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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

 

 

 

 

 

Locals Committed to Protecting Dugong in Raja Ampat

30 May 2017, Tempo.co (West Papua)

Indigenous people in Aduwei village in Raja Ampat, West Papua are committed to protecting dugongs.

Adewei village chief Karel Fatot said that dugongs are easily found in the waters off the village. “Indigenous people are protecting dugongs and other marine species with a tradition the locals call Sasi,” he said yesterday, May 29, in Sorong.

He explained that Sasi is a traditional prohibition on catching dugongs and fish in the waters off the village. “People may only catch fish in the waters off the village after the Sasi period ends or Sasi is revoked. Sasi typically applies for six months in a year,” he said.

According to him, people may catch fish after the end of Sasi period but may not hunt dugongs.

Locals protect dugongs because the animals attract tourists.

He said that Aduwei village in Raja Ampat boasts a beautiful marine attraction and tourists can easily interact with dugongs. He, however, bemoaned the lack of transport modes in the area and marketing campaign to draw visitors.

More information: Click Here


 

 

Sea cucumber stocks dwindling in Seychelles

30 May 2017, Seychelles News Agency (Seychelles)

The sea cucumber species is the most regulated of all fisheries in the Seychelles, but given the fact that it has been exploited over the years, the stock has dwindled and today it is barely seen along the shoreline.

There are, however, other factors, which have caused the depletion of the sea cucumber, such as heroine abuse by divers, unauthorised fishing, climate change and piracy.

SNA met with Ellisa Socrate, the fisheries officer at the Seychelles Fishing Authority (SFA), to explore these issues and talk about the way forward toward a permanent solution.

SNA: Local fishermen say their catch for sea cucumber are declining even though they are in deeper waters for a longer time. Can you confirm if that is the case?

ES: The sea cucumber fisheries have been operating on a semi-industrial level since the year 2000. At the same time, the Seychelles’ waters were infiltrated with Somali pirates, coupled with the entry of heroine abuse in the industry. These factors contributed negatively to industry. Presently only half of the licensed vessels are in operation and is mainly due to unavailability of Seychellois divers and skippers.

As the sea cucumber is being exploited for almost 20 years, the stock is no longer a “virgin stock.” The species also change its habitat as one of their innate defensive mechanism and tend to gravitate to areas where they feel safe from predators, in this particular case humans predators.

SNA: Has the authority assessed the level of depletion?

ES: The first stock assessment study was done in 2002-2004 and the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) limits were estimated for the main species targeted. However, the result of the stock assessment was contested by the different stakeholders. They were not directly involved or consulted in the survey methodology.

In 2012, Marine Resources Assessment Group (MRAG) from the U.K did a second stock assessment of the sea cucumber in Seychelles and provided recommendations for management and research to the SFA.

Following the assessment in 2012, SFA reviewed the management measures for the fishing of sea cucumber and with the agreement of the stakeholders the plan was revised after three years of enhanced data collection. Another scientific study is anticipated to take place this year.

SNA: What important role does this species play in our ecology?

ES: Sea cucumber plays a very important role in marine ecosystem. Due to their feeding nature, they could potentially play a significant ecological role in the recycling of nutrients. Additionally, their waste may stimulate micro algal production, thus helping to maintain high rates of productivity.

SNA: People say they see the black sea cucumber (Banbara Lakol) along the coast mainly on sea grass. What has happened to the population of this species?

ES: Licensed sea cucumber fishermen have voluntarily agreed not to target sea cucumber within the reefs to the shores of our main granitic Islands - for several years now. They say that the coastal species namely ‘Banbara Lakol’ and others have a low value. They also decided not to harvest near the shoreline, as these areas are easily accessible to anyone, pick knickers and others. Plus these areas are being constantly targeted by some foreign workers wanting to have their own sea cucumber supplies. Some of them have often been apprehended at the airport upon departure with illegally caught sea cucumber.

SNA: Is there enough ecological knowledge available and provided to fishermen to ensure the sustainability of this species?

