that rare.

Says dugong conservationist Dr Teri Aquino: “We can learn a lot about sustainable use and responsible stewardship from the dugong. It consumes a lot of seagrass yet leaves the seagrass bed even healthier than before. When feeding, they help release micronutrients from the seabed, making nutrients more accessible for small fish – and this is why we always see fish swimming with dugongs."

"This gentle marine mammal living the simplest of lives is one of the best caretakers of our seagrass habitats and the animals that live in them," Aquino adds.

A famous dugong

After 20 years of waiting, I’m finally face-to-face with a dugong. It’s not like a whale that steals your breath because of sheer size, nor a shark that inspires more than just a hint of fear, no matter how small it is. Dugongs are huge but friendly, just like a mermaid Hodor.

Dodong signals us to keep at least 5 meters away from the obliviously grazing bull, crunching on clumps of Halophila ovalis which, unlike most types of seagrass, has small round leaves instead of flowing grass blades. Dugongs wolf down up to 40 kilograms a day, keeping hectares of seagrass pruned and productive. Danny starts shooting.

Magical minutes pass, then we fin up to leave the meditative mammal be. Incredibly, Aban says goodbye, circling around us on the surface. I wave adios as he dives and disappears into the teal waters. As the animal ambles closer, I notice fighting scars on his hide. This is Aban, confirms Dodong with a nod. Owing to his good nature and natural curiosity, generations of divers have swam and photographed the scarred, 3-meter long dugong, who seems perennially surrounded by colorful golden trevally. I notice his skin is brown and not grey (dugongs only look grey in pictures because they’re usually photographed below 3 meters), his beady eyes and his serene, Siddhartha Gautama-level expression.

Though dugongs are protected by law nationwide, they still get accidentally entangled in fishing gear and drown. The once-vast seagrass meadows they depend on for food are being destroyed by coastal reclamation and pollution. By protecting not just dugongs – but the seagrass meadows that support them – tomorrow’s Pinoys might too get a chance to come face to face with the real mermaids of the sea. (READ: Critically-endangered dugong found dead in Palawan)

We climb back on our boat, exchanging high-fives and fresh tales to share with other environment-lovers. The boat revs its engines and we’re off with big smiles etched on our faces.

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Sinking species

09 June 2018, The Nation (Thailand)

Plastic pollution and unsustainable fishing practices a threat to many marine species; govt spending Bt1.2 bn under plan to tackle crisis.

 

THE SURVIVAL OF rare marine species in Thailand is seriously threatened, as shown by the dwindling overall population of endangered animals such as sea turtles, dugongs, and whale sharks in recent years. On World Ocean Day yesterday, experts identified plastic pollution and unsustainable fishing as the major reasons for the rapid reduction in the number of these endangered marine animals. There was an uproar after recent media reports of the tragic deaths of some animals due to plastic pollution. The Thai government is investing Bt1.2 billion on a five-year plan to tackle marine waste problems and save rare marine species from extinction within a week of the death of a pilot whale in Songkhla province after swallowing eight kilograms of plastic bags. The death made global headlines and also rang alarm bells on the seriousness of the threat of plastic pollution.

On Thursday, a green turtle died due to marine debris in Rayong. A team of veterinarians found that it had consumed large
quantities of plastic waste and other garbage, which clogged its digestive system and led to its death.

Thailand’s leading aquatic animal veterinarian Dr Nantarika Chansue said the deaths of marine animals from consuming plastic waste had been a recurring problem in recent years. “Death from consuming plastic is tragic and agonising for marine animals. These animals are not dying instantly, but it causes sicknesses, bringing about a slow and painful death,” Nantarika said.

She said plastic waste in the sea is one of the main threats to many marine species, especially sea turtles. Plastic is very similar to jellyfish in the eyes of these animals, so they end up consuming plastic, which eventually leads to their death.
“In most cases that we have seen, the animals’ stomachs were full of garbage, because plastic disrupted food absorption and made them eat more and more plastic,” she said.

“Death was caused not only by plastic clogging the digestive system, we found that in many cases the enzymes in the animals’ stomach digested plastic and released toxic chemicals, causing the animals to die from chemical toxicity.”

Nantarika stressed that the problem of plastic waste was a result of human activities. She warned that extinction of many marine species would be inevitable unless swift action was taken to prevent and tackle plastic pollution in the ocean.

