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On the 25th of November 2012, the beach town of Búzios, Brazil was invaded when approximately 100 scientists from every continent (except maybe Antarctica) descended on the unsuspecting local population to talk about grass, seagrass to be exact.

The constant dribble of rain did not dampen (pun totally intended) the atmosphere as the seagrass pilgrims gathered at the conference venue to talk shop. Old ties were re-affirmed and new ones forged over a buzz of excitement – and we were only at registration!

After receiving the welcome pack which includes a conference t-shirt – which many have deemed a godsend (a few of us under-packed) – and paid our dues (I for one, thoroughly shortchanged the committee when making a bank transfer), we were herded downstairs for the first plenary of the conference where Jim Fourqurean gave us an overview of carbon storage in seagrass meadows and what the latest advances are on the issue of blue carbon. Afterwards, live music and drinks fueled the mingling and discussions into the early evening.Plenary 1

We hit the ground running on Day 2 of the conference with a series of interesting talks starting with our second plenary speaker, Margareth Copertino, who gave us an overview of the status of seagrass research in Brazil. This was followed by the first oral session on management, followed by oral session 2 on disturbance, recovery and mitigation.

After lunch we had a productive workshop session on Seagrass and Blue Carbon. I was in the Economics of Blue Carbon group and there was a lively discussion, led by Kate O’Brien, who kept us on track with identifying the key issues. The group then re-convened to present the outcomes of their group discussions.

The organizing committee treated us to a Pizza night for the hard work we put in on the first full day and we were also treated to a slide show of photo contributions of seagrass and seagrass researchers. That’s a wrap up of Day 1 & 2, stay tuned for the field trip updates!

 

Dear Members

We would like to invite all members of the World Seagrass Association to submit articles for a WSA special issue of the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin titled “Seagrass meadows in a globally changing environment”.

A description of the special issue and its proposed content is listed below.

The special issue will be edited by myself, Rob Coles and Mike van Keulen. All submissions would need to be completed by the end of February, and we encourage potential authors to submit proposed titles (with a brief summary) to us asap.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Kind regards,
Richard Unsworth
Vice-President, WSA Inc.


Marine Pollution Bulletin Special Issue
Seagrass meadows in a globally changing environment
Proposed Editors: Richard Unsworth, Rob Coles, Mike Van Keulen
Overview
Seagrass meadows are valuable ecosystem service providers that may have a greater resilience to future environmental change than many marine habitats. Unfortunately these habitats of high functional importance are now being lost globally at an unprecedented rate, with water quality and other localised stressors putting their future viability in doubt. It is therefore critical that we learn more about the interactions between seagrass meadows and future environmental change in the anthropocene. This needs to be with particular reference to the consequences of poor water quality on ecosystem resilience and the effects of change on trophic interactions within the food web. Understanding and predicting the response of seagrass meadows to future environmental change requires an understanding of the natural long-term drivers of change and how these are currently influenced by anthropogenic stress. Conservation management of coastal and marine ecosystems now and in the future requires increased knowledge of how seagrass meadows respond to environmental change, and how they can be managed to be resilient to these changes. The proposed special issue aims to further enhance this knowledge by bringing together global expertise across this field and will solicit primary research and review articles. The proposed special issue would be in collaboration with the World Seagrass Association and would cover the following areas:

  • Understanding seagrass ecosystem resilience and adaptations in a globally changing environment
  • The impact of future climate on trophic interactions and habitat value within the seagrass food web
  • Quantifying and modelling the carbon sequestration capacity of seagrass meadows
  • Climate and ocean acidifications interactions with water quality and its impact on seagrass
  • Drivers of change within seagrass landscapes, and approaches to quantifying and modelling those drivers
  • Understanding risk in the management of seagrass meadows
  • Socio-economic consequences of environmental change to seagrass
  • Indigenous communities and seagrass conservation

Proposed timetable:
Invitation to submit articles: September 2012
Article submission deadline: February 2013
Reviews complete: July 2013
Estimated special issue publication Sept 2013

Every fortnight (or so we hope) we feature a seagrass meadow from around the world. This week, Rosemary Mc Closkey writes about her field site in Porth Dinllaen in North Wales. Rosemary is currently a Masters student at Swansea University and she is studying juvenile fish populations in Zostera marina meadows. 

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Photos and text by Rosemary Mc Closkey

I am a student from Swansea University and I am currently undertaking a month of field work for my Master’s thesis, where I am studying juvenile fish populations in a Zostera marina seagrass meadow in Porth Dinllaen on the Llŷn peninsula, North Wales. My data collection has been carried out alongside and with the support of an on-going collaborative project between SEACAMS and the National Trust here in Wales.

