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MyCQU - News Article

News Article

Old and new knowledge key to seagrass restoration

Published:09 September 2020

Dr Emma Jackson

The combination of traditional knowledge and cutting-edge science could hold the key to the restoration of Australia’s valuable seagrass meadows.

Referred to by scientists as ‘the kidneys of the Great Barrier Reef’ for their role in filtering nutrients and sediments from the water, seagrass meadows also contribute an estimated $31.5 million a year to Australia’s fisheries through the role as a breeding habitat for everything from fish to turtles and scallops to dugongs.

However, at least 291,000 hectares of seagrass meadows have been lost around Australia since the 1930s – a massive disruption to marine habitats which is consistent with global trends – caused by rising sea surface temperatures, extreme temperature events, coastal urbanization and agricultural run-off.

To turn the tide in this battle, a group of scientists from across Australia and New Zealand led by Deakin University (including lead author and PhD student Yi Mei Tan who is co-supervised by researchers from Deakin, CQUniversity and Melbourne Water) and including Associate Professors Emma Jackson and Andrew Irving from CQUniversity Australia, has examined a range of options to identify the best methods for restoring the health and extent of seagrass meadows.

“The decline in seagrass habitats has clear and detrimental ecological and socio-economic consequences and stemming this decline through facilitating recovery is urgently needed,” the research team stated in a paper recently published in the scientific journal, Frontiers.

The research found that previous rehabilitation efforts on a global scale have seen varying degrees of success, however, the team analysed the features of successful small-scale restorations and identified technologies which could allow these to be applied across large areas.

Habitat restoration and creation may include efforts such as the physical planting of seagrasses, distribution or planting of seagrass seeds, or coastal engineering to modify sediment regimes.

Dr Jackson, who is the director of CQUniversity’s Coastal Marine Ecosystems Research Centre (CMERC) in Gladstone, said these tools included buoy-deployed seeding systems, dispenser injection seeders, artificial in-water structures to protect restoration sites, and land-based nurseries for propagation.

“Sharing of western science and traditional ecological knowledge through collaborations can also provide improved outcomes from these restoration activities, as Indigenous custodians have been keen observers and active managers of the environment for thousands of years and can provide valuable insights into the biological conditions, and promote a culture of caring for sea country,” Dr Jackson said.

“It is widely acknowledged that seagrass rehabilitation is a slow process, often taking years to decades for successful recolonization and meadow establishment.

“However, involving traditional custodians as well as community groups of ‘citizen scientists’, can go a long way to ensuring the success of restoration programs through their ongoing interest in planting and monitoring seagrass beds.”

The research group noted that further work was needed to better understand the influence of seabed conditions at seeding, the suitability of different species to various environments, and genetic diversity.

The research group was comprised of scientists from Deakin University, The University of Western Australia, WA Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, The Nature Conservancy, the University of NSW, University of Tasmania, Sydney Institute of Marine Science, University of Waikato, NZ National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, University of Groningen Netherlands, Australian Rivers Institute, James Cook University, Western Port Seagrass Partnership, University of Southern Queensland, The University of Adelaide and CQUniversity Australia.

The group of scientists all form part of the Australian and New Zealand Seagrass restoration network.