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World Oceans Day

Raising the voice for the world’s seagrass on World Oceans Day

Seagrass meadows around the world continue to be under threat from the activities of humans. Over fishing, climate change, coastal development, extreme weather and poor land management are all contributing to the continued global loss of these diverse and productive marine habitats that are critical for the continued functioning of the coastal environment and the services it provides.

Over the last decade a range of publications by leading global scientists have highlighted how governments, communities, industry and global conservation are failing to take the action necessary to prevent the further degradation of these important ecosystem service providers. Recent high profile research publications have shown how individual seagrass species are potentially under threat from extinction, whilst the global area of seagrass is being reduced at a rate of up to two soccer fields per hour.

Seagrass meadows are a valuable means of support for global food security due to their role as critically important nursery habitats for many of the world’s fisheries. They also directly provide fishery habitat and support endangered species such as the dugongs and green turtles. Seagrass meadows bubble oxygen into the water and sediments, sucking carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and cleaning the coastal environment of many pollutants.  If current patterns of habitat loss coupled to the increasing influence of climate change are not controlled then the world faces a  potentially future devoid of these productive, valuable and diverse habitats.

Not many people know what a seagrass meadow is, but it’s estimated that 1 billion people live within 50 km of one. Today, on World Oceans Day, scientists from the World Seagrass Association are seeking to highlight the value and threats to these meadows so that greater emphasis and resources are placed on their conservation.

To help save seagrasses into the future the World needs to:

  • educate people about the importance of seagrasses through ad-hoc awareness programs;
  • decrease turbidity in coastal waters by reducing sediment and nutrient loads being released from land;
  • make sure boats no longer damage seagrasses via their anchors or propellers;
  • prohibit dredging and filling on/nearby areas colonized by seagrasses;
  • preserve existing seagrass beds and restore degraded or lost ones; and
  • include seagrass ecosystems in coastal management plans or marine protected areas.

General information on seagrass

Seagrass-Watch

Seagrasses in South Florida, the Florida Museum of Natural History

Seagrasses at CoSEE (The Centers for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science

Mediterranean Seagrass Ecosystem at MarBEF (Marine Biodiversity and Ecosystem Functioning)

Key seagrass publications

Unsworth and Cullen (2010). “Recognising the necessity for Indo-Pacific seagrass conservation.” Conservation Letters 3(2): 63-73. Follow the link

Hughes et al (2009). “Associations of concern: declining seagrasses and threatened dependent species.” Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 7(5): 242-246. Follow the link

Waycott et al. (2009). “Accelerating loss of seagrasses across the globe threatens coastal ecosystems.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 106(30): 12377-12381. Follow the Link

Duarte et al. (2008). The charisma of coastal ecosystems: addressing the imbalance. Estuaries and Coasts 31: 233–238 Follow the link

Orth et al (2006). A Global Crisis for Seagrass Ecosystems. Bioscience 56: 987–996 Follow the link

Frederick T. Short, Beth Polidoro, Suzanne R. Livingstone, Kent E. Carpenter, Salomão Bandeira, Japar Sidik Bujang, Hilconida P. Calumpong, Tim J.B. Carruthers, Robert G. Coles, William C. Dennison, Paul L.A. Erftemeijer, Miguel D. Fortes, Aaren S. Freeman, T.G. Jagtap, Abu Hena M. Kamal, Gary A. Kendrick, W. Judson Kenworthy, Yayu A. La Nafie, Ichwan M. Nasution, Robert J. Orth, et al. 2011. Extinction risk assessment of the world’s seagrass species. Biological Conservation, 144: 1961-1971

By Miguel Fortes

It is only very recently that the importance of protecting and restoring seagrass habitats has been clarified as a climate change mitigation strategy. Towards this end, Conservation International, IUCN, IOC‐UNESCO and partners are “building a program to coordinate and guide establishment of coastal ‘blue’ carbon as a conservation and management tool contributing to climate change mitigation and the development of associated conservation financing mechanisms”. The initial action in order to realize the program was the formation in February 2011 of the “Blue Carbon” International Scientific Working Group.

The group is tasked to:

  1. Develop coastal marine conservation and management approaches that maximize sequestration of carbon and avoided emissions in coastal systems.
  2. Design and implement the program of work for carbon accounting in coastal systems and in turn developing economic incentives
  3. Coordinate with and synthesize other related existing science and policy activities
  4. Identify relevant pilot field projects, and provide guidance, technical advice, and support to the pilot projects.
  5. Identify essential science gaps for research programs

Five of the 22 members of the working group are well known to us in the WSA and seagrass circle: Carlos M. Duarte, Miguel D. Fortes, Jim Fourqurean, Nuria Marba, and Peter Ralph. The working group is convened by Conservation International, International Union for Conservation of Nature, and the UNESCO Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission. The Waterloo Foundation, NASA and UNEP have provided funding for the group.