Data from the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources (DMCR) revealed that during the five years from 2009 to 2014, the number of dugongs in Thailand had reduced from 240 to 200, while the number of sea turtle nests had declined rapidly from 502 to 329. Another set of data from DMCR showed that some 33,900 to 50,000 tonnes of plastic waste from Thailand ended up in the sea every year.

Nantarika added that destructive fishing equipment and unsustainable fishing were also harming the survival of rare marine animals, as in many cases the turtles, whales, or in the latest case a whale shark, get trapped in the harmful fishing equipment and died. She suggested that the fishermen should have more awareness about the preservation of rare marine species and use fishing equipment that was safer for these animals instead.

The threats to the survival of rare marine animals in Thailand and the severity of plastic pollution have not been ignored by the authorities, Thon Thamrongnawasawat, a national reform and strategy committee member and leading marine biologist, insisted. He revealed that the government had already allocated Bt1.2 billion for a five-year plan to deal with these urgent issues in the national reform plans.

Thon said under the five-year plan to tackle plastic problems in the sea, the government would invest Bt120 million to establish a Marine Debris Disposal Centre to clean up plastic waste from Thai waters with an annual budget of Bt20 million in the first five years.

The government also had allocated Bt360 million for academic research and campaigns on tackling plastic waste, he said. Meanwhile, Bt620 million will be spent on efforts to save and study endangered marine species and fund the work of veterinarian teams.

“The government is investing such a large sum of money in order to achieve two challenging goals – of reducing marine debris by 50 per cent within 10 years, and increasing the survival rate of stranded marine animals by 90 per cent,” he said.

“These efforts are proof that the authorities are taking these problems seriously, so we urge everyone to work together on these efforts to keep our sea clean and preserve our endangered marine animals.”

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FGCU researchers monitor dying seagrass in Estero Bay

08 June 2018, NBC2 News (USA)

Southwest Florida's coastal waters are at risk because of what's happening on dry land.

NBC2 went along with researchers at Florida Gulf Coast University trying to map out dying beds of seagrass in Estero Bay.

In only a few feet of water, college students struggled to see the bottom.

Dr. James Douglass led the team of student researchers near the Bonita Beach Dog Park.

"It was the lowest amount of seagrass that we had ever observed in the areas where we monitor seagrass," he explained. "Also it was the highest amount of seaweed that's harmful algae that's increased by nutrients."

Douglass explained seagrass needs light, but pollution from sewage, septic tanks and runoff from yards and roads helps algae and seaweed thrive, covering the sun's rays.

"There are also organisms that depend on the seagrass to eat like manatees and sea turtles. It's definitely disappointing not to see seagrass."

But Douglass said there is hope. Tampa Bay helped clean the water and bring back seagrass beds. Without similar change, he believes, the lack of seagrass could lead to Estero Bay becoming a murky, algae-covered mess.

Students like Jessica Miller, a Florida native, are keen on learning what they can do to improve the situation.

"It makes me sad because even in my lifetime I've seen a huge change in water quality and seagrass cover and all kinds of stuff," Miller said. "And even when I talk to my grandparents, my parents, they've seen bigger change, so I don't want that downward spiral to keep happening."

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Right-strangled triangle: saving Indonesian seagrass

08 June 2018, Geographical (Indonesia)

The world’s most biodiverse seagrass region – Indonesia’s Coral Triangle – faces ruin from rampant human activities

The seagrass meadows found in the Indonesian part of the Coral Triangle – stretching across 17,500 islands from Sumatra to New Guinea, Borneo to Timor – are believed to be the most biodiverse in the entire oceans. They provide vital food and shelter for marine wildlife, and are an important store of carbon, which, if released, would further accelerate the process of climate change.

But new research has revealed that up to 90 per cent of seagrass meadows in Indonesia have been severely degraded over the past five years. ‘The ecological value of seagrass meadows is irrefutable, yet the loss of these systems in Indonesia is accelerating,’ says Dr Leanne Cullen-Unsworth, a research fellow at Cardiff University and director of the marine environmental charity, Project Seagrass. ‘Seagrass meadows in Indonesia are mostly ignored in the conservation arena. As a result, they’re often not monitored, poorly researched and largely unmanaged, leading to a “tragedy of the seagrass commons”.’

