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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

 

 

 

 

 

Virginia's Efforts To Restore Seaside Grasses May Be A Worldwide Model

13 July 2018, WVTF (USA)

Bo Lusk, coastal scientist, at a tank filled with harvested flowering grass shoots at The Nature Conservancy-Virginia Institute of Marine Science project site in Oyster, Virginia PHOTO CREDIT: PAMELA D'ANGEL

Sea grass worldwide is in trouble. Losses are estimated at an area the size of a football field every half-hour.

Along the Atlantic, near the very tip of the DelMarVa Peninsula, scientists and conservationists have been working for a decade to restore one underwater sea grass that succumbed to disease and the hurricane of 1933.

When you hear “bay” you probably think of the Chesapeake Bay. But on the the Atlantic coast of Virginia's Eastern Shore there are tiny coastal bays between the barrier islands where there used to be thousands of acres of lush underwater meadows of eel grass.

Scientists thought they were extinct. Then in 1999 came a discovery. "For the first time in almost 70 years, someone found a small patch of eel grass just east of here behind the north end of Wreck Island," says Bo Lusk, a scientist with the Nature Conservancy who grew up on the Eastern Shore.

Lusk has been working with the Virginia Institute of Marine Science to resurrect eel grass. So far they've planted some 500 acres which has spread to 7,000.

Each spring a team of volunteers snorkel down to harvest flowering grass shoots that contain seeds. Those are put into giant tanks and tended until the seeds are ready to harvest. In the fall they will be spread to other areas.

So, why all the fuss over something that looks a lot like crab grass? Well, besides cleaning the water and providing important habitat for blue crabs, bay scallops, sea horses and other marine life, they protect the Eastern Shore's Atlantic shoreline. "It's like rolling across a thick shag carpet and waves actually lose a significant portion of their energy before they hit marshes and shorelines and helps to reduce erosion rates too," Lusk says.

Across the creek from Lusk is the Virginia Coast Reserve Long Term Ecological Research and the Anheuser-Busch Coastal Research Center of the University of Virginia that have been collecting long-term ecological research data on the grass.

Director Cora Johnston says the replanting effort is paying off to the point that grasses are healthy enough to recover from small die-offs. But a changing climate is bringing stronger storms and bigger heat waves. "If those events start happening more and more frequently, which we expect that they often will, then as those become closer together, there's a potential for that to create conditions that would be insurmountable for the seagrass," Johnston warns.

As the Trump administration considers allowing off-shore oil drilling in Virginia waters, a potential oil spill could prove disastrous for DelMarVa's seaside. "One of the really important reasons for keeping this area protected is that it is one of our last sentinel sites that allows us to see how these dynamics play out naturally," Johnston says. "But then to be able to translate that knowledge to understanding what's happening on other coastlines and how we can make coastlines more resilient in general as climate changes and as sea-level changes."

Scientists also point out that water quality is key to restorations efforts, in the Atlantic and on the Chesapeake Bay side of Virginia's Eastern Shore.

More information: Click Here


 

Beautiful science

05 July 2018, The Straits Times (Singapore)

Although seagrass covers less than 0.2 per cent of the world's oceans, these meadows of marine flowering plants - such as the one at Pulau Hantu (above) - provide nursing and foraging grounds for invertebrates and fish that support fisheries around the world.

According to a recent study, a fifth of the world's biggest fisheries for species like the Atlantic cod and walleye pollock rely on healthy seagrass meadows. Other animals that have subsistence and commercial value for such fisheries include tiger prawns, conch and the white spotted rabbitfish.

By providing juvenile fish with abundant food and shelter, the meadows ensure that the creatures can later migrate into deeper habitats, where they are fished by both industrial and small-scale fisheries. However, scientists say seagrass habitats are experiencing a rapid decline, with an estimated 7 per cent loss of global seagrass meadows each year.

Dr Richard Unsworth, research officer at the Seagrass Ecosystem Group of Britain's Swansea University and the author of the study, said: "There is a global rapid decline of seagrass, and when seagrass is lost, there is strong evidence globally that fisheries and their stocks often become compromised with profound negative economic consequences." He added: "To make a change, awareness of seagrass' role in global fisheries production must pervade the policy sphere.

We urge that seagrass requires targeted management to maintain and maximise its role in global fisheries production."