The initial recommendations of the group are coming out soon in a pamphlet: “Minimizing Carbon Emissions and Maximizing Carbon Sequestration and Storage by Seagrasses, Tidal Marshes, Mangroves”. They embody the immediate steps that need to be taken by coastal communities, managers, policy makers and the scientific community. In brief, these steps are:

  1. Enhanced national and international research efforts—building on existing scientific data, analysis, and available technologies, a coherent and programmatic global data gathering and assessment effort is needed.
  2. Enhanced local and regional management measures—current knowledge of the carbon sequestration potential of coastal wetlands and emissions from drained systems is sufficient to warrant enhanced management actions now.
  3. Enhanced international recognition of coastal carbon ecosystems—current international actions to reduce the impacts of climate change do not recognize the greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the degradation of coastal wetlands or the role of healthy coastal ecosystems in sequestering carbon dioxide.
Photo courtesy of M. Fortes

A healthy mixed species seagrass meadow in Ilog Malino, Bolinao, Philippines. Photo courtesy of M. Fortes

Photo courtesy of M. Fortes

Bleached seagrass meadow in Ilog Malino, Bolinao, Philippines. Photo courtesy of M. Fortes

At the moment, the group is developing the Global Coastal Carbon Data Archive.

For more information:

Blue Carbon Report

Recommendations from the 1st meeting of the Blue Carbon Scientific Working group

Blue Carbon blog

Membership Survey

Please take the time to provide feedback via the Membership Survey

In November 2010 a new committee was elected, and the WSA has a new President in Dr Giuseppe Di Carlo and a range of new and younger members involved. The committee felt that the WSA needed a fresh approach to reaching out to its members in order to fulfil its potential as the leading global network of seagrass scientists and coastal managers. The new WSA committee now needs to gain the support of the membership and develop a strategy for the future direction of the Association.

In order to galvanise support for the WSA, and to develop new initiatives and ideas, it was felt that providing a questionnaire to all members would be a valuable process. It was felt that this was a way of capturing ideas throughout the association and reaching out to the membership to engage individuals about the needs of the seagrass conservation and research community that the Association can help address and/or support.

We would therefore request the assistance of all members by completing the following questionnaire. While we understand that you are all busy in your respective activities we ask you to take half an hour to consider how you feel the WSA can develop into the future.

Please remember the strength of the Association is in the commitment of its members. Thanking you in advance.

WSA Management Committee

We are conducting this survey via the online tool Survey Monkey, all responses will remain anonymous. All members will receive an email with a link to the survey—if you didn’t receive (or have mislaid) your invitation to participate contact us and we’ll resend your details (send an email to resources at seagrassonline.org).

Len McKenzie

This week I was in Split, in Croatia. It had been over a year since the last time I was here, for the Mediterranean Seagrass Workshop 2009. One of the most fun and interesting workshops I have ever been to!

Visiting Croatia is always exciting, Split is a beautiful city and it’s coastline pristine. I was invited to a workshop meant to develop management and monitoring plans for five Croatian Marine Protected Areas (Brijuni, Mlet, Telasçica, Kornati and Lastovo). The workshop involved about 30 participants: MPA managers, national institutions (Ministry of Culture, State Institute for Nature Protection, Sunce Association) and international experts from WWF Mediterranean, University of Perpignan, Fondazione IMC Onlus and the MPA of Tavolara, in Italy. I participated, together with a few other seagrass experts, to help establish a monitoring protocols for Posidonia oceanica meadows within these MPAs.

The MPAs range widely in size and extent of seagrass meadows, hence we worked MPA by MPA in establishing a similar monitoring design but with different spatial replication. The idea is to keep simple protocols that both the MPA staff and volunteers can easily implement. At the same time, it is crucial to gather data that later can be integrated to other monitoring database for the Mediterranean. This is particularly relevant as Croatia may enter the European Union in 2013 and will be required to implement the Water Framework Directive of the EU, which adopts Posidonia as a biological indicator for environmental quality.

Croatia is currently making large investments in MPAs to develop effective management and monitoring plans. The idea is that by this summer, monitoring will start both for fish and P. oceanica meadows and that later next year some socio-economic indicators will be added.

I think that the opportunity to exchange experiences among international MPAs, to discuss with colleagues lessons learned, to acquire information from experts is a valid approach to achieve effective management and conservation targets.

In the next few months, I will continue to work with the MPAs of Brijuni, Mlet, Telasçica, Kornati, and Lastovo and the National Croatian Organisation that give them support, to finalise protocols and to begin Posidonia monitoring in the five MPAs. I am much looking forward to getting to know new underwater areas of the Mediterranean!

Just a final thought: I agree with R.M. Brown who said “Good judgement comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment”. I think this is the perfect quote for many MPAs in the Mediterranean.

Written by Ivan Guala, Fondazione IMC Onlus—International Marine Centre, Italy.

Photographs by Sunce and Ante Žuljević.

 

ISBW9, Group photo

Len McKenzie

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