ES: The Seychelles does not have enough ecological knowledge available, but it is to be noted that the five targeted species are basically deep water ones and worldwide there is not enough sufficient scientific and ecological knowledge of same. However, SFA in collaboration with AMSSI is in the process of conducting more in-depth scientific study this year, to have a much better scientific understanding of the ecology of our sea cucumber species.

SNA: Is the export level of this species maintained at a standard volume?

ES: Export level depends on volume harvested. The sea cucumber processors are working at 50 percent capacity -- the same level of export is to be expected.

SNA: Are there statics available on the domestic trade and consumption?

ES: The domestic market consumes a bare minimum of the sea cucumber harvested. More than 99 percent is exported to overseas market, bringing foreign exchange into the country’s economy.

SNA: What are the guidelines in place to regulate the collection of the sea cucumber in the Seychelles’ water?

ES: Sea cucumber is the most regulated of all fisheries in Seychelles and fishing license conditions contains more than 30 articles. After the SFA and the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) study of 2002-2004, the authority decided to cap reduce the licenses to 25.

Over the years, SFA and everyone involved with industry have seen the need to have a co-management approach guided by a Management Advisory Committee (MAC). This approach is crucial given for them to feel part of the decision process and in fishing management of the species.

SNA: Will the authority look into ways to enhance the population of this species?

ES: Any positive and constructive approach with regards to further strengthening of the stock will be considered. However, careful consideration should be taken when dealings with issues of mari-culture/aquaculture or even restocking. The places that have successfully in sea cucumber farming are technically breading rather shallow species.

The industry is targeting deep water species and not much research or studies with regards to the breeding and farming of these species has yet been done but the possibility of rearing such species should not be overlooked if it arises in the future. SFA is currently finalising its Mari-culture master plan of which sea cucumber farming is also included.

More information:Click Here


 

 

Noted veterinarian backs satellite tracking of dugongs after NSTDA suspends project

29 May 2017, The Nation (Thailand)

Chulalongkorn University Veterinary Medical Aquatic Animals Research Centre director Nantarika Chansue has said that a scheme to fit dugongs with satellite transmitters was not harmful to the animals.

She also said the tracking programme would benefit future research and conservation of the marine mammals in the Trang Sea and help to reduce mortality rates.

Nantarika’s comments on Monday followed an earlier announcement by the Pathum Thani-based National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA) on its website that it would suspend the fitting of transmitters on to dugongs at Hat Chao Mai National Park’s Koh Mook on the grounds that the technology was involved in unresolved disputes over reported negative impacts.

The NSTDA, which is sponsoring the research project, said it had decided to end the tracking programme while urging stakeholders to contribute to the sustainable conservation of dugongs. Chulalongkorn veterinarians had been participating in the project by conducting health checks and collecting blood samples.

Nantarika said the research team prioritised the safety of dugongs, while research methods were subjected to careful scrutiny and conformed to international standards.

She also cited medical reports that showed the stress hormone levels in dugongs’ blood did not exceed normal levels as they were fitted with transmitters.

“While people might feel otherwise, the scientific test gives clear evidence [about the dugongs’ stable health],” she said adding that officials had not just relied on data from the trackers but had dived with the dugongs to observe their behaviour.

She said the data on dugong behaviour and migration patters would help to formulate a better conservation strategy based on zone management. She added that many villagers had joined in conservation efforts to ensure dugong habitat would not be disturbed by human activities.

Dugong deaths that had been blamed on the satellite transmitters were actually caused by them getting caught in fishing equipment, Nantarika said, adding that fishermen should refrain from casting nets in conservation areas if they wanted to spare the marine mammal.

More information:Click Here



 

Sites identified for Dugong conservation in Trang

26 May 2017, TheStarTV.com (Thailand)

 

Local authorities in Trang have identified several key areas along the province’s coastline as Dugong conservation areas. Dugong sightings are common in the area and three of such animals have been tagged with satellite tracking devices to monitor their movement.