More information: Click Here


 

Marine plant damage costly for Sunshine Coast company

04 July 2018, My Sunshine Coast (press release)

A Sunshine Coast company which damaged protected marine plants of cultural significance to the local Indigenous community has been convicted and fined more than $29,000 in the Maroochydore Magistrates Court.

Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries Mark Furner said the detection of the offences and the fines imposed sent a clear message that the wilful damage of marine plants and the rights of traditional owners would not be tolerated.

“Queensland is blessed with a highly diverse range of marine plant species and a rich Indigenous cultural heritage neither of which should be taken for granted or abused,” Mr Furner said.

“Effectively managing and protecting all marine plants is vital in ensuring sustainable fish habitats and fisheries production whilst preserving precious links to ancient stories and traditions helps maintain Indigenous cultural identity for future generations.

“That is why the Fisheries Act 1994 has clear protections for marine plants and the QBFP has appointed Cultural Liaison officers to help protect our precious marine resources.”

Queensland Boating and Fisheries Patrol (QBFP) District Officer Russell Overton said the penalty highlighted the high level of protection placed on marine plants and the serious effect of wilful damage on the rights of traditional owners.

“The Kabi Kabi, who are recognised as native title holders, use the Maroochy River and its flood plains for traditional purposes, including collecting food, fibre resources for making implements, bags and nets, finding traditional medicines and a gathering place,” Mr Overton said.

“In a statement to the court, the Kabi Kabi First Nation people said the changed landscape from the destruction and damage to the marine plants had caused harm to the Maroochy River dreamtime story.

“QBFP has appointed Cultural Liaison officers to help develop a better understanding of the values Aboriginal and Torres Strat Islanders place on fisheries resources.

“This better understanding will assist in ensuring these values are protected under the Fisheries Act 1994.”

Mr Overton said QBFP commenced an investigation after receiving a complaint in June 2016 about possible damage to marine plants at a private property on the Maroochy River.

“Waste building material was initially observed spread out over an area low lying land adjacent to a creek at the property,” Mr Overton said.

“Fill was subsequently placed on the property to cover the waste building material and an additional area containing plants growing in the adjacent wetland area.

“This unlawful activity resulted in the damage or destruction of marine plants over an area of more than 620 square metres of land.”

Mr Overton said all marine plants were protected under provisions of the Fisheries Act 1994 which prohibit the destruction, damage or removal of marine plants without prior approval.

“Protection applies to all marine plants regardless of whether they grow on privately or publicly owned land,” Mr Overton said.

“Marine plants are a fundamental part of fish habitat and a vital natural resource that help sustain fish for the future for commercial, traditional and recreational fishing.

“Disturbances can disrupt the estuarine food chain and lead to long term decline in fish production and general aquatic health.”

Marine plants include mangroves, seagrass, salt couch grass, succulent plants, samphire plants, saltmarsh plants, grass-sedge wetland plants (grasses, rushes and sedges), melaleuca (paper barks) and casuarina (coastal she-oaks) and algae.

Unacceptable impacts to marine plants include any unauthorised activities such as pruning or trimming mangroves on any land; reclaiming or filling tidal land; dumping rubbish on tidal land; mowing or burning marine plants; collecting mangrove timber or seagrass either dead or alive; modifying fish habitats and dredging tidal lands.

More information: Click Here


 

Boaters warned to stay off protected seagrass beds along Florida's coast

03 July 2018, ABC Action News (USA)

Seagrass might not seem like a big deal to most people but biologists say that it drives Florida’s economy.

Grass is a crucial part of life on land, and the same holds true underwater.

"It's a critical base food chain that provides food for all the animals here along the coast," said Keith Kolasa, director of Hernando County Waterways.

That’s why seagrass is protected. It’s what manatees and turtles live on, and what fish live in.
But boats can destroy it. Many grass bed areas have “scarring” where boats have dropped their anchors or grounded and ripped away the grass.

"It won’t grow back at all or it’ll take 10 to 12 years for the grass beds to fill back in," said Kolasa.

The Nature Coast has the second largest seagrass beds in the nation and they want to keep it that way. That’s why Hernando County is placing buoys around areas of heavy boat traffic, to keep boaters off the grass, because without it Florida would not be thriving.

