ISBW9, Day 4 (Sirinat MNP)

While Siti and others explored the delights at a local fishing village at Pa Klok, the rest of us visited Koh Pling, Sirinat Marine National Park. It was a chance for us to cool off from the dry season heat.

Located just south of Phuket airport on the north-western tip of Phuket Island, Sirinat Marine National Park covers an area of around 90 square km. After a 50 minute coach ride from Patong (our WSC venue), we arrived at the park and popular Nai Yang Beach. The instructions were that the main seagrass and coral is best seen surrounding Nai Yang Island, a short (1.4 km) walk along the beach to the headland. We navigated our way through the rows of sun lounges and trekked along the beach.

On arrival at Nai Yang Island, it was pleasing to find Thalassia hemprichii and Cymodocea rotundata meadows covering much of the shallow reef flat to the south. Thalassia hemprichii predominated and looked in pretty good condition, although there were very few invertebrates to be seen. It was soon evident that the area is regularly gleaned with many local villagers taking advantage of the low tides. Discarded gill nets and fish traps were also scattered over the intertidal meadow.  The Cymodocea rotundata was not looking so great, with nearly 75% cover of epiphytic algae on the leaves.

We were all a little shocked however, with the condition of the coral reef. The brochures said “the coral reefs present in the bay are some of the most pristine found in Phuket province”, but this was not to be. After clambering over rocks to reach the reef edge, I asked Mike Durako where was the coral reef we came to see, and he said “this is it”. It was a very sad reef. Live coral cover was probably <1%. Much of the coral reef in the area was devastated by the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami and what appears to be more recent bleaching events (with chronic nutrient inputs discharging from the adjacent resorts). Coral recruitment was nearly non-existent. Paul Erftemejier took great glee in photographing the reef condition so he could use it in his presentations of what a poor reef looks like. It is hoped that this reef which is so important to the subsistence fishery of the area improves in the near future.

With a large northeast monsoon storm buidling in the distance, we thought it best to head back. We trekked back along to beach in time to grab a quick beer and a game of “uno” before our coach ride back to Patong.

Len McKenzie

ISBW9, Day 4 (Pa Klok)

Today, we’ll be doing a photoblog of the field trip to a local fishing village at Pa Klok.

These shrimp were collected from the seagrass bed at Pa Klok.

There’s a small mangrove nursery where Rhizophora apiculata and R. mucronata saplings are growing. The saplings are grown to 1 m height before transplanting.

We found a small patch of Halophila beccarii at Pa Klok! H. beccarii was recently listed as “Vulnerable” in the IUCN Species Red List.

A modified trawling device used by a local fisherman.

Most of the fish caught in this way are juvenile rabbitfish (Siganus sp.)

Removing catch from a fishing trap

Chillin in a seagrass bed

Man meets Jelly

Siti Maryam Yaakub

ISBW9, Day 3

Hello from the land of a thousand smiles! It’s Day 3 here at the World Seagrass Conference 2010 in Phuket, Thailand and it’s been three days of very interesting talks and presentations (and yummy Thai food).

We were really fortunate that the first day of our conference coincided with the Thai festival of Loy Kratong. Throughout the day, delegates were encouraged to create their own flower floats to be released into water bodies as part of the traditional ritual carried out during Loy Kratong. Making the flower float was fun, albeit embarrassing afterwards when I compared my haphazard (I didn’t employ the use of a random number table in the design) arrangement of flowers and leaves to the more intricate designs that were on display. Let’s just say I’ll be keeping my day job…

In the evening, we were treated to a yummy and authentic Thai dinner, followed by some singing and elegant dancing by Anchana and her students — that is until the rest of us joined in! After dinner and dance, it was time to release our flower floats, and what a pretty picture that made with all our floats drifting in the hotel pond. The evening ended with fireworks — a spectacular end to the night.

This afternoon, we’ll be going on a fieldtrip — snorkeling and to a local fishery — so stay tuned for more updates.

Siti Maryam Yaakub

During 8–11 December 2009, the Evolution and Ecology of Seagrass Seed Dispersal Vegetation Network working group brought together researchers with skills in evolutionary and population genetics, ecology and biology of pollination, seed dispersal and seedling recruitment, and hydrodynamic modelling to address the ecology and evolution of pollination and seed dispersal in seagrasses.  The network group meetings were held at the Biodiversity Conservation Centre, Kings Park Botanic Garden in Perth, Australia.