More information:Click Here


 

 

Parks Dept orders dugong project to be revised

25 May 2017, Bangkok Post (Thailand)

The Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation has ordered Hat Chao Mai's national park chief to revise the dugong monitoring project in Trang province after an activist group lodged complaint, saying equipment used in the project could endanger the rare species.

The three-month project started in April. Satellite tracking tools have been attached to three dugongs in the area as scientists study their behaviour and habitat

Parkpoom Witantirawat, coordinator of the Saving Andaman Network Foundation, who opposes the project, said some dugongs have moved out of the national park to Libong island since the study started.

He said the satellite tracking device could be dangerous as its long cords could get caught around fishing equipment. He said it did not make sense to monitor three dugongs especially when local fishermen have been working closely to protect the animal by setting aside an area of 100,000 rai to protect its habitat. They avoid using any fishing equipment in the area which could be harmful to the mammal.

However, he admitted some kinds of fishing equipment not friendly to dugongs can still be found, so further talks are needed with fishermen.

Thailand has about 160 dugong, with five or six dying a year. More than 90% are living in the Libong Non Hunting Area and the rest in Hat Chao Mai National Park.

Sontham Suksawang, director of the National Park Office, said the department was worried about conflicts between forest officials and locals over the dugong.

"The national park's chief has acknowledged the department's concerns and understands we need scientific research and local participation. Research should be done based on local acceptance," he said.

He said the department has suggested the Hat Chao Mai National Park chief could review the project or the satellite microchips could be removed.

The project is carried out with the support of the National Science and Technology Development Agency, with the aim of studying the dugong's habitat so the department can set up a proper management zone for the species, which is now at risk of extinction due to the harm inflicted by fishing devices.

Manoch Wongsuryrat, chief of the Hat Chao Mai National Park, wrote on Facebook recently the project was being carried out under the supervision of scientists from Chulalongkorn University.

He said the research team was striving to protect the dugong population based on scientific methods.

More information:Click Here


 

 

Call to remove seagrass

5 May 2017, Courier Mail (Australia)

BRISBANE City Councillor Peter Cumming (Wynnum-Manly) has started a petition calling on the council to remove seagrass from the Wynnum foreshore.

It comes after complaints from residents and a Wynnum Herald front-page story on March 22.

“I am asking that there be an established system that when and if the dead seagrass appears, that council staff have the necessary permits to remove it and not have to wade through large amounts of paperwork each time,” Cr Cumming said.

“Council needs to establish a continuous agreement with the State Government for the removal of the dead seagrass.”

When the smell appeared, Wynnum woman Julie Bergin raised concerns about the impact on tourism.

“How embarrassing to bring outsiders to our beautiful waterfront and have to explain what the foul smell is,” she said. The petition closes on ¬October 13.

More information: Click Here


 

 

Baby dugongs' return to Great Barrier Reef suggests vital seagrass recovering from Cyclone Yasi

23 May 2017, ABC Local (Australia)

A dugong calf and mother swimming. Scientists are buoyed by the return of dugong calves and mothers to the reef. Photo Credit: Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority

An increase in the number of baby dugongs on the Great Barrier Reef suggests seagrass ecosystems are recovering well after recent flood and cyclone events.

A James Cook University report on the distribution and abundance of dugongs and turtles on the southern Great Barrier Reef, between Hinchinbrook Island and southern Queensland, showed the number of dugong calves had gone from zero per cent after Cyclone Yasi in 2011 to ten per cent of the visible population in late 2016.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority's (GBRMPA) Roger Beeden said the fact that dugongs are reproducing suggests their ecosystem is in better health.

"Because they have obviously found enough seagrass to sustain them and not only to sustain their growth but also to be able to reproduce," Dr Beeden said.

Mammal easier to count than blades of grass

Seagrass is the primary food source for dugongs and sea turtles, and seagrass beds are used by many fish and marine species as a nursery.

It can be tricky to assess the health of seagrass habitats as inshore beds can be hard to access, but Dr Beeden said dugongs are easy to spot in aerial surveys and give an indication of seagrass health.