Thanks to human activities such as coastal developments, land reclamation, seaweed cultivation, overfishing, garbage dumping, and sediment run-off, these meadows find themselves endangered right across the archipelago. ‘Our research is for the first time recording how an area of the world so critically important for its biodiversity is rapidly losing a key marine resource,’ outlines Dr Richard Unsworth, a marine ecologist at Swansea University. ‘This loss of seagrass is a terrible problem as the habitats in Indonesia have a major significance for daily food supply and general livelihoods. Without seagrass as a fishery habitat many people in Indonesia would not be able to feed their families on a daily basis.’ Unsworth believes that these trends are likely having similar effects in regional neighbours such as the Philippines, Cambodia and Sri Lanka.

With the acceleration of these detrimental activities, the loss of vast areas of valuable seagrasses is certainly a potential outcome, along with the uniquely high biodiversity that these meadows contain, with only the few species capable of withstanding the dramatic loss of their habitats able to survive. Unsworth points out that examples such as Tampa Bay, Florida, show that improving water quality can help meadows recover, but emphasises that this process can take decades.

A more optimistic example comes from Wakatobi, on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, where Unsworth and Cullen-Unsworth have supported a local NGO’s project to preserve river banks, thereby reducing runoff into threatened seagrass meadows. ‘So far this has been a huge success, and the project has spread to other areas,’ says Unsworth.

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The smallest sea cucumber

07 June 2018, The Hindu (India)

The smallest sea cucumber Thyonina bijui

The Vizhinjam Bay, a busy fishing ground noted for its biodiversity-rich marine ecosystem, is home to the smallest sea cucumber in India, scientists have reported.

Biju Kumar of the Department of Aquatic Biology and Fisheries, University of Kerala, and his student Deepa Pillai stumbled upon the species while scouring the rocky coast during a biodiversity study in 2015.

The animal, which grows to a size of just 2 cm, is named Thyonina bijui, after Biju Kumar.

The specimen was identified as a new species by Professor Ahmed Thandar, School of Life Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, while describing several species of sea cucumbers from the Indian Ocean.

The news about the discovery has been published in the international journal Zootaxa.

According to Dr. Kumar, this is the first species of sea cucumber endemic to the Kerala coast and is known only from Vizhinjam.

The animal inhabits shallow waters and has a barrel-shaped body.

It is reddish brown in colour, with plenty of tube feet all over the dorsal surface.

Sea cucumbers and starfish belong to the group of marine invertebrates called echinoderms.

Of the 179 sea cucumbers reported from India, 37 species have been recorded from the Kerala coast.

Culinary delicacy

The larger species of sea cucumbers are overharvested for export as they are considered one of the culinary delicacies in China and many western countries.

The Government of India has listed all species of sea cucumbers (holothurians) under Schedule 1 of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, imposing a blanket ban on their harvesting from Indian waters.

Occurring only in marine ecosystems, the sea cucumber plays a critical role in ecosystem functioning by recycling nutrients and carbonates.

Often referred to as the earthworms of the sea, these animals are responsible for extensive shifting and mixing of substrate and recycling of sediments into animal tissue and nitrogenous waste which can be taken up by algae and sea grass.

Dr. Kumar feels that detailed investigations of the marine biodiversity of the Kerala coast, especially from the rocky shores and bays, would lead to the discovery of several new species.

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Government's $500m Great Barrier Reef package may have limited impact amid climate change 

04 June May 2018, ABC News (Australia)

In 2016 coral loss was highest in the northern section of the reef where the heatwave was strongest. (Supplied: ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies)

At the end of April a $500 million package to help the Great Barrier Reef was announced by the Federal Government.

It didn't take long for questions to be raised about the decision to give $444 million in funding to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, a small charity with a revenue of only $8 million in 2016.

The funding will be split between improving water quality, supporting reef restoration science, increasing crown-of-thorns starfish control, community engagement and reef monitoring.

But there is no acknowledgement of what scientists argue is the biggest threat facing the reef: climate change.

Without climate action, can this package actually do anything to help the reef?

The answer is no, according to many involved in reef research, management and conservation, including University of Queensland coral biologist Sophie Dove.

"Unless we mitigate the CO2, a lot of the other solutions such as cleaning the water and removing crown of thorns are somewhat immaterial," Dr Dove said.

"All of those things can assist in helping any coral reefs that remain to survive and prosper in the future — but without climate mitigation, I think that's an issue."

