Seagrasses are disappearing at an alarming rate globally and if we don’t do something to revert this trend we could see disastrous outcomes for our coastal ecosystems.
By Dr Emma Jackson, Seagrass Restoration Research based in Gladstone
In Australia, seagrass meadows are at critical levels which potentially could have disastrous outcomes for our coastal communities. That’s why our seagrass restoration project here in Gladstone is attracting the attention of experts around the world.
It’s our hope that by investigating the science of restoring seagrass beds in the Port of Gladstone we can make a real impact on the global research of seagrass. We hope our work goes some way towards putting the brakes on the decline in seagrass around the world, and will help restore health to the world’s coastal ecosystems.
A Global Problem
This is a massive task given the magnitude of the problem. In 2009, seagrasses globally were shown to be disappearing at an accelerated rate. Interestingly, in the same year, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) alerted the world to the fact that seagrass rank among the most intense carbon sinks on the planet, and that by preventing further loss and promoting the recovery of these habitats could contribute to offsetting current fossil fuel emissions.
In Australia, seagrass meadows have also been in the conservation spotlight. In Queensland, seagrass conservation has legally been enforced under various State and Commonwealth legislation and there has also been a statutory protection of seagrass under the Queensland Fisheries Act. In 2015, the risk of further seagrass losses in Queensland was mapped, shining a light on the Port of Gladstone region as one of the highest risk regions.
The Port of Gladstone is one of the largest multi-commodity ports in Australia which also sits within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. The seagrass in this area has shown over 50 per cent reduction in seagrass cover over the last two decades.
Unlike losses of seagrass in temperate regions, seagrass in Queensland are very dynamic and may come and go depending on the conditions. This makes “restoration” difficult since it is hard to detect where seagrass has actually been lost and intervention is needed.” However, these extreme conditions make the project all the more important in the global research into seagrass loss and restoration.
What are Seagrasses?
Unlike seaweed, seagrasses are flowering plants that returned to the ocean a few million years ago. Here, their role cannot be underestimated.
Seagrass meadows deliver a number human benefits. They function as nursery, spawning and feeding grounds for a large number of commercial and recreationally important fish and shellfish. The leaves of these meadows help to prevent erosion and trap carbon.
They are also great filters, taking up nutrients and pollutants and earning the title the ‘Kidneys of the Great Barrier Reef’. Finally, and slightly at odds with that, they are also a major food for green turtle, dugong, fish and a range of shorebird populations.
Seagrasses tend to grow in sheltered parts of the coast and estuaries. Unfortunately, this tends to be the places where humans develop towns and cities, build ports, and dispose of wastes either deliberately or accidentally.