Mike van Keulen shares his thoughts about the field visit we had to Xincun Bay.

Photos and text by Mike van Keulen

As part of the ISBW11 activities, we were privileged to visit the Special Seagrass Protection Area in Xincun Bay near the Workshop location on Hainan Island. The bus ride to the site provided an interesting glimpse of the countryside near Sanya, with extensive areas of agricultural land. The bus trip was made more interesting by the disconcerting high temperature alarm that sounded throughout much of the trip; however both buses completed the journey successfully and the alarm was dispelled from our minds. Disembarking, we then boarded a small ferry for the short journey across Lian Port, bustling with commercial vessels and houseboats to Nanwan Monkey Island (no monkeys were observed in the making of this blog).



A short walk through the forest brought us to the shores of the Bay. The huge number of houseboats and aquaculture facilities was immediately striking as we emerged onto the beach. The Bay is semi-enclosed, with a relatively small opening to the open sea, which resulted in large amounts of rubbish accumulating in the shallows and on the beaches.


Not far from shore were many structures used in aquaculture and fish handling, as well as houseboats and other vessels. Clam harvesting from the intertidal using rakes was also in evidence, resulting in a very disturbed intertidal shoreline.



The pollution from the densely populated waterway and the aquaculture activities was very evident, with very turbid waters inshore and a high amount of particulate matter in the water column. The fine particulate matter was easily resuspended and doubtless compromises the light regime for the benthic plants. Nonetheless, there was significant seagrass growth in the shallow inshore waters, with an extensive meadow of Enhalus acoroides and Thalassia hemprichii. The smaller Halophila species (H. ovalis and H. beccarii) were reported to occur further along the shore near the mangroves; however we didn’t make it that far. After a little hesitation, the seagrass enthusiasts ventured out into the shallows, inspecting the seagrasses growing only a few tens of metres from the shore.





While the high nutrient levels in the water resulted in very turbid water conditions and high quantities of epiphytic and benthic macroalgal growth, particularly of Ulva, the seagrasses appeared reasonably healthy. In between the clumps of seagrasses were actively photosynthesizing benthic algal mats that were being grazed by gastropod snails, resulting in sandy patches on the seabed.


Following our wander through the seagrass meadows on Xincun Bay we reboarded the ferry to return to the mainland. The field trip provided a great opportunity to see the local seagrasses and provided a remarkable insight into the issues facing some of the seagrass meadows in southern China.

Back on the mainland a filling lunch was provided, that included a diverse and delicious variety of traditional Hainanese dishes, sustaining us for our return trip to Sanya. The bus ride provided an opportunity for some to snooze while others had plenty to discuss about the seagrass ecosystem we had just witnessed. For many it was a great opportunity to chat to new friends or catch up with friends from previous ISBW meetings.

This just in folks! The location of the next ISBW – a closely guarded secret that we couldn’t trick or bribe the voting officials to divulge, is….


More details to follow! Stay tuned to the blog!

Day two of the 11th International Seagrass Biology Workshop opened with Mike Fortes issuing a challenge to seagrass scientists to lead the charge on raising awareness on seagrass habitats in the morning’s plenary. Mike believes that there is still much work to be done on seagrass science and management in the tropics and especially in the South-East Asian region where coastal habitats are highly threatened by pressures of population growth, urbanization and coastal development.


I caught up with Mike to chat about challenges for seagrass science and conservation in South-East Asia:

Q (Siti): There are obviously a lot of gaps in our knowledge of tropical seagrass ecosystems in the Indo-Pacific. What do you think are the three most pressing issues that need to be addressed as soon as possible?

A (Mike Fortes): The three challenges I have in mind are related and inter-connected and it’s difficult to separate them, but firstly there has to be a solid scientific base (e.g. baseline knowledge) to work with in SE Asia, which is lacking. Secondly, there is a lack of understanding of science and that needs to be understood by managers and stockholders. As scientists we need to be involved in the communication of our work. And thirdly, all this knowledge and understanding needs to be translated into policy. Science needs to form the basis for management and policy decisions.

Q: Do you think a different approach is needed for outreach and communication to raise awareness of seagrass habitats and science communication in the South-East Asian region compared to other regions in the world?

A: In general it’s not that a different approach is needed, but that a serious and affective approach is required. By affective I mean that our outreach efforts have to affect or touch people at a deeper level – what we communicate has to resound with those we are trying to communicate with.

Q: What’s your take on the state of seagrass science in the region and what do you think we should aim for?

A: We need to address the issues at root of the problem. Sometimes the most pressing issues have solutions that are right in front of us but require an approach that is out of the “science toolbox”. For example if there’s discharge affecting water quality and subsequently seagrass in an area, the most direct solution is to first stop the discharge and sometimes this requires us talking to politicians and decision makers first before we apply a solution based on our science and knowledge of seagrass habitats.

Thanks Mike for sharing your thoughts!

Because a picture is worth a thousand words, here’s a bunch of photos:

From the talks:





Making new friends at tea break:





And from the workshops:






Hello from ISBW11 in sunny Sanya!

Prof. Xiaoping Huang and the local organizing committee welcomed us and officially opened the ISBW this morning with welcome addresses from representatives from the South China Sea Institute of Ocenanology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, World Seagrass Association and local representatives.


The two plenary speakers for day 1 were Fred Short and Massa Nakaoka. Fred gave an overview of the global state of seagrass and what tells us about our oceans, and Massa spoke about the impacts of catastrophic events on seagrass meadows.


The speakers in session 1 on ecosystem vulnerability and resilience gave a range of interesting talks – a promising start to what looks like a stimulating conference.


There are some who couldn’t physically be here for the conference but were lucky to have a colleague who agreed to bring a manifestation of themselves to be here in spirit (and photos).

It’s almost as good as being here!! 🙂

Stay tuned! We have more daily reports from ISBW11

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