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Human development mows down seagrass, threatening a natural source of carbon storage
31 January 2016, Sydney Morning Herald (Australia)

Seagrasses along Australia's coast are being devastated at increasing rates, and human development is to blame.

How and when that damage first began occurring was the subject of a study at Edith Cowan University's centre for marine ecosystems research, which revealed one area had lost 80 per cent of its seagrass in fewer than 30 years.

"Normally people know a lot about corals, but seagrasses are not really recognised," lead researcher Oscar Serrano said.

Able to absorb carbon dioxide about 40 times faster than rainforests, seagrass is an undervalued natural method for offsetting carbon emissions, Dr Serrano said, as it acts as a long-term carbon sink.

The humble seagrass may have escaped the gaze of some, but not that of Environment Minister Greg Hunt, who outlined plans to protect the resource and its carbon-storing potential at a Paris climate summit event in December last year.

"Seagrass can store carbon for centuries, millennia," Dr Serrano said.

"In Australia more than 80 per cent of the population lives along the coast and that's placed enormous stress on our coastal marine ecosystems, particularly from extensive land clearing, agriculture and coastal development," he said.

The study by Dr Serrano and his team analysed the impacts of phosphorus on seagrass, taking core samples from seagrass meadows at Oyster Harbour, near Albany in Western Australia, where 80 per cent of seagrass was lost from the 1960s to the 1980s.

Sinking two metre long pipes into the sea floor, they gained an insight into more than 600 years of the meadow's history.

"Our analysis showed huge increases in phosphorus entering the ecosystem from the 1960s onwards," Dr Serrano said.

When nutrients such as phosphorus rise in the environment, they cause a massive growth of algae, leading to algal blooms. These blooms "asphyxiate" seagrass and other marine life, soaking up the light and oxygen they need to survive.

"Almost all estuaries and lakes around the coast have been impacted in this way to some degree over the last century, at least. For example, in Botany Bay similar impacts have been [observed]," he said.

"Blue carbon" was a term created in 2009 to describe the important role that the world's seagrasses, mangroves and salt bushes could play in tackling climate change.

Created by marine ecologist Professor Carlos Duarte and fellow marine researchers, the term has gone some way to putting seagrass and its carbon-capturing capabilities on the international agenda.

A spokesman for Mr Hunt said blue carbon could "play a significant role in reducing emissions, while also supporting biodiversity conservation, fisheries habitat protection and disaster risk reduction".

He said Australia was working with other countries and organisations to take forward the International Blue Carbon Partnership announced at the Paris conference.

"We're working towards accounting for greenhouse gas emissions removals from coastal wetlands in Australia's National Inventory from 2017, with an initial framework to be included in the 2016 National Inventory Report."

Mangroves have also been earmarked by the government to support sequestration and carbon storage and their protection and restoration has been identified as a 2015-16 priority Emissions Reduction Fund activity for scoping.

"Feasibility testing is being undertaken by the department in consultation with key stakeholders to inform whether these activities will be covered under the fund," the minister's spokesman said.

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Seeing red over dying greens
29 January 2016, The Star Online (Malaysia)


Middle Bank at low tide as seen from a hill on the island, while the brown outcropping of land on the left is the Jelutong landfill. The Sky Cab is expected run from this point to the mainland. Photo credit: CHARLES MARIASOOSAY/The Star
The grass is sparser compared to April last year.

BEING too close to the ground can make it hard for people to see theforest for the trees. But step back 500m above sea level, and the situation can become clearer.

A drone camera pilot who is compiling a book filled with aerial photographs of Penang was disheartened when he sent his drone camera 2km out to sea to capture images of Middle Bank.

“It is not as green as previous photographs. If you are walking on the seagrass bed, things might look fine. But seen from the sky, the grass looks like it’s thinning.

“There is much more sand than grass in the pictures,” said Warren Tan from Se Vena Networks Sdn Bhd, who launched his drone camera from Karpal Singh Drive yesterday at 10am when the tide was lowest.

Based on his images, he said the thinning pattern seemed more pronounced near the Sungai Pinang river mouth and pointed to the possibility that human pollution flowing out was hurting the seagrass.

Tan gave The Star his photographs and video footages, taken at heights of between 2m and 500m above sea level, and hoped environmentalists would be able to use the images to identify the problem.

Penangites had a scare last year because there was talk that this area would be reclaimed, though the plans are shelved for now.

Environmentalist and Tanjung Bungah assemblyman Teh Yee Cheu brought several reporters by boat to the spot in April 2015 to document the abundant marine life living there.

But more challenges for this second largest seagrass bed in peninsular Malaysia may be on the way.

A source has revealed that Penang Sky Cab, the proposed island-mainland cable car ride, may cut across Middle Bank.

While the gondolas coasting overhead will not harm the seagrass, the construction of pylons and cable towers are another matter.

“Imagine hovering above at 90m during low tide. With binoculars, you might be able to spot the large sea anemones and crabs living on it.

“But if the pylons are built too close, the construction might cause pollution till the seagrass bed disappears,” the source said.

Middle Bank is about the same age as Penang Bridge — 31 years old.

It was created with undersea material dredged during the bridge’s construction in 1985.

The bank is visible from the shore for about four to six hours a day when the tide is lowest.

At high tide, it is between 1m and 2m underwater.

Sunlight can still penetrate this depth and thus create an ideal environment for a seagrass bed to form and support a wealth of marine life.

Even dugongs were reported to feed on the seagrass.

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EPA closes in on January stink
28 January 2016, Wyndham Star Weekly (Australia)

A sewage-like stink which was smelt across eleven Brimbank suburbs in early January was “likely” caused by seaweed and exposed mudflats the Environment Protection Authority believe.

Complaints came from across Brimbank, Hobsons Bay, Maribynong plus Caroline Springs and Taylors Hill.

An EPA spokeswoman said the smell most likely came from an extreme low tide area along the coastline between Werribee South and Altona Meadows.

Around 400 complaints were lodged between January 10 and 15.

EPA Regional Services Executive Director, Damian Wells said an inspection found a large amount of seaweed washed up on the coastline near Altona Meadows.

“Low tides had also exposed mudflats containing anoxic sediments caused by years of seagrass build-up and decomposition,” he said.

“After following up on this inspection with our principal marine expert, it is understood that there are significant seagrass and macroalgae communities between Altona Meadows and Werribee South.”

“With the prevailing wind conditions, this part of Port Phillip Bay can often see a large build-up of dislodged seagrass and seaweed, called wrack, along beaches.

“Decomposing wrack can cause odour and recent higher temperatures would have accelerated breakdown and hence more sulphuric odours associated with increased anoxic conditions.

“Southerly winds may have pushed the odour further inland, which could explain why EPA also received calls from other areas.”

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Phosphorous suffocating WA harbour seagrass: Edith Cowan University study
28 January 2015, ABC Online (Australia)

Seagrass along a stretch of Western Australia's southern coastline has been devastated by land clearing and agricultural development, a study has found.

The Edith Cowan University (ECU) study revealed 80 per cent of the seagrass in Oyster Harbour, near the town of Albany, had been wiped out over a 30-year period.

Seagrass plays a vital role in marine environments.

It filters nutrients, provides shelter for marine life and shields coastlines from erosion.

Scientists at ECU's Centre for Marine Ecosystems Research collected sediment by sinking two-metre-long pipes beneath into the seafloor to extract the cores of the seagrass meadow.

The cores revealed more than 600 years of the meadow's history.

Lead researcher Oscar Serrano said the data revealed between the 1960s and 1980s, an increase in phosphorus deposits at the harbour caused algal blooms, which suffocated the seagrass.