Seagrass bed at Porth Dinllaen on low water

I first visited the site with SEACAMS at the end of April this year to assist with their fish monitoring work and to assess some scarring of the bed caused by moorings in the bay. This also allowed me to get the ‘lay of the land’ so to speak, and to design the methodology for my project. I joined SEACAMS once more in June to carry out more work and to run trials on some small fish traps designed to catch shrimp and small fish. Unfortunately these yielded very little success and as I had yet to visit this site on the low spring tides, I was keen to return for an extended period so I could get a real feel for the site and to adjust my method.  Myself and a field assistant returned to Porth Dinllaen at the start of August with a smaller, lighter seine net with a finer mesh than that which I had used with SEACAMS in April and June. These nets seem to be working successfully and selecting the age/size classes that I wanted.

My research thus far is focused on assessing sites of varying complexity and heterogeneity within the meadow in order to elucidate whether small-scale variations within the bed affects species assemblages. During the 1st week of August, low water on spring tide caused the bed to become exposed, thus allowing some assistants and myself to carry out a habitat assessment.

Carrying out habitat assessment on the Z. marina bed

Plots of 36m2 were assessed and permanently marked out using marker pegs and GPS. Detailed photographs were also taken. I was initially skeptical as to whether or not the heavy duty orange pegs I had used to mark out the plots would last, but I was pleasantly surprised to see most of them have. They have proven very useful for relocating each plot. The main working hazard in that respect has been young kids stealing them for their sandcastles!

I have fished within each of the plots using an 8m beach seine net to assess the dominant species and size classes of juvenile fish. Initially I wasn’t sure whether I would catch the same species that were caught in the much larger seine net. I have found that I am catching all the same species as before, however the majority are juveniles, small fish and shrimps. The larger, fast moving finfish and bigger predators seem to evade the smaller net! The majority of the fish caught were wrasses, gobies, dragonets, sea scorpions, plaice, sticklebacks and pollack. We have also caught the slightly more elusive species such as little cuttlefish and pipefish.

Greater pipefish (Syngnathus acus). One of the many beautiful creatures in the Porth Dinllaen seagrass bed.

I plan to stay one more week at this beautiful location to collect some more fishing data. Getting access to the site for this length of time has been a real joy and I have been very fortunate to be able to carry out extended field work of this nature for my masters project. I look forward to returning to Swansea in order to write up my results and my thesis.

For more information on The National Trust: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/
For more information on SEACAMS: http://www.swan.ac.uk/seacams/

Giuseppe pens his thoughts on the Mediterranean Seagrass Workshop in Morocco.

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Every three years, I tell myself “this is the last time”, and then every time I change my mind. I have been involved in the organisation of three Mediterranean Seagrass Workshops (MSW), and the effort and time dedication are worthwhile every time. On May 24, I got on a plane and soon after touched down for the first time in Morocco. True enough, conferences always take us to new places, meet new people, experience new cultures. After a couple of days in a confusing, overwhelming and crowded Marrakech, we got on a bus to Essaouira, where the MSW would be held. The road to Marrakech is pulverous, but with stunning landscapes, changing from the arid land of central Morocco to the olive trees and the green pastures of the Atlantic coastline. The landscape is intermittent with local agriculture fields, some times scattered by grazing goats and sleepy donkeys.

Essaouira: La ville du vent


Essaouira, we would soon discover is “la ville du vent” and for good reason. The wind blows 24/7 over the long stretch of beach, that goes as far as the eye can see. On Monday afternoon (May 28) the participants start trickling in from all directions; this year we have a smaller group than usual, but it’s great to see some of the same people that carry on the legacy, since the first workshop in 2006. Tuesday morning, we are ready to begin. The MSW has always been a great opportunity to maintain a Mediterranean network of seagrass scientists and managers. Only few people from the region attend the global ISBWs and other conferences are often a potpuorri of themes, topics, fields. So we stick we our own seagrass community, at least every once in a while!

Participants greeting each other at the MSW

The other interesting thing, to me at least, is that the MSW is an indicator of Mediterranean seagrass research: the majority of talks generally reflects the trends of what Mediterranean seagrassers are up to, what funding is available and what large processes are underway. I’ll give you examples. In 2009, on the beautiful island of Hvar (in Croatia) a lot of the presented work was focused on the Water Framework Directive, which at that time, the European Union was implementing for the monitoring of European waters. I tell you “monitoring” and “intercalibration” were the key words in those days. This year, no single presentation talked about “intercalibration” – that is clearly done and over with, but climate change is now the word on everyone’s lips.