Local reef actions must be met halfway

While the funding is a step forward for addressing local pressures on the reef like water quality, it must go hand in hand with national and global emissions reductions, according to Russell Reichelt from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA).

"We're very clear that it is absolutely critical to achieve action globally on climate change, but we're focused on what we can do as the Marine Park Authority in the local region," he said.

The funding was not designed to work on its own, said Dr Reichelt, who chairs the GBRMPA.

"The real solution in the long run is to address rising greenhouse gas concentrations in our atmosphere," he said.

"But we're still left with things that will happen inevitably now, because of the amount of greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere. So there was never a greater imperative that we look for ways to relieve local pressures."

However, some scientists have expressed concern that the funding is targeting some local measures that have not yet been proven effective.

Research fellow Jon Brodie from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies wrote in The Conversation that "one concern with the package is that it seems to give greatest weight to the strategies that are already being tried — and which have so far fallen a long way short of success".

Reef already changed by warming

Across the entire Great Barrier Reef 30 per cent of corals died after the 2016 bleaching event. In the northern third of the reef, where up to 50 per cent of shallow water corals were lost, some corals actually "cooked" because the underwater heatwave was so severe.

The government is avoiding dealing with the root cause of this, which is climate change, said Great Barrier Reef campaigner Imogen Zeethoven from the Australian Marine Conservation Society.

"I wake up at night thinking, what will it take for this Government to respond effectively, if losing 50 per cent of the shallow water corals on the reef isn't enough?" she said.

"They can invest $500 million over six years, but if they do nothing about climate change then it will all be wasted in the end."

Coral ecosystems have already been radically transformed by climate change.

The loss of corals due to the 2016 bleaching has forced some northern reefs to transition to new compositions of corals with less diversity — dominated by slow-growing species with more simple physical structures.

And scientists have already documented changes in reef fish diversity as a result of the coral loss.

New funding is still critical

Echoing these sentiments, CEO of the Australian Institute of Marine Science Paul Hardisty said the $500 million was a good start, but emissions also needed to be addressed.

"On the business-as-usual trajectory … in a few decades there won't be any reefs, or at least reefs as we know them today," Dr Hardisty said.

"If you don't get greenhouse gas emissions under control then no amount of money is any use."

But Dr Hardisty said that didn't mean we should stop funding other local reef protection measures.

"We're past the point where we can say that getting emissions under control will be enough," he said.

"To have healthy reefs that provide trillions of dollars in ecosystem services to humans every year, then you've got to do both, there isn't another option."

By relieving other pressures on the reef such as poor water quality and crown-of-thorns starfish, the reefs of the future will have a better shot at surviving — no matter that form they take.

So where is the simultaneous climate action?

Spending on climate issues was cut in the 2018 budget from $3 billion to $1.6 billion in 2019, and it will be reduced further to $1.25 billion by 2022.

On top of that, the National Energy Guarantee (NEG) has an emissions reduction target of 26 to 28 per cent by 2030, which reef campaigner Imogen Zeethoven said was insufficient.

"A 26 per cent reduction, as proposed by the NEG, matched by all the countries in the world would result in all coral reefs in the world dying," Ms Zeethoven said.

"They need to dramatically upscale their emissions reduction target to match the funding investment that they're putting into the reef."

Dr Reichelt said that advocating for both global and local solutions for the reef was like walking a tightrope.

He said it was a balance between "making sure people understand the underlying cause and the need for global action, as well as not giving up on the reef locally".

"If the reef does survive until the end of the century we'll have a better, more diverse coral reef if we take all these local actions now," he said.

But Dr Hardisty said that didn't mean we should stop funding other local reef protection measures.

"We're past the point where we can say that getting emissions under control will be enough," he said.

"To have healthy reefs that provide trillions of dollars in ecosystem services to humans every year, then you've got to do both, there isn't another option."

By relieving other pressures on the reef such as poor water quality and crown-of-thorns starfish, the reefs of the future will have a better shot at surviving — no matter that form they take.

So where is the simultaneous climate action?

Spending on climate issues was cut in the 2018 budget from $3 billion to $1.6 billion in 2019, and it will be reduced further to $1.25 billion by 2022.

On top of that, the National Energy Guarantee (NEG) has an emissions reduction target of 26 to 28 per cent by 2030, which reef campaigner Imogen Zeethoven said was insufficient.