"They are a really useful supplement to what happens with programs looking at seagrass numbers themselves," Dr Beeden said.

It has been shown that seagrass meadows can recover well from cyclone damage but Dr Beeden said there were concerns after Cyclone Yasi and subsequent floods escalated the impacts of repeated damage.

"For example in Cleveland Bay, which is just offshore from Townsville, the magnitude of the effect of those cyclones was very substantial — not just on the standing crop of seagrass but also on the seeds of the seagrass which were in the sand," Dr Beeden said.

"So we were very concerned about what the return time and health of those seagrass systems was going to be."

WWF calls for more net-free zones

Dugongs' conservation status is vulnerable and it is believed that most of the world's dugong population lives in Australian waters.

It estimated there were 5,500 dugongs on the southern Great Barrier Reef in late 2016.

World Wildlife Fund fisheries' Jim Higgs said the presence of dugong calves was good news, but said more net-free zones were needed to enable dugongs to safely travel between feeding grounds.

"From Cairns south, dugong numbers now are only about 5 per cent of what they were in the early 1960s," Mr Higgs said.

"The recovery of dugongs is great news but there is a long way to go."

The JCU dugong survey was conducted as part of a report for the GBRMPA on the distribution of dugongs and marine turtles in Moreton Bay, Hervey Bay, and the southern Great Barrier Reef.

More information: Click Here


 

 

Great Barrier Reef under watchful eye of drones piloted by Queensland rangers

22 May 2017, ABC Online (Australia)

A team of Indigenous rangers is being trained to use drones to monitor the health of the Great Barrier Reef.

The Yuku Baja Muliku Rangers will also use the high-tech equipment to survey 22,500 hectares of country around Archer Point, near Cooktown in far north Queensland's Cape York.

It is the first time an Indigenous ranger group in Queensland has received certification from the Civil Aviation Safety Authority to use drones commercially.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Authority's (GBRMPA) drone pilot Andrew Denzin has been training three rangers at the Archer Point site and said they have recently completed their first maiden mission.

He said a tiny camera fitted to the 1.3-kilogram drone would help rangers to view areas never seen before.

"It will allow them to map their country in greater detail and monitor any changes over time," Mr Denzin said.

The Archer Point site was chosen because it is considered a "marine highway" for several endangered species of turtles on their way to Raine Island — one of the largest turtles nesting sites in the world, off the far north Queensland coast.

Yuku Baja Muliku Rangers manager Mick Hale said he was excited about the program.

"It's really going to help us with our environmental work, being able to get to areas that we can't access by vehicle and sometimes by boat," Mr Hale said.

The Archer Point site was chosen because it is considered a "marine highway" for several endangered species of turtles on their way to Raine Island — one of the largest turtles nesting sites in the world, off the far north Queensland coast.

Yuku Baja Muliku Rangers manager Mick Hale said he was excited about the program.

"It's really going to help us with our environmental work, being able to get to areas that we can't access by vehicle and sometimes by boat," Mr Hale said.

More information: Click Here


 

 

City hires consultant for Lake Wyman seagrass survey

23 May 2017 Sun Sentinel (USA)

Look for a boat and scuba divers in the next few weeks on the Intracoastal Waterway in front of James A. Rutherford and Lake Wyman parks in Boca Raton.

The city has hired a consultant to do a sea grass survey and approved access to a possible spoil site in Spanish River Park, the first two steps in the revived Lake Wyman Restoration Project.

"This is about a three-year project and it will take time to fully develop the plan and at least a year to obtain permits," said Jennifer Bistyga, the city's coastal program manager.

Boca Raton City Council authorized the moves last October after Bistyga presented council, three advisory boards, neighbors and other groups with two options to reconfigure the original plan. That plan stalled in 2012 from strong community opposition after funding was already in place.

Now the city has hired the longtime coastal consultant Applied Technology & Management Inc. to do the sea grass survey and provide professional architectural services, according to the contract.