Top (L-R): J.J. (Bob) Orth, Leonardo Ruiz Montoya, David Rivers, Renae Hovey, John Satton, Oriol Mascaró Vidal , Jillian Ooi; Middle: Ainsley Calladine, Ryan Lowe, Michelle Waycott, Marion Cambridge, Elisabeth Sinclair, Jennifer Verduin; Front: Don Les, Tim Carruthers, Gary Kendrick, Paul Lavery, Kor-Jent van Dijk

The specific aims of the working group were to:

  1. compare and contrast the unique strategies that seagrasses exhibit for pollination, seed dispersal and recruitment;
  2. identify how these strategies interact with the hydrodynamic environment to result in recruitment success, and;
  3. assess the influence that these strategies have on the genetic population structure, survival and evolution of seagrasses to a completely submerged existence.

The subject has not had a synthetic treatment and the areas of evolutionary and population genetics, reproductive and recruitment ecology and the physics of fully submerged reproduction and water borne dispersal. The outputs from the workshop will be a concise review article in a high profile journal (e.g. Bioscience or Trends in Ecology and Evolution) and the development of an ARC Discovery application that addresses future collaborative interdisciplinary research among the group.

Thanks to the organisers: Gary Kendrick, Michelle Waycott and Tim Carruthers, a very nearly finished review publication resulted at the end of the workshop. We were able to identify many of the gaps of information needed to come up with a holistic review on seagrass reproductive and dispersal strategies. The structure of the workshop is to be highly commended.

Jennifer Verduin

The charisma challenge

How can we increase the profile of seagrass ecosystems? Some practical steps for communication.

submitted by Tim Carruthers

As seagrass scientists we take it as a given that:

  1. seagrasses form highly valuable ecosystems, and;
  2. seagrasses are threatened by nutrient and sediment inputs, resulting in large scale losses in many locations.

The number of journal articles published on seagrasses has increased from less than ten per year in the 1960s up to currently more than 200 per year, while this lags far behind mangroves and corals it shows a significant focus in the scientific community on understanding seagrass ecosystems.

The more concerning statistic is that for every coral or mangrove paper published, there are  (on average) 130–150 media reports—however when it comes to seagrasses, there are only 10 media reports for every scientific paper published… so, are seagrasses not important? Are they not threatened? Are they just boring? …or have we, the seagrass research community, just not yet found the way to successfully communicate to the broader community?

A number of key articles in the 1980s demonstrated the link between excessive nutrient inputs and growth of epiphytes, macroalgae or phytoplankton, resulting in seagrass loss. This understanding has been further refined by increased understanding of grazing and other physical impacts such as water movement and temperature on seagrass meadows. Recent papers have synthesized these patterns and trends, to suggest that we are currently approaching a crisis for seagrass ecosystems as multiple pressures (eutrophication, coastal development, climate change) increase in the coastal zone. With 37% of the world’s population living within 100 km of the coast, all of our major coastal habitats are potentially threatened due to increased human pressure—but seagrass habitats are the least known or understood by the public and therefore even more threatened than mangrove or coral habitats.

The best kept secret

It seems, in fact, that we have been keeping secrets.

Are seagrass important?

We know that they are—we all wrote in that last proposal or paper introduction how segrasses support fisheries, reduce coastal erosion, fix carbon and store nutrients.

Are seagrasses threatened?

We know that they are—more and more of our work is focused on tracking seagrass change and restoration of locations with significant seagrass loss.

Are seagrasses boring?

We know that they aren’t—and not only are they interesting for seagrass geeks (I confess that my favorite place to dive is seagrass meadows) but they support cryptic rare fauna such as seahorses, seadragons and giant bivalves as well as charismatic megafauna including dugongs, turtles, manatees and even tiger sharks (better keep that one quiet) as well as being great places to go fishing, crabbing or hard clamming.