"A 26 per cent reduction, as proposed by the NEG, matched by all the countries in the world would result in all coral reefs in the world dying," Ms Zeethoven said.

"They need to dramatically upscale their emissions reduction target to match the funding investment that they're putting into the reef."

Dr Reichelt said that advocating for both global and local solutions for the reef was like walking a tightrope.

He said it was a balance between "making sure people understand the underlying cause and the need for global action, as well as not giving up on the reef locally".

"If the reef does survive until the end of the century we'll have a better, more diverse coral reef if we take all these local actions now," he said.

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Santa Rosa County dredging plan is not environmentally sound, federal agency says 

01 June 2018, Pensacola News Journal (USA)

A federal agency says a current Santa Rosa County proposal to dredge channels in Santa Rosa Sound to give nearby residents better boat access fails to meet environmental standards.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued its opinion in an eight-page letter sent to the county earlier this month. It marks the latest chapter in an issue dating to the early 1990s on whether Santa Rosa Shores residents should be allowed to create three navigation channels to serve the subdivision while transplanting native sea grass to a nearby section of the Sound.

The Corps says the county's application for a permit on behalf of approximately 230 Santa Rosa Shores residents is not in compliance with Environmental Protection Agency's standards for the impact on the underwater habitat.

Is there still time to adjust?

However, the Corps' ruling is not final, and it does give the county time to modify its plan.

"Considering the scope and effect of the proposed project on existing resources and the analyses and information SRC has provided to date, my staff would be recommending that the permit be denied," wrote Clif Payne, chief with the Corps' North Permits Branch of the Jacksonville District, in a May 7 letter addressed to since-retired Santa Rosa County Administrator Tony Gomillion.

"I bring this to your attention to allow you the opportunity to modify your project plan to reflect an alternative that would further avoid and minimize impact to the aquatic resources or to add to our record whatever additional information you feel is relevant ... " Payne's letter continued.

Questions, possible alternatives linger

The letter asks the county to address issues of incomplete information from previous Corps requests dating to 2014 and 2016, analysis that fails to consider available alternatives for dredging and unanswered questions on the need and purpose of the project.

Payne wrote the Corps will hold the county's application for 45 days, pending a response. The letter also offers the county an opportunity to meet with Corps staff to address the topics outlined in Payne's letter.

Dan Schebler, who replaced Gomillion as county administrator, said in an email Thursday morning that he is still familiarizing himself with the issue. He received the letter late last week because it had been sent to his predecessor.

The 231 Santa Rosa Shores residents want to dredge 2 aces of seagrass to increase the depth of the neighborhood channels, allowing for boat access to the Sound during low tide.

With the seagrass currently in the channels, the water level is too low for neighborhood boaters to navigate to and from the Sound.

In search of permits

Santa Rosa Shores resident Jeff Pate, chairman of the homeowners' association canal committee, declined to comment on the Corps' letter until the homeowners worked with consultants on a response. 

Pate said the consultants helped the homeowners secure a permit from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection in January 2016.

Pate added the FDEP and the Corps must issue permits for dredging to go forward.

FDEP denied a previous application about a decade ago, and the Corps also denied a previous permit in 2007.

'It almost never works'

Late last year, Pate told the News Journal the neighborhood's residents don't want to upset the ecological system in the Sound, and that's why the permit requests narrowing the channel and relocating the seagrass to an adjacent site.

But the transplant plan doesn't sit well with other environmental scientists, including Ken Heck, a research scientist and marine biologist at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab and the University of South Alabama. Heck, who submitted comments on previous permit applications related to this project, said the seagrass, or turtle grass, "is the best of the best" and the most significant of its kind in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean.

Heck said what makes the grass important is that it's known as a "nursery ground" for a variety of sea life such as shrimp, fish and crabs. These species settle into the grass beds for the first year of their lives where they find shelter "to escape things that like to eat them."

"It shelters a tremendous number of animals," Heck said of the Sound's seagrass.

Heck added the seagrass has been declining dramatically in the Gulf of Mexico, but Santa Rosa Sound retains a healthy population and that status would be jeopardized with transplanting.

"It almost never works," Heck said. "When you dig it up, it's not like sod in a lawn. This stuff is sensitive. They propose to plant another species, but it doesn't provide the same kind of habitat. Destroying that because people like to get a boat on a plain more quickly doesn't seem to be a good trade off."

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