Dr Serrano said researchers observed two phases in the recovery of the seagrass.

"One in which the seagrass was resilient and able to cope with these impacts and disturbances, and another period when they were overcome with stress," he said.

"This led to a shift in the ecosystem's status."

On a positive note, he said the seagrass in Oyster Harbour was recovering.

"Progress is very slow so therefore we have to be careful," Dr Serrano said.

Dr Serrano said the findings could be used by scientists and environmental managers to improve the management of coastal environments and predict changes in their ecosystems.

The research has been published in the journal Global Change Biology.

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Genome of the flowering plant that returned to the sea
27 January 2016, Science Codex

An international consortium of 35 labs led by University of Groningen Professor of Marine Biology Jeanine Olsen published the genome of the seagrass Zostera marina in the scientific journal Nature on 27 January. Seagrasses are the only flowering plants to have returned to the sea, arguably the most extreme adaptation a terrestrial (or even freshwater) species can undergo. They provide a unique opportunity to study the adaptations involved. The Zostera marina genome is an exceptional resource that supports a wide range of research themes, from the adaptation of marine ecosystems under climate warming and its role in carbon burial to unravelling the mechanisms of salinity tolerance that may further inform the assisted breeding of crop plants.

Seagrasses form the backbone of one of the most productive and biodiverse ecosystems on Earth, rivalling coral reefs and rainforests in terms of the ecosystem services they provide to humans. Seagrass meadows are part of the soft-sediment coastal ecosystems found in all continents, with the exception of Antarctica. They not only form a nursery for young fish and other organisms, but also protect the coastline from erosion and maintain water clarity. 'And they form a carbon dioxide sink: they store more carbon than tropical forests', says Jeanine Olsen.

Zostera marina, also called eelgrass, is the most widely distributed seagrass throughout the northern hemisphere, ranging from the warm waters of Southern Portugal to the frigid temperatures of Northern Norway. Eelgrass has also adapted to the salty conditions of full strength seawater. 'All this makes seagrass interesting for the study of the relationship between the complex gene networks affecting temperature tolerance, like climate warming, and the mechanisms of salt tolerance through osmoregulation', Olsen explains.

Genetic networks

The first step in studying genetic networks and the interaction of ecology and evolution in these plants was to produce and annotate a high-quality genome sequence. Olsen: 'For some researchers this may seem boring and have as much appeal as reading a telephone directory, but for us it has already revealed a host of unique adaptations.'

For example, eelgrass has not only lost its stomata (which are used by land plants to 'breathe') but also all of the genes involved in stomatal differentiation. 'The genes have just gone, so there's no way back to land for seagrass', says Olsen.

A unique adaptation is the cell wall, which is very different from normal plant cell walls and more like that of sea algae. Olsen, 'Although this has been known biochemically for many years, we now understand the underlying gene networks that produce sulphated polysaccharides.' Seagrasses have rearranged metabolic pathways to produce the sulphated polysaccharides, or, as Olsen explains: 'They have re-engineered themselves!'


The plant signalling and defence mechanisms are also different in eelgrass, with genes that produce volatile compounds in land plants having disappeared from the Zostera marina genome. Of course, there are no insects in the sea to pollinate the flowers or eat the leaves. Sex is entirely underwater involving long naked sperm filaments especially adapted for underwater fertilization of the tiny flowers. As for predators and pathogens, there are still plenty of small 'grazers' that scrape algae off the leaves, but little is known about seagrass pathogens. These are just a few of the adaptations to marine life described in the Nature paper.

This first analysis of the Zostera marina genome is just the beginning. 'Apart from the genome, we also have extensive transcriptome information from different plant tissues and under different experimental conditions, which shows us which genes are active.' An overarching question for Olsen's team is how quickly eelgrass can adapt to rapid climate change. The fact that Zostera marina grows along the coastline from Portugal to Scandinavia is being used as a natural experiment to investigate adaptation to warmer or colder water, as well as to salinity, ocean acidification and light. 'Are the different phenotypes hard-wired in the DNA sequence, by epigenetic changes of the DNA or by plastic responses in differential gene expression through the transcriptome?'

At the deeper level, scientists want to understand the reciprocal interactions between ecological and evolutionary processes. This is also the central theme of the Groningen Institute for Evolutionary Life Sciences (GELIFES), home of Olsen's research group.

A better understanding of eco-evolutionary interactions will help in the development of genomics-based, early-warning indicators that foreshadow seagrass ecosystem shifts and tipping points. This is urgent because seagrass meadows are threatened worldwide. Many initiatives have been launched to try and restore degraded meadows but with limited success. The detailed study of the adaptive capacity of seagrass may help conservation efforts. Olsen: 'And the Zostera marina genome is one of the few from a plant species that is neither a crop nor being developed for biofuel, so there is a lot to learn from it.'

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New study highlights damage to Australia's seagrass beds
27 January 2016, ABC Online (Australia)

Seagrass is believed to store between 40 and 60 times more carbon than rainforests on land.

And in the wake of the Paris climate conference, marine scientists say that seagrass beds are finally beginning to receive the attention they deserve.

Here at home, researchers say human development has decimated our seagrass beds with a yearly loss of about two per cent.

A new study released today aims to illuminate what's causing our seagrass beds to die off.

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Brown tide returns to Indian River Lagoon
27 January 2016, Florida Today (USA)

This time, the algae — Aureoumbra lagunensis — bloomed earlier, but in the same stretches of the northern lagoon.

The algae is so small that it would take 200 of its cells to stretch across the period at the end of this sentence.

But biologists warn the damage this minuscule algae could inflict on the lagoon is huge. Brown-tide blooms block sunlight vital to the seagrass that supports much of the lagoon's marine life. It also kills shellfish such as oysters and scallops.

"It does appear there is a brown tide going on in portions of the lagoon," said Ed Garland, spokesman with the St. Johns River Water Management District. "It is the same thing that we've had in past years."

Brown tide's resurgence puts yet another stress on one of North America's most biologically diverse and ecologically vulnerable estuaries.

The same brown tide organism appeared in samples back to 2005, but it first reached bloom levels in the lagoon in August 2012, spreading from Mosquito Lagoon into the northern Indian River Lagoon near Titusville. The algae bloomed again in 2013, although less intensely.

This year's brown tide arrived much earlier in the year and now is prominent in most of the Banana River and Indian River lagoons, from Cocoa south to near Rockledge, according to Charles Jacoby, a supervising environmental scientist with the St. Johns River Water Management District.

Chlorophyll levels — an indicator of algae blooms — remain high in Mosquito Lagoon due to a mix of single-celled algae, including the organism responsible for brown tides, Jacoby said in a release.

The same brown tide species hit Laguna Madre and Baffin Bay along Texas' Gulf Coast in the early1990s, killing off seagrass for years. The bloom lasted almost eight years, making it the longest continuous harmful algae bloom ever recorded.

A similar brown tide species emerged in coastal waters off New England and New York in the mid-1980s, devastating scallops, clams and seagrass in Long Island's southern bays.

In the summer of 2012, brown tide began in Mosquito Lagoon and moved west to the northern Indian River lagoon. It was the first bloom of the species documented in Florida. It never spread south of Titusville. But as much as 50 square miles of lagoon seagrass had already died a year earlier, after another type of algae bloomed from Titusville to Eau Gallie and a separate, concurrent bloom stretched from Eau Gallie to south of Vero Beach.