"The survey can only be done in the summer time. We don't have the first work order issued yet and hopefully in June or July we'll have that survey completed," Bistyga said.

"We have to map where there is sea grass to see if there will be any components that will be impacted," she added. "We want to design the project to have minimal impacts, so we need to know where the sea grasses are."

Mapping the sea grass is also "a critical step for permitting from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection," she said. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is the other government agency the city will work with on permitting.

The city applied for a $320,000 grant from the Florida Inland Navigation District for Phase I of the project to meet the March 31 deadline set by the district, according to the authorization.

"The city anticipates a maximum cost-sharing with FIND of up to 50 percent or $142,500," according to the document.

Phase I will cover engineering, permitting, revitalization of the canoe trails and boardwalks in both parks and developing a coastal hammock along the FIND property in Lake Wyman, the document said.

"We'll see what works best there," Bistyga said about the coastal hammock. "We'll remove the exotics, but the design is not there yet. We have conceptual ideas."

As part of the agreement, FIND had always asked for access to Spanish River Park where the agency has a parcel, Bistyga said.

"The FIND parcel was a designated site and a spoil site [for dredging] they could use from time to time and then restore to preexisting conditions. They may never utilize that."

More information: Click Here


 

 

Dugong face risk of food decline

17 May 2017, The Star Online (Malaysia)

Diminishing greens: Seagrass, which makes up a dugong’s main diet, can be found along the Tebrau Straits near Gelang Patah, Johor.

Johor is in danger of losing its seagrass along the coastline, which will have a negative impact on sea creatures, particularly dugong.

Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) faculty of geoinformation and real estate researcher Dr Syarifuddin Misbari said Johor was home to at least 12 of the world’s 60 seagrass species.

There is a 20km to 30km stretch in Johor waters where seagrass can be found in abundance, mainly in the eastern and southern parts of the coast.

“Despite the murky waters in the east of Johor, people can still see the seagrass at the Merambong shoal during low tide,” Dr Syarifuddin told The Star.

The Merambong shoal is situated between Johor and Singapore, along the Tebrau Straits near Gelang Patah.

“This area is the biggest seagrass area within Malaysian waters. It is about 2km long with a width of 700m and is home to at least 10 seagrass species,” he said.

He added that various factors, including development, had contributed to the decline in seagrass.

Dr Syarifuddin pointed out that the area is a known hotspot for dugong, a protected animal, as the mammal eats the seagrass there.

“Besides development, other factors include water quality and the presence of boats and heavy vessels along the eastern and southern Johor waters.

“This is also a major factor because the animal is shy and does not like the sound of ships or boats,” he said.

He said a dugong’s diet consists mainly of seagrass and a healthy adult dugong weighing 300kg consumes about 30kg of the plant daily.

“We have been conducting research with a group from Tokyo Metropolitan University in Japan. We have been using satellite images to map dugong sightings in Johor waters for the past four years,” he said.

Dr Syarifuddin added that the state government’s move to establish the Johor Marine Park near Pulau Tinggi and Pulau Sibu off the coast of Mersing was a good one as the water was cleaner, there was no development and heavy vessels did not ply those waters, making it an ideal location for dugong.

“Seagrass is important for our ecology. It is a natural defence to stop erosion around mangroves and is a natural habitat for dugong, sea turtles and other sea creatures.

“We will give our research results to the authorities in the hope of creating awareness of the importance of seagrass conservation.

“It will also help in the conservation of dugong in our waters,” he said.

It was reported that the carcass of an adult dugong was found at Pulau Tinggi near Mersing on April 21.

The state government is in the process of gazetting the area as a dugong sanctuary.

More information: Click Here


 

 

2017 Survey results show seagrass thriving in Sarasota Bay

15 May 2017, WWSB ABC 7 (USA)

Sarasota's third annual Seagrass Survey shows seagrasses continue to thrive in Sarasota Bay.

In April, Sarasota County scientists, along with citizen volunteers, analyzed seagrasses out in Sarasota Bay.