"Our waters would be turbid, it would look more like the waters around Louisiana. So it's critical to protect where we can especially in areas we know boaters are impacting it," said Kolasa.

Kolasa says boaters who go into protected seagrass areas could face fines.

More information: Click Here


 

Beautiful science

05 July 2018, The Straits Times (Singapore)

Although seagrass covers less than 0.2 per cent of the world's oceans, these meadows of marine flowering plants - such as the one at Pulau Hantu (above) - provide nursing and foraging grounds for invertebrates and fish that support fisheries around the world.

According to a recent study, a fifth of the world's biggest fisheries for species like the Atlantic cod and walleye pollock rely on healthy seagrass meadows. Other animals that have subsistence and commercial value for such fisheries include tiger prawns, conch and the white spotted rabbitfish.

By providing juvenile fish with abundant food and shelter, the meadows ensure that the creatures can later migrate into deeper habitats, where they are fished by both industrial and small-scale fisheries. However, scientists say seagrass habitats are experiencing a rapid decline, with an estimated 7 per cent loss of global seagrass meadows each year.

Dr Richard Unsworth, research officer at the Seagrass Ecosystem Group of Britain's Swansea University and the author of the study, said: "There is a global rapid decline of seagrass, and when seagrass is lost, there is strong evidence globally that fisheries and their stocks often become compromised with profound negative economic consequences." He added: "To make a change, awareness of seagrass' role in global fisheries production must pervade the policy sphere.

We urge that seagrass requires targeted management to maintain and maximise its role in global fisheries production."

More information: Click Here


 

Dispersion of seagrasses via vegetative fragments

02 July 2018, Phys.Org (Singapore)

Figure shows the seagrass fragment transport conceptual model with seven distinct steps: (i) fragment formation, (ii) transport, (iii) decay, (iv) substrate contact, (v) settlement, (vi) establishment and (vii) dislodgement. PHOTO CREDITt: Seagrass images adapted from Catherine Collier, Integration and Application Network, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (ian.umces.edu/imagelibrary/)

NUS marine biologists have developed a model describing the dispersal of seagrass via vegetative fragments for the ecological engineering of coastlines.

Seagrasses form vast meadows that are home to a great diversity of marine species. They are also one of the most valuable coastal habitats in the world, and provide a multitude of ecosystem services including coastal protection, nutrient cycling, carbon sequestration, and providing nurseries for fish and shellfish. Seagrass dispersal (i.e. how seagrasses spread to new areas) is critical to their long-term survival. However, knowledge on long-distance dispersal mechanisms is mostly related to sexual propagules, i.e. fruits. Dispersal via vegetative fragments has mostly been overlooked. Vegetative fragments are pieces of the seagrass plant that include rhizomes, roots and shoots. Following detachment from the parent plant, these can re-establish elsewhere to create a new independent plant. While there is evidence that such a process might be important for dispersal, little is known about the mechanisms involved. A better understanding of these dispersal mechanisms can eventually help researchers model how seagrass meadows remain connected, which is crucial for prioritising areas for conservation.

A research team led by Prof Peter TODD from the Department of Biological Sciences, NUS, partnered with scientists from DHI Singapore and the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research to develop a conceptual model for seagrass dispersal via vegetative fragments which involves several distinct fundamental steps. Researchers are able to piece them together in a model to predict where seagrasses are able to disperse and take root.

The research team found that both settlement (the fragment remains on the substrate) and establishment (the fragment takes root in the substrate) rates increased with fragment age before these rates decrease due to decay. This suggests there may be a window of opportunity during which settlement and establishment are optimal, i.e. when the fragment has enough time to float away from the parent meadow, but not too long that it decays, loses viability and is no longer able to establish. Different species were also found to have different settlement and establishment rates. Out of the four seagrass species tested, the species Halophila ovalis was found to settle and establish quicker and more successfully than others. While the mechanisms that enable it to settle and establish more quickly are not apparent, this trait could contribute to its success as a pioneering species, especially in areas of newly accumulated sediment.

Prof Todd said, "The findings help determine the dispersal potential of different seagrass species and the kind of conditions needed for successful dispersal. This research represents significant progress in our understanding of how seagrasses can disperse without sexual propagules and has important implications for their conservation and management."

More information: Click Here


 
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