In all, more than 47,000 acres — 73 square miles — of seagrass would die in the blooms, according to the water management district. A 2008 study found that one acre of lagoon seagrass is worth between $5,000 and $10,000 a year to the local economy. So the sport and commercial fishing industry may have lost up to $470 million as a result of the algae blooms.

District officials hope as water temperatures dip, the brown tide will die off. But if the bloom lasts into spring, it could further thwart seagrass recovery, this time during a crucial period for the lagoon's most important plant.

“So far, water temperatures haven’t been sufficiently cold to help knock the bloom down,” Jacoby said. “In the bigger picture, it took decades for water quality to get where it is; it’s going to take time and effort to generate long-term improvements.”

Seagrass is the linchpin of the lagoon food web. It's the manatee's main diet. Mutton snapper, lane snapper, gag and red grouper, spotted sea trout, blue crabs and other marine life depend on the grass for habitat. Studies have shown one acre of seagrass can support as many as 10,000 fish.

Biologists aren't sure how brown tide got here, whether the species always resided in the lagoon or was introduced from the ballast water of a boat. Brown tide blooms in the Long Island area have been linked to nutrients from septic tanks polluting the groundwater, then oozing up in the bays.

Although not toxic to humans, in some ways brown tide can be worse than toxic algae blooms, at least economically. It put countless scallop fishermen and clammers out of work in Long Island in the 1980s and has bloomed there almost every year since.

Water management district officials did not have test results available on Monday. But when levels reach 1 billion cells per liter of water, the water typically appears brown. Previous blooms in the lagoon have peaked at around 3 billion cells per liter.

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Torres leaders disappointed by rare dugong kill reaction
26 January 2016, The Cairns Post (Australia)


Torres Strait mayor Fred Gela claims this photo of a dead albino dugong was taken four years ago and the person responsible has apologised for his actions.

AN albino dugong taken by traditional means in the Torres Strait had been killed in the region several years ago.

Cairns wildlife activist Colin Riddell last week posted images on social media of an all-white dugong dead on the shore of an unnamed island, believed to have been killed by harpoon.

Mr Riddell claimed the animal was killed recently, but Torres Strait mayor Fred Gela said the images were taken about four years ago.

He said regardless, the Torres Strait Islander community did not condone the rare animal’s death.

“From what I gather, the individual responsible has come out and apologised for his actions,’’ he said.

“There is certainly a large number of Torres Strait people and leaders who do not tolerate that type of action.

“It’s just outright stupidity, in terms of doing something like that.”

Dugongs are listed as a vulnerable species in Queensland’s waters, but they may be legally hunted by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people under native title law for personal, domestic or non-commercial communal needs.

Cr Gela believed there needed to be greater education within traditional owner groups about the traditional take of the species.

“We need to ensure that our traditional practices are followed to the T,’’ he said.

“That’s where the problem is stemming from.

“We certainly need to have a close discussion and a strong discussion with our youth because that is not our practice, and that is not us.”

It has been estimated there are 10,000 dugongs on the east coast of Cape York and between 12,000 and 14,000 in the Torres Strait.

Torres Shire mayor Pedro Stephen said it was disappointing the photo of the dead dugong had resurfaced online.

“One message coming home for all of us in our region is how damaging a flick of the finger can be,’’ he said.

“Facebook and technology have a place, but it can also be damaging – not only between families, but against cultural practices. “It should be used to promote our culture.

“(Dugong hunting) is only done in the presence of hunters and has never been put out in public.”

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Stranded dugong slowly recovers under intensive
23 January 2016, Jakarta Post (Indonesia)


A team of veterinarians and officers from several institutions, including the BKSDA, NTT’s Komodo National Park and the Bali Safari Marine and Safari Park, were assigned to jointly take care of the dugong

Local authorities in East Nusa Tenggara (NTT) have reported that a young male dugong rescued from a beach on Kanawa island, West Manggarai regency, earlier this month, has shown signs of recovery after receiving intensive treatment.

Speaking to The Jakarta Post on Friday, NTT Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) technical division head Maman Surahman said the protected animal, which was found with several wounds on its body, was now able to swim and regularly consume seagrass and goat milk.

A team of veterinarians and officers from several institutions, including the BKSDA, NTT’s Komodo National Park and the Bali Safari Marine and Safari Park, were assigned to jointly take care of the dugong.

“Looking at its physical improvement, the dugong will need another four or five months to fully recover and safely return to the sea,” Maman said, adding that the team had also provided the animal with infant formula as food supplement to speed up its recovery.

The 120-centimeter-long animal, weighing around 30 kilograms, first appeared in the shallows near Kanawa island on Jan. 3.

Nine days later, the same animal was found stranded at a rocky beach in the western part of the island by three foreign tourists, including Jeff Foster, an American marine biologist.

While waiting for support from local authorities, the tourists volunteered to take care of the dugong, which was too weak to move at that time. Apart from protecting the dugong from sunlight, they also fed the animal with goat milk bought from local residents once every two hours.

“The dugong suffered several wounds on its back and stomach. Deeper wounds were also found on its right cheek and back,” Maman said, adding that such wounds had probably been caused by a fishing net.

For both safety and security reasons, Maman said the rescue team had decided to let the dugong stay in the waters off Kanawa island while putting it under intensive surveillance to monitor its movements and recovery.

A local resort complex has also agreed to provide the team members with a base camp to carry out their duties.

The dugong, one of the rarest mammals in Indonesia, can be found from Madagascar and East Africa to India and Australia.

With a natural lifespan of over 70 years and slow rate of reproduction, the dugong is vulnerable to extinction even without the interference of human beings.

An estimated 1,000 to 10,000 dugongs survive in Indonesian waters. However, that number is believed to have decreased significantly over the past few years.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature, meanwhile, has listed the animal a vulnerable species.

Nyoman Suartawan, a supervisor from the Bali Marine and Safari Park, said the Gianyar-based park had previously deployed four officers to assist the NTT BKSDA provide intensive treatment to the stranded dugong.

As of Friday, he added, the park had left one officer in Kanawa to help local authorities take care of the dugong and educate local fishermen on how to give emergency treatment to a stranded or wounded dugong.

Suartawan also confirmed that the recently rescued dugong was in much better shape than it had been last week.

“Many wounds on the dugong’s body have already started to heal,” he said.

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High Seagrass Levels Contributing to Sarasota Bay's Clean Waters
21 January 2016, WWSB ABC 7 (USA)

A new study from the Southwest Florida Management District shows there's been a dramatic increase in the amount of seagrass in the bay. Seagrass levels are important to the bay's overall health, and the wildlife, marine life and residents who depend on it.

"A clean bay just makes you feel good," said Charles Newman, who took a charter fishing trip.

Newman is feeling good after a great fishing adventure on Sarasota Bay, not only did he and his group catch plenty of fish, they got a close look at just how clean the bay is.

"People are becoming more aware of polluting and that sort of thing and those things that are detrimental to the health," said Newman.

Officials with the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program say the 50 miles of Sarasota Bay has seen an increase of seagrass over the years from 8500 acres to 13,288 acres today, that's a 36 percent increase.

"Seagrass is extremely important to the ecology because it's the basis of the food chain," said Mark Alderson, Executive Director of the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program, "the small fish are in the seagrasses, they grow up, they go offshore, then they end up on our dinner table."

Mark Alderson says that a lot of the success at Sarasota Bay can be attributed to folks doing a much better job treating our wastewater.

"Wastewater has nitrogen in it and that nitrogen harms the grasses because it reduces the clarity," said Alderson.

A seagrass study at Sarasota Bay is done every two years, the last one was done back in 2014. The next study will be done later this year.