They took photos and used a new app on their phones to identify the type of seagrass and where it was located.

Now the results are available and they show the most common species of seagrasses at this time are turtle grass, manatee grass, and shoal grass.

The majority of the bay only had about 30 percent of drift algae. Drift algae colonies can cause seagrass beds to die or prevent growth.

Overall, seagrasses in Sarasota Bay have been expanding since 1990.

More information: Click Here


 

 

Dugong sanctuary at Pulau Sibu soon

15 May 2017, The Sun Daily (Malaysia)

The state government is in the process of setting up a Dugong sanctuary at Pulau Sibu, Mersing, said Datuk Ayub Rahmat.

The Johor Health and Environment, Education and Information committee chairman said the sanctuary will provide a safe haven for the dugong and protect its seagrass habitats.

He was replying to a question from Abd. Razak Minhat (BN-Serom) in the state assembly here today.

Ayub said more small islands in Mersing are being gazetted as Taman Laut Malaysia under the Fisheries Act 1985, as measures to protect sealife in the Johor waters.

The population of these marine mammals have been on the decline for some time due to sea water pollution that caused damage to seagras, which is the primary source of food for the marine life.

It was reported that about 40 to 50 dugong remain in the waters off the east coast of the state in Kota Tinggi, Mersing, Pulau Sibu and Pulau Tinggi in Johor.

The sightings of dugong carcasses is not uncommon on the islands off Johor, the latest being the carcass of a dugong that was found washed ashore at Pulau Tinggi in April this year.

He told the assembly that the growth of coral reefs and the fish population in the Sultan Iskandar Marine Park (TLSI), Mersing, is estimated to rise by 30% following the placement of artificial reefs in the area.

He said the increase was noted through observations made in the area last month.

"The artificial reefs were placed in the TLSI waters as a long-term measure to overcome depleting fish sources. It is also an alternative to replacing coral reefs as breeding grounds for fish and to protect marine life," he said.

More information: Click Here


 

 

Researchers revive three-decade-old study on manatee seagrass impacts

12 May 2017, Florida Today (USA)

This August 1992 shot shows locations of saeagrass exclosures, open plots and an observation tower within the study site in Banana River at the Kennedy Space Center. The photograph was taken the second year of the study. Area A (including plots A Open and A Exclosed) was the ‘shelf’ to the west of the observation tower; Area B (including plots B Open and B Exclosed) extended to the north and east of the observation tower (photo credit: authors). (b) Sampling design for determination of species composition in the 4 study plots. The ends of 5 transects were permanently marked (T1−T5). In each of 12 sample periods, the numbers of subquadrats occupied by Syringodium filiforme and Halodule wrightii were counted in every other 1 m2 quadrat (shown in gray) on the right of each transect Photo Credit: Lynn Lefebvre,*, Jane Provancha, Daniel Slone, W. Judson Kenworthy

Does Indian River Lagoon's most voracious vegan gobble up too much seagrass?

To lend insight into that question, Lynn Lefebvre came out of retirement to dust off and publish a nearly three-decade-old manatee study she conducted with colleagues in the shallows off NASA's Kennedy Space Center.

She'd retired in 2011, right as conditions in the lagoon hit the fan, with a series of seagrass-killing algae blooms and hundreds of mysterious manatee, dolphin and pelican deaths.

Lefebvre returned as a part-time volunteer at the U.S. Geological Survey in Gainesville, to bring full circle research that's relevant in today's endlessly-contentious debate over the status of Florida's most iconic threatened species and its impact on the lagoon. Even back in the early 1990s, Lefebvre and the team she led at the USGS's Sirenia Project wanted to know if manatees in certain parts of the lagoon grazed seagrass faster than the lagoon could grow it back.

As is common in science, the answer depends.

"I would say manatees are not having a lasting impact ... on a normal system," Lefebvre said.

But the lagoon has strayed far from normal since 2011, when the worst known algae bloom on record killed off about two-thirds of the lagoon's seagrass.