So if seagrasses are important, threatened and interesting—why is it that most people don’t know about them and therefore don’t care about them? Could it be that we have not  invested enough in diverse ways to communicate to a broad audience? The public definitely can find seagrasses engaging and interesting, I once attended a Seagrasswatch workshop where the community members performed a seagrass dance they were so completely engaged and informed about a scratty little Halophila minor meadow—don’t want to be species’ist, but just to make the point that some other species should be even easier to sell as interesting!

How we can communicate better?

As seagrass scientists (actually, the science community in general) the conventional approach has been to do the best and most accurate science we can and publish it in the best peer reviewed journals – with the assumption that resource managers and politicians will find the information they need to work with the public and address the challenges facing these habitats (ie preserve them). But clearly this process has not been effective and so an alternate approach might be to still do the best and most accurate science and publish it in the best journals, but to go the next step and produce communication products that decode our detailed science to an interested public audience and also to start working with teachers and educators to ensure that the next generation is fully informed about seagrasses and seagrass issues. An informed public will demand of resource managers and politicians that they preserve or restore coastal ecosystems and maintain seagrass habitats—and ultimately seagrass scientists will be engaged in this information cycle. Some good examples of these forms of communication are happening (a few links are listed below), but we are far, far from having the clear, synthetic communication resources to establish an interested, informed and engaged general public.

The challenge

If we don’t do this, who will? Politicians? Unlikely, they generally respond to urgent disasters or issues of broad public concern, and as of now there is not broad public realization that seagrasses even exist. Students? Unlikely, there currently are simply not the resources available for teachers to use in the class or educators to use in public settings. Non Government Organizations? Possibly, although they are also limited in their ability to get funds by the lack of awareness of the importance and threatened status of seagrasses. So? …yup, that leaves us—you and me. We are either going to sit by and watch seagrasses continue to decline globally, or we can start developing more communication tools to present our best kept secrets to a broader audience. As individuals, public friendly posters and color newsletters, web sites, working with teachers and educators to develop resources, giving public presentations can all help. Also, emerging communication mechanisms like facebook, twitter, youtube, image libraries, Wikipedia, conceptual diagrams, can be employed to elevate seagrass awareness to non-specialists. In addition, scientific publications about seagrasses could be targeted to non-seagrass scientists, providing more awareness within the scientific community. But what about as an organization? Is there anything WSA could be doing? I suggest that as an organization we have the perfect opportunity to work together and develop synthetic communication products at a global and regional scale, will this mean putting in extra effort? Well yes of course—however, we may not only raise awareness of seagrasses and perhaps increase our grant funding, but may be able to effect a change and slow the rate of seagrass habitat loss as well as the loss of associated ecosystem resources.

General information on seagrass (please add others)


Teacher/educator resources on seagrass (please add others)


Science Communication (please add others)

Great technical and practical help: http://bama.ua.edu/~hsmithso/class/bsc_695/links/
Discussion forum: http://ian.umces.edu/discforum/index.php#3
A list of communications tools and resources: http://ian.umces.edu/scresources.php
Well known science communicator: http://www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/index

Recent relevant articles (please add others)

Orth, R.J., Carruthers, T.J.B.,  Dennison, W.C.,  Duarte, C.M.,  Fourqurean, J.W.,  Heck, K.L. Jr,  Hughes, A.R.,  Kendrick, G.A.,  Kenworthy, W.J.,  Olyarnik, S.,  Short, F.T.,  Waycott, M.,  Williams, S.L. 2006. A Global Crisis for Seagrass Ecosystems. Bioscience 56: 987–996
(contact tcarruth@umces.edu for pdf)

Duarte, C.M.,  Dennison, W.C.,  Orth, R.J.,  Carruthers, T.J.B. 2008. The charisma of coastal ecosystems: addressing the imbalance. Estuaries and Coasts 31: 233–238
(pdf available under OpenAccess)

Carter, S.L., Mora-Bourgeois, G., Lookingbill, T.R., Carruthers, T.J.B., Dennison, W.C. 2007. The challenge of communicating monitoring results to effect change. The George Wright Forum 24: 48–58
(contact tcarruth@umces.edu for pdf)

Dennison, W.C., Lookingbill, T.R., Carruthers, T.J.B., Hawkey, J.M., Carter, S.M. 2007. An eye-opening approach to developing and communicating integrated environmental assessments. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 5: 307-314
(contact tcarruth@umces.edu for pdf)

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