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Outrage at killing of rare albino dugong in Torres Strait
21 January 2016, The Cairns Post (Australia)

A WILDLIFE activist says the traditional take of a rare albino dugong is as bad as someone killing Migaloo, the white humpback whale.

Cairns based conservationist Colin “Dugong Man” Riddell has posted images on social media of an all-white dugong laying dead on the beach of a Torres Strait island, after it was killed earlier this week.

He said the photographs showed at least two of the endangered animals, including a regular grey dugong, were taken and killed via traditional means.

Dugongs are listed as a vulnerable species in Queensland’s waters, but they may be legally hunted by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people under native title law for personal, domestic or non-commercial communal needs.

Mr Riddell claimed the killing of the albino dugong in particular had caused an “uproar” within the Torres Strait islander community.

“If everyone woke up in Australia and said someone had killed Migaloo, there would be worldwide outrage,’’ he said.

“Why is this any different?

“It shouldn’t be legal. We shouldn’t be killing these animals off.”

A Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service spokeswoman said the department had forwarded a complaint about the killing of the albino dugong to the Australian Fish Management Authority for further investigation.

She said the Commonwealth Native Title Act and the Torres Strait Treaty allowed for certain indigenous people to hunt dugong and other marine animals.

“While there is special protection under the Queensland Native Conservation Act for white whales such as Migaloo, there is no similar protection for albino dugongs,’’ she said.

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More merciless killings of turtles in Sabah
21 January 2016, Free Malaysia Today (Malaysia)

Another six turtles found dead in Semporna

The turtles, the local daily reported, were seen floating between Laut Silapag and Laut Sanggaban within the Priority Conservation Area, all tied up with nylon ropes and badly decomposed.

Turtle expert Dr Juanita Joseph from the University of Malaysia Terengganu said they were most likely Green Turtles, which were a ‘Totally Protected Species’.

Dr James Alin of University Malaysia Sabah said it was difficult to bring the culprits to justice.

“No one was arrested when dead turtles were found floating near Si Ambil Island on 9 August 2014. We also discovered a killing field of some 50 or more turtles in Pulau Tiga in early 2014, but no one was arrested or jailed,” Dr James was quoted as saying.

He added the suspects were usually constituted of seaweed farmers and artisan fishermen.

“WWF-Malaysia had said its Kudat team was working closely with Sabah Wildlife Department to investigate allegations that seaweed farmers were killing turtles and the Sabah Tourism Minister said they would wait for the conclusion of the investigation first,” Dr James added.

According to the law, anyone convicted of killing a ‘Totally Protected Species’ will be imprisoned if convicted.

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Hunter Local Land Services offers rebate on moorings for Lake Macquarie boat owners
21 January 2016, Newcastle Star (Australia)

BOAT owners in Lake Macquarie are being encouraged to upgrade their moorings to protect marine life.

Hunter Local Land Services has launched a rebate program through which eligible mooring holders can claim a 50 per cent rebate on environmentally-friendly moorings.

Officer Brian Hughes said the program aimed to protect valuable seagrass habitat, which was under threat from conventional block and chain moorings.

These moorings use heavy chains that drag along the seabed, thereby damaging marine life, Mr Hughes said.

“Seagrass plays a big role in maintaining water quality,” he said.

“It provides food and habitat for a range of fish and crustaceans that support recreational fishing activities in the lake. It is also an important habitat for iconic species such as seahorses and threatened sea turtles.”

An estimated 114,875 square metres of seagrass has been lost in Lake Macquarie thanks to conventional moorings, including more than 76,000 square metres of Posidonia australis, which is now endangered in the area.

Environmentally-friendly moorings avoid this damage by using shock absorbers to secure the vessel and prevent mooring tackle coming into contact with the seabed.

Through the program, mooring holders can opt for a full replacement or a partial upgrade.
See your ad here

“These rebates are designed to deliver long-term solutions to enhance and protect our marine environment by improving the condition of seagrass in Lake Macquarie,” Mr Hughes said.

Boat owners have until midnight on Friday, March 18 to register their interest.

Eligibility criteria and guidelines apply. Visit for more information.

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Weed at Pindimar makes its return
21 January 2016, Myall Coast News (Australia)



Pindimar has beautiful scenery and is a lovely place to live with its waterside residences and nature surroundings, but over the last few years there has been a loss to the fragile environment with its deterioration of sea grass.

Don Payne, a local of the Pindimar area, has been researching the problem and has taken photos over time to see the loss and now the gain.

Recently the sea grass has made a comeback and is slowly growing back which means that the nutrients are returning to the water and the system is healthier.

Don Payne commented, “The whole system seems happier.”

“You can see the difference between South Pindimar and North Pindimar because the sea grass is growing more vibrantly at South Pindimar and this is giving more nutrients to the water.”

Gordon Grainger contacted Myall Coast News and explained, “From a scientific viewpoint, sea grass is a vital element in the health of our waterways and is a habitat for numerous marine species.”

“The foreshore along Pindimar was formerly an extensive area of sea grasses and held a number of oyster leases,” he said.

Over the last decade, sand inundation swallowed the grass and oyster leases and what was a muddy waterfront became a white sandy beach.

Don Payne passed on information from an oyster farmer about the three currents that run through the bay and it is these channels that flush the water through.

“The oyster population and the marine life depend on the weed.”

Mr Payne said, “The sea grass is needed for the system of the waterways to function properly.”

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Turtle released back into Great Barrier Reef after years in recovery
20 January 2016, The Cairns Post (Australia)

A TINY hawksbill turtle has finally been released back into the wild after more than two and a half years in care.

Harry the hawksbill was rescued by a Quicksilver Silverswift crew after being found floating at Flynn Reef on October 8, 2013.

A tender was launched to see if he needed help and it was soon realised he was not able to dive. The crew dubbed him Harry and he was taken to the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre.

He could fit in the palm of a hand and was about 3-6 months old. Today he is about three and has grown from 100mm to 510mm.

His favourite food when he was a baby was squid eyes.

He now dines on squid heads, tiger or peeled red spot prawns. Harry had a little cylinder house where he liked to eat in private.

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Dugong recovered: Sickly but good chances of survival
21 January 2016, Bega District news (Australia)


Merimbula the dugong has arrived safely on the Gold Coast and is currently being transported to Sea World.

Director of marine sciences at Sea World Trevor Long said everything has ran relatively smoothly and the dugong is doing well.

The dugong left Merimbula in a RAAF Hercules transporter at around 12.30pm after being captured in Merimbula Lake at around 9am this morning.

He was given a police escort to the airport where he was greeted by a huge crowd of people.

Around a dozen men were needed to lift the 400 kilo dugong from the truck and into the plane. During this time marine scientists continued to monitor the animal to ensure he remained calm and as comfortable as possible.

He is currently in a truck and is about 30 minutes away from Sea World where he will stay for a few weeks to be rehabilitated before being released into the wild.

The dugong, which has been named Merimbula after the town it was found close to, has been assessed by vets who have said it is in a better condition than what was previously thought.

They have said it is on the good side of a poor condition, as at about 400kg it is underweight and possibly suffering from “cold stress syndrome”.

This syndrome involves the animal losing skin, usually on the tail, and is often found on manatees that move into colder waters.

Merimbula has been identified as a male aged about 15 years old, so has a long life ahead of him as dugongs can live to around 70.

The dugong swam out to sea during attempts to capture him yesterday but returned to Merimbula Lake around 8.30pm last night.

The second operation to capture him began at 6am this morning, before workers took to the water at 7.30am.

Nets had been set out, but the dugong evaded them again just like yesterday so workers performed a “jump capture” where two people jumped into the water and cast a net over the creature.