"We're just not sure yet what this long-term impact will be," Lefebvre said.

The study, recently published in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series, included researchers from USGS, InoMedic Health Applications, Inc., Kennedy Space Center, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

We caused part of the sea cow's plight. Humans lured manatees into harms way during wintertime, when seagrass is more scarce and cold water can sicken and kill the marine mammals. Manatees migrate to natural warm water refuges like freshwater springs but also to artificial ones, such as the discharge zones at power plants.

Hundreds of manatees gather flipper-to-flipper each winter at the two lagoon-side power plants in Port St. John, keeping them farther north than they'd otherwise be. Before power plants, manatees seldom migrated farther north than Sebastian Inlet on the east coast and Charlotte Harbor on the west coast, biologists say. That puts them in areas with scant seagrass during cooler months.

Manatee herds in some areas of the lagoon have been known to graze on and disturb up to 40 percent of the seagrass beds, research shows, removing 80 to 96 percent of the seagrass and 50 to 67 percent of the roots, Lefebvre's paper notes.

One 1991 study in the northern Banana River by an environmental consultant to NASA found manatees significantly reduced seagrass within just six weeks.

Because of Kennedy Space Center, the north Banana River has been closed to boating since 1963, making it a manatee mecca where sea cow numbers had ballooned to more than 1,200 manatees by 2014. But several severe algae blooms in the past six years killed off a majority of the seagrass manatees rely upon in the Banana River.

Manatees huddle together in the canal off of DeSoto Parkway in Satellite Beach trying to stay warm during cold spells. Photo Credit: MALCOLM DENEMARK/FLORIDA TODAY

During healthier times for the lagoon in the early 1990s, Lefebvre and her colleagues wanted to know the distribution, abundance and makeup of various seagrass species and how they naturally recover from manatee grazing.

So in October 1990, they set up two 13-by-13-meter fenced-in areas to keep manatees out and two paired open plots of equal size in the Banana River at Kennedy Space Center.

That field work became the basis of the research paper they would publish 27 years later.

The researchers made their own cattle panels out of galvanized steel water pipes to keep sea cows out, but providing wide openings between the metal barnacle-resistant bars to allow water flow and fish and other marine life to pass through.

By July 1993, the mass of seagrass in the enclosed areas greatly exceeded that of the open plots, with almost six times the mass of seagrass growing within them.

They found that within four or five months manatees vastly reduced seagrass coverage in the two open plots exposed to grazing, eating almost all the seagrass in one of the open plots.

But the manatees didn’t harm the grass in the long term, and appeared to improve the diversity of seagrass species by creating openings within the seagrass beds, enabling the smaller species to sprout up.

Something else happened in the fenced-in areas: a species called manatee grass eventually out competed and replaced a seagrass species called shoal grass. Biologists say a healthy, diverse ecology requires a mix of different seagrass species, rather than just one type dominating the habitat.

In a year or two, the seagrass beds in the open plots grew back with the two co-dominant species of seagrass, which makes for more diverse, stable seagrass beds, the researchers said.

The findings are relevant today because they could help biologist and wildlife managers trying to predict seagrass recovery and the population of manatees that ecosystems can support, when seagrass is constantly grazed in crucial habitats.

While their study shows manatees don’t do lasting harm to seagrass in a "normal" system, grazing impacts on a severely stressed system like the lagoon are less certain.

In March, the federal government reclassified manatees from "endangered" to the less serious status of "threatened," because of increasing numbers over the past several decades. The federal government first listed as an "endangered" species in 1973.

The most recent count this past winter logged a record 6,620 Florida manatees. In the 1970s, biologists suspected only a few hundred manatees remained in the wild.

Seagrass and sea cows led a balanced coexistence before the algae blooms ramped up six years ago, Lefebvre said.

"It was fine right up to the time the blooms occurred, even with this growing number of manatees." she said.

She's revisited the three-decade old study because a lot of work went into it, she said.

"A lot of people worked on it," Lefebvre said. "I think it could potentially have implications for management."