The fact that conferences take us to amazing places is not just a nice treat. It also gives the opportunity of hosting countries (and their neighboughrs) to increase the representation and participation of their scientists. Given that  European conferences don’t often see a good deal of North African participants, we were particularly happy to see a larger delegation from Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. Most of us had to dust off our french and start talking. But as usual, these efforts (not just improving language skills) pay off. New collaborations are fostered at each MSW, new partnerships, new ideas and projects. But most importantly new friendships.

Participants of MSW 2012

In pure Mediterranean style, long lunches in front of delicious cous-cous, afternoon chats with posters and swimming pool gatherings make the difference. This is what keeps the community together. And every time, new students, new members, new countries (even the USA and Australia) participate. We were through four days pretty quickly and it was time to get home. Except that the bus back to Marrakech broke and left us stranded in the middle of nowhere under a burning sun. One more story to tell next time. We look forward to the next MSW, each of them has a different flavour and its own character. As they say in Morocco “à la prochaine, inshAllah”.

22nd May is International Day for Biodiversity and the theme for 2012 is Marine Biodiversity. In celebration, we will be featuring a series of articles on seagrass. This week, Elizabeth “Z” Lacey writes about her experiences in the long-term monitoring project in the seagrass beds of South Florida under the direction of Dr. Jim Fourqurean.

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By Elizabeth “Z” Lacey

During my own Ph.D. research for the past five years, I have been doing long-term monitoring of the over 18,000 km2 of seagrass beds in south Florida as part of the ongoing research in the Fourqurean Seagrass Ecosystems Research Lab (http://www2.fiu.edu/~seagrass/).  Seagrass species present include: Manatee grass Syringodium filiforme, Turtle grassThalassia testudinum, Shoal grass Halodule wrightii, Widgeon grass Ruppia maritima, Johnson’s seagrass Halophila johnsonii, Paddle grass H. decipiens and Star grass H. englemanni.  This is a similar list to the one Brooke Landry reported during her vacation in the Bahamas in a previous blog post.  Compared to the 50-60 seagrass species possible, our diversity is relatively low.  With long-term data on seagrass density and nutrient content, Dr. Jim Fourqurean and fellow researchers are able to determine how these seagrass beds are changing over time and what these changes may indicate for overall seagrass bed health.

 FKNMS permanent seagrass monitoring sites (sites located in the Dry Tortugas are not shown).

 Long-term monitoring site Photo by N. Blinick.

 My dive buddy Kirk Gastrich and I complete a seagrass survey at one of the long-term monitoring sites.  Photo by N. Blinick.

Changes in seagrass beds will also have important impacts to the diversity of species that use them for habitat, feeding grounds, refuge and as an important corridor between mangrove and coral reef habitats.  While our seagrass diversity may be limited, there are a multitude of important fish, crustacean and other species supported within these ecosystems.  It is estimated that Florida seagrass beds provide ecological services worth over $40 billion US each year (http://www.dep.state.fl.us/coastal/news/articles/2011/1103_Seagrass.htm).  In addition to the photos of stingrays and sea turtles I posted in my other World Seagrass Association blog entry about my work in Akumal, Mexico, there are a wide diversity of animals that can be seen on any given dive in the seagrass beds of South Florida.  But rather than bore you with my prose, why don’t I let the pictures speak 1,000 words (or many thousands when it comes to the number of diverse species supported in tropical seagrass beds!).

 Caribbean Reef Squid (Sepioteuthis sepioidea). Photo by Captain K. Gastrich.

 Barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda) Photo by Z. Lacey

 Grouper, an important commercial species, spotted in the seagrass bed.  Photo by J. Sweatman

 Sea urchin using turtle and manatee grass to camouflage itself in the seagrass bed. Photo by Z. Lacey

 

Octopus inside a pipe positioned in the seagrass bed to hold a channel marker—you never know what you’ll find when you are observant while snorkeling in a seagrass bed! Photo by Z. Lacey

            These photos are just a few of the many, MANY species that can be found in Florida seagrass beds.  On a recent field trip with my Introduction to Marine Biology students at Florida International University, we caught other animals like moray eels, batfish and sea robins!  In honor of today being International Day for Biodiversity, I invite you to get into the water and spend some time in the seagrass beds.  If you aren’t lucky enough to live near some of these magical ecosystems, then on next vacation you have I invite you to head on down to the Florida Keys and enjoy the diversity of life that seagrass beds support.  These are the things that keep me excited about working in marine ecosystems as I prepare to defend my Ph.D. in just a few short weeks!

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