Merimbula was brought ashore to be assessed but has been returned to the shallow waters of the lake where workers aim to keep him comfortable.

A RAAF Hercules transporter is currently flying down the coast, expected to arrive in about 60 minutes, to collect the dugong and transport it to Sea World where it will be rehabilitated for a few weeks before released into Moreton Bay in Queensland.

Director of marine sciences at Sea World Trevor Long said this is the best possible outcome for the animal.

“This is only the start of this animal’s journey, the journey we believe will be a good one and the outcome which we believe will be a good one.

“I think there’s been a fair bit of speculation about what is best for the animal and I think that’s certainly understandable,” he said.

“I think as long as you understand that this animal would die if it was left here. It can’t cope with the cold water and it doesn’t have sufficient seagrass.”

Over the past two months experts from Sea World and Sydney Aquarium have been monitoring the dugong and Mr Long said when comparing images from four weeks ago to images taken earlier this week it was clear to see the dugong’s condition had deteriorated.

“The animal’s lost significant weight.

I think we’ve got it right at the right time, I think the animal will do well,” he said.

Sea World don’t plan to keep the dugong for too long but there are certain checks and procedures that they must comply with before it can be released into the wild.

The Queensland Environment and Protection Agency has donated a satellite GPS which will be attached to the dugong before it’s release to allow them to keep track of him in the wild.

There are only five dugongs in captivity in the world with two of them at the Sydney Aquarium.

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Marine pollution affects dugong habitat in Riau islands water: Official
18 January 2016, ANTARA (Indonesia)

The habitat of the dugong mammals in Riau Islands Province has been affected by pollution in the Malaka waters, leading to a diminishing population of the sea animals, an official said here on Monday.

Head of marine and fishery management department of Marine and Fishery Office of Riau Islands Eddiwan said here on Monday that the dugong has been classified in appendix 1, which labels them as being endangered.

Dugongs live in sea grass habitats in a number of areas, including Bintan, Batam and Lingga waters.

"However, those areas have been harmed by marine activities, pollution, exploitation, as well as tin and bauxite mining," Eddiwan said.

Local authorities found some oil spills in the waters, as a result of oil mining in the northern part of the region.

Also, sandblasting in the waters near Singapore has impacted the dugong's habitat, he said.

Those human activities have driven the mammals to leave their habitat and some were stranded along the coast.

Last week, a female dugong measuring 2.5 meter long was stranded at Nongsa water, Batam Island.

The local authority has been collecting data about the dugong population in the region.

"The conservation program is not optimal, as there is too much use of the seas. It disturbs the sea mammals," he said.

The dugong is a herbivorous marine mammal. It is often called the "sea cow" because it grazes on sea grass meadows.

The animal, which is a close relative of the manatee, can be found in the warm waters surrounding Indonesia and Australia.

Non-governmental organization World Wildlife Fund (WWF) stated that dugongs are listed globally as being vulnerable to becoming extinct.

Populations worldwide have become increasingly fragmented and evidence suggested that the numbers are declining because of the degradation of sea grass meadows, fishing pressures, hunting and coastal pollution.

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Seahorses of Britain at risk of dying out as habitat is destroyed
18 January 2016, Daily Mail (UK)

Britain's seahorses could die out as their habitat is being destroyed by pollution and trawling, experts warn.

Scientists from Cardiff and Swansea universities conducted a study of seagrass, a main food source for the two types of seahorse living in UK waters – the spiny and the short snouted seahorses.

They found seagrass meadows to be in a 'perilous state', with only two of the 11 sites considered healthy.

Nature experts are warning that unless help arrives soon the last colonies will starve and die as their food vanishes.

The fragile plants which the five-inch-long seahorses need to survive are being wiped out by pollution and human disturbances such as speedboats and trawling.

Surveys of eleven sites in England, Wales and Ireland found high nitrogen levels in water were affecting the health of seagrass meadows at all but two areas.

In the 11 areas studied, even where conditions were good, seagrass faced damage from mooring or anchoring boats, said researchers Benjamin Jones and Richard Unsworth of Cardiff and Swansea universities.

Dr Unsworth said seagrasses were like the 'canaries of the sea' in that their condition can be used as an indicator of the health of coastal waters.

'All the sites in our study were found to be at risk from either pollution, boating, or both, even those in relatively remote locations,' he said.

'We've historically lost at least 50 per cent of these habitats in the British Isles, losing more should not be an option.'

The worst performing sites were three areas monitored in Wales and one site in England, according to the research published in the journal, Royal Society Open Science.

Dr Lyndsey Dodds, head of marine policy at WWF-UK, said seagrass is one of our most valuable ecosystems, helping to sustain the marine food chain.

'It's vital that the status of our seagrass improves to deliver benefits for people and nature,' she said.

'WWF is calling on the UK Government to ensure seagrass is properly protected in effective Marine Protected Areas, where disturbance and pollution are minimised.'

Families can help the campaign to save the seahorses and their vital food from the comfort of the sofa with a new conservation initiative.

The citizen-based science project, the Community Seagrass Initiative (CSI), has been set up so volunteers can help analyse thousands of underwater photographs of seagrass via their computer.

The idea of the tool 'Zooniverse' is to allow people to get involved with CSI's research, without getting their feet wet.

The project covers 191 miles of the coast from Weymouth to Looe in Cornwall.

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Seagrass planting strategy needed to remove fast food option
17 January 2016, Science Network Western Australia (Australia)

EFFORTS to restore Shark Bay’s seagrass meadows by transplanting Posidonia australis at the edge of existing meadows are being hampered because resident fish are using the new seagrass as fast food.

Local researchers found extensive grazing in the zone between the edge of the existing meadow and 10m out from its edge, but negligible grazing pressure further from the meadow edge.

This phenomenon, known as an ‘edge effect,’ arises because herbivores, like fish, use the existing meadow as a refuge and then venture out and dine on the nearest snack, which in this case happens to be the fledgling seagrass plants.

Shark Bay has one of the largest continuous seagrass meadows in the world, according to UWA Oceans Institute researcher Dr John Statton.

These areas provide food for animals like dugongs and sea turtles, habitat for fishes and which buffer beach-eroding wave energy.

But as with many areas in WA Shark Bay has lost seagrass cover due to historical coastal development and, more recently, marine heatwaves.

Because of the slow growth of the impacted seagrass species, natural recovery has been limited.

“You’re looking at decades to centuries for some of these species [to recover],” Dr Statton says.

“Which is why we’re really pushing for restoration, to help push that process along and to get the seagrasses to recover in a more reasonable timeframe,” he says.

The current study, which determined that plants located near the meadow edge were less likely to survive, may assist in planning future restoration activities.

“If we know that planting a transplant nearby to the edge is going to result in a lot of grazing…we can put in some intervention measures, to prevent those plants from being eaten,” Dr Statton says.

These management strategies could include planting in the less vulnerable 30-50m zone, herbivore exclusion with cages, or planting in dense patches.

Dr Statton and his colleagues are in the process of systematically assessing the ecological processes that might limit establishing seagrasses in degraded areas.

They are primarily investigating a novel approach using seeds, rather than adult cuttings.

He says this technique is showing promise and could prove to be a cost-effective method for large-scale seagrass restoration in WA.


This research was undertaken by Dr John Statton, Mr Samuel Gustin-Craig and Professor Gary Kendrick of UWA and Professor Kingsley Dixon of Curtin University.

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Florida's Green Sea Turtles and Manatees Are No Longer Endangered
16 January 2016, World Report Now (USA)

ccording to Florida’s officials, Florida’s green sea turtles and manatees are no longer endangered. This news comes after their alarmingly low numbers have started to increase.