Specific small areas could be roped off in places like in Crystal River, she said, to manage seagrass habitat.

"It wasn't until I retired that I really had time to finish all this," Lefebvre said.

More information: Click Here


 

 

New buoys aim to help boaters, seagrass

11 May 2017, Citrus County Chronicle (USA)

A seagrass marker buoy that reads “Caution Seagrass Area” is one of six placed off of Sandy Hook this week.

This past Monday, six seagrass marker buoys were placed in the shallow waters off of the small key known as Sandy Hook in the Crystal River estuary. This area, which remains totally open access for boaters, has suffered increasing seagrass damage from boat propellers and vessel groundings.

The shallow area off of Sandy Hook is challenging to navigate and marker buoys are meant to assist boaters, especially those visiting during scallop season. A survey of boaters completed by the University of Florida last summer indicated that boaters would find seagrass marker buoys helpful when navigating through shallow zones. Thus, these six buoys were placed in the popular Sandy Hook area to help boaters access the area in a way that prevents seagrass damage.

Seagrasses are incredibly important ecosystems, especially along Florida’s Nature Coast. They provide habitat for scallops and fish and trap particles, keeping waters clear and beautiful for snorkelers and swimmers. Most damage to seagrass is unintentional and occurs because boaters accidentally travel quickly into shallow areas. Once in the shallow area, the motor and propeller could contact the bottom and boaters may even run aground. Since running aground or damaging one’s motor on a shallow bottom is no fun, the intent of these buoys is to help both boaters and seagrass in this area.

The marker buoys, paid for by a grant from the University of Florida’s Sea Grant program, were placed through a partnership between the UF IFAS Nature Coast Biological Station, Citrus County, and the St. Martin’s Marsh Aquatic Preserve. Baseline data on the condition of seagrass and the amount of scarring were collected just before placement of the buoys. The University of Florida and the Aquatic Preserve staff are working together to track whether placement of the buoys has a positive effect on seagrass over time. The results of this scientific evaluation of the buoys will be used to help local and state governments make decisions about future seagrass protection efforts. If the buoys prove effective, additional scarred seagrass areas may be marked with buoys in the future.

The seagrass marker buoys are not the only strategy that UF and partners are using to prevent seagrass damage. Last summer, UF initiated a boater education program to encourage boaters to “Be Seagrass Safe” and prevent seagrass scarring (www.beseagrasssafe.com). This boater education effort, including colorful signs at public boat ramps, flyers, and social media outreach, will continue this summer. The signs and other materials, bearing the message “Scars Hurt: boating, fishing, you,” inform boaters about the negative effects of seagrass scarring and give three simple steps to prevent seagrass damage: avoid, trim, push. That is, boaters are encouraged to avoid seagrass when possible, slow down and trim up their motor if they are travelling over seagrass, and to turn off their motor and push off of seagrass if they run aground, as opposed to attempting to motor off of the grass bed. Damaging seagrass within the boundaries of an Aquatic Preserve carries a fine of up to $1000, so boaters and seagrasses both benefit when seagrass damage is prevented.

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Nongprue plants more seagrass in Naklua Bay

05 May 2017, Pattaya Mail (Thailand)

Rayong’s Marine Development and Research Center planted sea grass for a second year in Naklua Bay to stimulate marine life.

Banglamung District Chief Naris Niramaiwong joined officials from the Designated Areas for Sustainable Tourism Administration at Lan Po Public Park for the April 28 planting of 10,000 Halodule uninervis plants, a common species of sea grass.

The objective of the planting – the second since July – was to try and revive sea life and plants in Naklua Bay and stimulate the growth of fish and other marine life. The area was selected by fishermen as a prime breeding ground for larviculture.

It was also a way to encourage residents and tourists not to litter or throw rubbish into the ocean and raise awareness about what they may be harming if they act carelessly.

Naklua Bay was chosen last year as a site for the Rayong center’s “social experiment” since the grasses’ survival rate is quite high, according to the Marine Development and Research Center.

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