In 1991, the manatees have been considered close to extinction and have been offered protection by the Endangered Species Act. Since then, the population increased, going from 1,267 manatees to approximately 6,300. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service reported on January 7 that the species is no longer considered endangered, just threatened. Florida’s officials have already started reconsidering the boating speed in the areas close to the manatees.

The manatees are large herbivorous mammals that are fully aquatic, and they are also known as sea cows. They can grow up to 13 feet and they can weigh even 1,300 pounds. Their name comes from a word used by the Caribbean people, manati, which means breast. Manatees are considered to be solitary animals and they spend half of their day sleeping. The manatees found in Florida can live up to 60 years.

The same thing happened with the green sea turtle population. 198 nests created by the green sea turtles have been discovered by scientists in 2001, in the Archie Carr Wildlife Refuge. When researchers went to see how the green sea turtle population was doing, they discovered no more than 14,152 nests. After the discovery of the increased population, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service have decided that this species of turtles should be considered threatened, but in no way endangered. This applies only to the green sea turtles in Mexico’s pacific coast and in Florida.

The green sea turtle is also known as the black turtle and the green turtle and is a large sea turtle. The name of this species comes from the fact that the fat of these turtles is green. Most people believe that their shells or their skin is green, but their shells actually vary from olive to black. The green sea turtles live in the subtropical and tropical areas of the world. They are at risk in some countries where the turtles and their eggs are used for food. Also, many turtles are found in fishing nets, where they die.

As Florida’s green sea turtles and manatees are no longer endangered, many critics rose to question this decision. According to a professor at the Central Florida University, Llewellyn Ehrhart, this decision could lead to the extinction of these species. Erhart said that the decision doesn’t make much sense, as the species will need to be considered endangered again and offered more protection, once the people are going to exploit them and their populations are going to decrease.

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The mystery of the Kingdom's dwindling catch
16 January 2016, The Phnom Penh Post (Cambodia)

Cambodia’s Fisheries Administration this week revealed that coastal fish yields fell 5 per cent last year. The cause, according to Sihanoukville administration official Nen Chamroeun, was less fishing. However, according to fisherman and environmentalists, Chamroeun has the cause and effect around backwards. Fishermen are fishing less because there are less fish to catch. To hear more, Brent Crane spoke with Paul Ferber, the founder of Marine Conservation Cambodia, an environmental group that monitors illegal fishing and marine health around Kep

What do you think is the reason behind dwindling fish yields?
It’s a mixture of habitat destruction, overfishing and illegal and destructive fishing. Different areas are affected by all three in differing amounts, but that mixture of issues put together is why it is happening rapidly and across the entire coastal area. Good management of marine resources and law enforcement following Cambodia’s national fisheries law in full would almost immediately change the situation and begin a reversal, increasing catches and coastal livelihoods.

What is causing habitat destruction?
There’s been an awful lot of land reclamation that’s gone on, especially the big port development in Kampot which has destroyed huge areas of seagrass. But I think the habitat losses are mostly from illegal trawling. That’s a really big one. It scrapes the seabed. It rips seagrass up by the roots, a little bit like a bulldozer going through a forest.

How important is seagrass to a marine environment?
It’s incredibly important. Seagrass doesn’t tend to grow in deeper waters because it needs sunlight. So you have a range of half a metre to around seven metres for your seagrass beds. Your three major habitats are mangroves, seagrass and coral reefs, and they’re all interconnected. They create a habitat for nurseries and breeding grounds. Seagrass itself is the major breeding ground for the blue swimmer crab, but it’s basically a big juvenile nursery. The shallow areas in Kampot and the ocean in Kep would be – if they were fully protected from trawling – a massive breeding ground allowing fish to flourish and go out to other areas.

How are fishermen responding to this habitat loss?
The harder it is for them to catch fish with sustainable methods, the more likely they are to use illegal destructive methods because most of those methods are a very quick way of getting fish. You’ve got trawling boats that use electric nets. They’ve trawled and destroyed so much of the marine life that there’s not enough left for them to just trawl the way they used to, so they’ve connected electric cables to their nets which shocks the last remaining sea life to jump out of the seabed so they can catch it in the net. As marine life becomes less, the destructive and illegal fishing becomes greater because the need to use those techniques to catch the last remaining life is essential to be able to carry on fishing.

Where is illegal trawling most pervasive?
Kampot and Kep, I would say. It’s there daily. Sihanoukville and Koh Kong do have it but with the largest seagrass beds being in Kep and Kampot they’re the most susceptible because the water is so much shallower.

Are fishermen having to leave the profession altogether?
Yes, a lot. We interviewed and surveyed three different communities in Kep. In each one of them – these are all legal fishermen – we saw around 90 to 95 per cent of people complain of a lack of fish and illegal activity being the major cause of that. Most of them had family members or had to themselves give up fishing because they could no longer catch enough to sustain their families using legal gear.

How long would it take for damaged habitats to recover?
The areas that haven’t been completely destroyed will actually recover quite quickly if trawling is stopped. The areas that have been completely destroyed might take 15 to 20 years. If you think of a hillside with lots of grass on it and you have heavy rains, the hillside stays intact. If you dig up that grass and it’s just soil and you have heavy rains, all that soil washes away. Nothing can grow in it. In the ocean it’s the same. Once the trawlers have been too many times in the same area you get a sloppy mud sediment. The seagrass can’t grow in there. Keep in mind that the Kep government has been making a fairly big effort to tackle this issue, illegal fishing. But it’s not an easy issue to tackle. There are just so many boats.

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Summer scholarships for young talent
14 January 2016, Science Network Western Australia (Australia)

FIVE young West Australian scientists are spending their summer working alongside researchers at Kings Park and Botanic Garden as part of this year’s Kings Park scholarship program.

The competitive scholarships—each worth $7000—are designed to provide practical research experience.

“We believe in training young scientists for the future,” Kings Park Director of Science Dr Ben Miller says.

“We want to help students to understand the challenges of projects they might take on for future Masters or PhDs, so we can improve the capacity of our state to deliver positive conservation science outcomes.”

The Kings Park Science Directorate employs 25 research staff in native plant science, conservation biology and restoration ecology, hosting facilities including a genetics lab, tissue culture and cryopreservation facilities, and a new seed science laboratory.
Introducing this year’s Kings Park summer science scholars

One of this year’s seven successful scholars is Henry Lambert, a UWA zoology and marine science double major who is studying the genetics of seagrass restoration for his summer project.

Mr Lambert says understanding the traits of individual seagrass plants can help optimise the success of seagrass restoration projects.

“We don’t necessarily see seagrasses as much as plants on land, but they have a huge role as ecosystem engineers, they’re really integral, and if they disappear we’ll start to see problems,” he says.

“This project is the perfect transition into postgraduate study…it’s in active research with a really great, involved research community…I can’t wait to be part of it.”

Curtin University environmental science student Tayla Kneller is also researching plant restoration for her summer project, with a focus on mine site rehabilitation.

“In the old days, mines didn’t know they should keep the top soil, so we have a lot of mines closing now with only mine waste available to use for environmental restoration,” Ms Kneller says.

“My project is looking at the effect of soil amendment, adding things like gypsum to waste soil, to hopefully improve seed germination at mine sites in the Pilbara.

“I’m really looking forward to putting my skills into practise,” she says.

Other successful scholars include Alexandria Latham, who will spend her summer assessing the effect of fire on regenerated bush in Boddington, Siobhan Sullivan, who is researching the effect of drought on seedlings growing in a post-mining environment, and Tayla van de Kroft, who is studying the effect of habitat fragmentation on plant-pollinator interactions.

Students interested in applying for next year's summer scholarship program should contact Kings Park from September 2016.

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Scilly Has Healthiest Seagrass Beds In The Country
13 January 2016, ScillyToday (UK)

Important seagrass beds in Scilly are thriving, despite the ‘perilous’ state of similar habitats in the rest of the UK.

That’s according to a scientific paper published this week by Welsh scientists, Benjamin Jones and Richard Unsworth in the Royal Society’s Open Science journal.

It’s the first study to compare eleven sites around the British Isles including ones in the Republic of Ireland, the Isle of Man, Wales and the Isle of Wight.

They found that seagrass meadows here in Scilly contained plants with the longest and thickest leaves, an indication of their health.

The authors say Britain has seen an extensive loss of these beds, which provide an important habitat and breeding ground for fish.

They believe this is due to reduced water quality, coastal development and poor land use.

But they also warn that even Scilly’s pristine seagrass is under threat from damage by boats, particularly when dropping anchors.

The islands have been part of an annual study into the health of seagrass beds since 2002, the only study of its kind in the country.

Sites are being monitored at Old Grimsby Harbour and Broad Ledge on Tresco, Higher Town Bay off St Martin’s, Little Arthur in the Eastern Isles and West Broad Ledge between Tresco and St Martin’s.

Last year, Dr Jim Bull, from Swansea University said our meadows had recovered fully after taking some severe damage during the winter storms in 2014.

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Seagrass meadows around British Isles in 'perilous state'
13 January 2016, BBC News (UK)



Seagrass meadow at Porthdinllaen. Photo Credit: Project Seagrass


Most seagrass meadows around the coast of the British Isles are in a "perilous state", say scientists.

Plants are being damaged by pollution and human disturbances such as mooring boats, according to researchers.

Surveys of 11 sites in England, Wales and Ireland found high nitrogen levels in water were affecting the health of seagrass meadows at all but two areas.

Seagrass, which is found in shallow waters of coastal regions, is declining globally at a rate of about 7% a year.

In the 11 areas studied, even where conditions were good, seagrass faced damage from mooring or anchoring boats, said researchers Benjamin Jones and Richard Unsworth of Cardiff and Swansea universities.

Seagrass meadows are regarded as a valuable habitat on British shores, particularly as a nursery ground for fish.
'Sea canaries'

The underwater plants face threats from human activities, including nutrient pollution, where nitrogen from agriculture and industry runs off land and enters the water.

Dr Richard Unsworth of Swansea University said seagrasses were like the "canaries of the sea" in that their condition can be used as an indicator of the health of coastal waters.

"We conducted the most extensive assessment to date of the environmental conditions of seagrasses in the British Isles, using techniques widely used to assess these important habitats in places such as the Great Barrier Reef," he told BBC News.

"All the sites in our study were found to be at risk from either pollution, boating, or both, even those in relatively remote locations."

He said the study showed action was needed to protect seagrasses in the British Isles.

"We've historically lost at least 50% of these habitats in the British Isles, losing more should not be an option," Dr Unsworth added.
'Valuable ecosystems'

Of the 11 sites monitored, the worst performing sites were three areas monitored in Wales and one of two sites in England, according to the research, published in the journal, Royal Society Open Science.

The sites were:

  • Skomer marine conservation zone around the Welsh island of Skomer
  • Gelliswick Bay, Pembrokeshire
  • Porthdinllaen in Snowdonia
  • Southend-on-Sea, England

Five other areas all had nitrogen levels higher than the global average:

  • Priory Bay, Isle of Wight
  • Ramsey Bay, Isle of Man
  • Langness, Isle of Man
  • Studland Bay, England
  • Kircubin Bay, Strangford Lough, Northern Ireland

However, two remote seagrass meadows around the Isles of Scilly and Mannin Bay off Connemara, Ireland - were relatively healthy.

Writing in Royal Society Open Science, Mr Jones and Dr Unsworth said: "Our study provides the first strong quantitative evidence that seagrass meadows of the British Isles are mostly in poor condition in comparison with global averages, with tissue nitrogen levels 75% higher than global values."

Many of the meadows sampled were "in a perilous state", they concluded.

Dr Lyndsey Dodds, head of marine policy at WWF-UK, said seagrass is one of our most valuable ecosystems, helping to sustain the marine food chain.

"It's vital that the status of our seagrass improves to deliver benefits for people and nature," she said.

"WWF is calling on the UK Government to ensure seagrass is properly protected in effective Marine Protected Areas, where disturbance and pollution are minimised."
Green meadows

Seagrass is a group of flowering plants that live in shallow sheltered areas along the UK coastline where they form dense green meadows under the sea.

Because of where they grow they are vulnerable to damage from humans and are now a protected species.

The main plant in the UK is known scientifically as eelgrass, Zostera marina.

It is the most widespread marine flowering plant in the Northern Hemisphere, inhabiting the cooler ocean waters of the North Atlantic and North Pacific.

It needs sunlight to grow, and is threatened by pollution and increased amounts of sediment in the water, which block sunlight and prevent seagrass growth.

Seagrass beds are also affected by physical disturbances such as trampling, dredging, anchoring, and the use of mobile fishing gear on the sea bed.

Researchers in Wales are calling on the public to report sightings and information about the location and condition of seagrass at Seagrass Spotter

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Govt could pay $20m to change marine reserves
13 January 2015, Radio New Zealand (New Zealand)

Commercial fishers could get government compensation of about $20 million if changes to the Marine Reserves Act go ahead, Environment Minister Nick says.

The Government is proposing to update the 45-year old legislation, creating recreational fishing parks, marine and seabed reserves and sanctuaries in the Hauraki Gulf and Marlborough Sounds.

The new Marine Protected Areas Act would allow some commercial fishing in the Hauraki Gulf, but impose restrictions in the inner gulf on popular species like snapper, John Dory and kahawai.

The 80 commercial vessels currently operating in the proposed park area would otherwise be allowed to continue fishing, with a focus on prolific breeding species such as flatfish.

One of the country's largest fishing companies, Sanford, questioned the impact of the proposals on fishing quotas.

Chief operations officer Greg Johansson was concerned the proposals could undermine the system.

"If people are going to have, forcibly removed, their rights to catch fish, that's potentially going to change the way they behave in regards to their stewardship of the resource.

"The document's unclear as to whether this is a willing-buyer, willing-seller transaction or this is a confiscation of existing property rights, and if that's the case then I think all New Zealanders should be very concerned."

But Dr Smith told Summer Report the existing Marine Reserves Act allowed reserves to be created without any compensation.

"What these proposals do is ensure there's a greater involvement of both recreational and commercial fishers where those sorts of marine reserves are created.

"Where you are wanting to effectively take a resource currently used by the commercial fishers in Hauraki and Marlborough sounds ... what we're saying in these areas is that we would pay fair compensation."

The commercial fishing industry took about 1000 tonnes annually from the Hauraki Gulf and Marlborough Sounds areas out of a total 600,000 tonne catch, Dr Smith said.

The New Zealand Fishing Industry Guild said smaller commercial operators would be most affected and the protection boundary could force them to work further out to sea.

"Some of them will go further out because they want to stay in business, which then potentially puts them at risk because they're smaller boats that could be fishing in a more dangerous [area]," said guild executive secretary Ian Mathieson.

"It also puts more pressure on the existing boats in that area, which will be more the trawler fleet," he said.

Mr Mathieson said the government plans "changed the game a little bit."

"The quota management system has been around for a long time, and it does provide these rights in perpetuity.

"The government's proposal is a departure from that in extinguishing quota rights which were given to, I guess, commercial fishermen and iwi as part of Treaty settlements."

Read the full consultation document here

Commercial fisherman Michael Bradley breeds and fishes for flatfish in the Marlborough Sounds but said that under the proposed changes he would have to stop.

Mr Bradley said local Maori families, such as his own, had been fishing in the Sounds for more than 800 years and a one-off compensation cheque isn't good enough. He said he would take High Court action.
Proposals fail to please recreational fishers

Keith Ingram from the Recreational Fishing Council said the plans were a step in the right direction, but fell short of earlier suggestions that the whole Gulf would be a recreational fishing park.

"This is significantly short of that. It doesn't and won't impact on the fishing activities of the industrialised fishing methods of trawling and Danish seining."

Environmental groups Forest and Bird and WWF New Zealand asked why the protection area did not extend outwards to include the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), 200 nautical miles offshore, rather than the 12-mile limit of the country's Territorial Sea.

Mr Ingram said fish that were too small for recreational fishers to keep would simply be caught by commercial fishers nearby.

"Fish conserved by the recreational sector ... they'll just go back out into the waters where the commercial fishermen can catch them."

Dr Smith said it was not in recreational fishers' interests to ban all commercial take, such as with a species like kina which eats sea grass.

"If you banned the commercial taking of kina in the Hauraki Gulf, that would allow the sea grass numbers to decline, which would adversely affect the recreational snapper fishery because that is where the snapper breed."

He said popular inshore fish offered more value on the end of a child or a tourist's line, in a broader sense for New Zealand, than being caught in a big net.

Submissions on the proposals can be made until 11 March, and will then be considered before a draft bill is drawn

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Environment group warns against reducing manatees' endangered status
13 January 2016, The Guardian (USA)

A US government move to downgrade the conservation status of manatees and green sea turtles is premature, an environment group has warned, despite encouraging signs that both species are recovering.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has proposed that the West Indian manatee be down-listed from endangered to threatened under the endangered species act. The move follows a notable recovery in manatee numbers – in 1991, it was estimated there were just 1,267 of the hefty aquatic beasts off the coast of Florida.

That number has now swelled to 6,300 in Florida, with 13,000 in total across the manatee’s entire range, which stretches throughout the south-eastern US, Caribbean, Mexico and the northern coasts of South America.
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The FWS said that work to reduce collisions with speedboats and unintentional entanglements with fishing nets has paid off, as well as the effective rehabilitation of sick and injured manatees, which can weigh over 3,000 pounds and are nicknamed “sea cows” because they eat copious amounts of sea grass.

“The manatee is one of the most charismatic and instantly recognizable species,” said Michael Bean, principal deputy assistant secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks.

“It’s hard to imagine the waters of Florida without them, but that was the reality we were facing before manatees were listed under the endangered species act. While there is still more work to be done to fully recover manatee populations, their numbers are climbing and the threats to the species’ survival are being reduced.”

Under the act, a species is considered endangered, and therefore afforded the highest level of protection, if it is in danger of extinction throughout a large part of its habitat. The FWS says manatees no longer fit this bill and neither do the green sea turtles found near US shores.

The agency has split green sea turtles into 11 distinctive populations and proposed that the two populations found in US waters – on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts – should be considered threatened rather than endangered.

This relisting follows efforts to reduce the poaching of turtle eggs, pollution and loss of habitat. Researchers at Florida’s Archie Carr national wildlife Refuge, considered the most important green sea turtle habitat in North America, counted 14,152 nests by the end of last year’s egg-laying season in the autumn. This number beat the previous record, set in 2013, and is a vast improvement on the 200 nests found in 2001.

It’s estimated that the last breeding season produced as many as three million baby turtles in Florida. Most of these young turtles will be picked off by gulls and ocean predators, or become entangled in fishing nets, which means a large juvenile population is needed to ensure a viable adult generation is formed.

But the Center for Biological Diversity said it was premature to down-list the manatees and warned that sea turtles “aren’t out of the woods yet”.

“We are the first ones to celebrate an endangered species success but the population increase is just one sign the agency needs to consider,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director of the environmental group. “Issues such as habitat destruction, disease and predation and other sources of human mortality such as climate change really concern us.

“We know that around 80 manatees a year are recovered after being struck by boats. A down listing will mean that this number could increase without the species considered as being in danger. We have also lost hundreds of manatees to an unknown cause, possibly a toxin. When you combine this with the pressures of climate change, we worry there may be a die-off that will bring us back to where we were with manatees.”

Lopez added that sea turtles faced a huge challenge from sea level rises driven by climate change, which could wipe out any localized efforts to aid the species.

“We need to address sea level rise here in Florida in terms of mitigation and adaption,” she said. “Many of our beaches are already critically eroded and when there’s a big storm event we lose yards of beach at a time. This eats up turtle nesting habitat.

“We have a global problem we need to get a handle on. Without addressing that the turtles cannot be completely delisted. We have to be careful about these protections, especially as the Fish and Wildlife Service is a political agency and there could be a change with a new president. We shouldn’t jump the gun in a bid to demonstrate our progress on these species.”

A FWS spokesman said climate change will be a “central part” of its considerations over the green sea turtle and that protections for both turtles and manatees will remain in place. A final decision on the turtle’s status will be taken in spring, while public comments on the manatee’s listing will be open until April.

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Brevard County Commissioner: FWC Should Change 'Archaic' Manatee Speed Zone Laws
08 January 2016, Brevard Times (USA)

Brevard County Commissioner Curt Smith has placed on the agenda for the January 12, 2016 County Commission meeting a resolution requesting that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) review and amend the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act to remove manatee zone speed limits in some parts of the Indian River Lagoon in order to restore water sports areas and reasonable speed channels.

"During the past 10 years the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act appears to have been saddled with archaic, unproven, and often disproven requirements that focus too much effort on speed zones and permitting, and too little on population assessment, habitat improvement, and rescue and rehabilitation," Smith wrote in his proposal. "The existing law has become a hindrance to effective manatee management. With the rebounding of the manatee population, it is important to establish and evaluate scientific data concerning the overall health of the lagoon."

If the FWC doesn't amend the the Florida Manatee Act, Smith would want the County Commission to enact "... a county ordinance that law enforcement officials within this jurisdiction shall no longer enforce either state or federal speed restrictions that are not approved by the Local Rule Review Committee."

The manatee count on Florida's East Coast has more than doubled in the last eight years from 1,414 in 2007 to 3,333 in 2015, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission's annual survey.

Many Brevard County waterfront property owners, boaters, and anglers blame the effect of the increased manatee population for the Indian River Lagoon's plight, especially when it comes to the inability of seagrass to regrow after the 2011-2012 Superbloom die off. 

That's because an 800 to 1,200 pound adult sea cow can eat up 10% to 15% of its body weight daily in aquatic vegetation which mostly consists of seagrass. According to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Manatee Recovery Plan, manatees sometime graze on seagrass which leaves the possibility for regrowth - but manatees also "root" seagrass - meaning the entire plant is pulled and the underwater sediment is disturbed. 

In addition to food for manatees, seagrass supports the food web in the Indian River Lagoon which includes juvenile fish, sea turtles, dolphins, the American Bald Eagle, migratory birds, pelicans and other aquatic birds. Smith wants the County Commission to recognize "... the pressing need to ensure the health and sustainability of the Indian River Lagoon and for the survival of all the creatures that call it home."

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