Project Seagrass

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CERF 2015 – Grand Challenges in Coastal and Estuarine Science

A long-standing tradition of Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation (CERF) conferences is the friendly and collegial environment and the unwavering support for early career scientists. This #CERF2015 was no exception with a multitude of leading marine scientists inspiring the next generation with #OceanOptimism as together we tackle the Grand Challenges together. This was despite a brilliant opening keynote by Berth Kerttula, Director of the National Ocean Council. ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’ of marine problems! #CERF2015 was very active on social media, check out the hashtag To give you a quick history lesson, CERF conferences have been held biennially since 1971 with the aim of: ”…advancing human understanding and appreciation of the Earth’s estuaries and coasts, to the wise use and management of these environments and to making the results of their research and management actions available to their colleagues and to the public.” Such admirable ambitions are inline with our own at Project Seagrass and so CERF conferences are natural home for promoting our vision: “Our vision is that our marine ecosystems are healthy, well-managed and full of life.” At this conference a whole range of topics pertaining to seagrass meadows were discussed. Seagrass restoration techniques were presented by Per-Olav Moksnes, Louise Eriander and Eduardo Infantes of Göteborg University in Sweden, whilst Rohani Ambo-Rappe showcased us transplantation methods for seagrass restoration in the Indo-Pacific. Michael Rasheed from James Cook University, Australia was able to report on the protection of the Great Barrier Reef seagrasses. He presented work on innovative monitoring of seagrasses at high risk from coastal development. Similarly Len McKenzie (also of JCU) was able to report on the status of seagrass meadows adjacent to the highly urbanized city-state of Singapore. One of the most inspiring research projects to be discussed at CERF2015 must surely be the work of the Zostera Experimental Network (ZEN). Pamela Reynolds provided a summary of research into the biodiversity and complexity of seagrass functioning across the northern hemisphere. Such collaborative research is surely cause for #OceanOptimism!# There were some fantastic posters at the conference documenting a range of seagrass research topics. Yet it wasn’t just the established names who were doing exceptional seagrass research. There were over 700 students and early-career scientists at the conference who had produced some fantastic research and were contributing significantly to our global knowledge base. Not least Erin Voigt won best student talk ‪#CERF2015‬ for her work on the effect of structural complexity and biodiversity on seagrass ecosystem function. To all those involved in the hosting of the conference – thank you, and to all those who are conducting seagrass research – thank you! Keep up the good work and see you at ISBW2016. ‪#TeamSeagrass

Starting the Seagrass and Dugong fightback

The Dugong (Dugong dugon) is IUCN Red listed as Vulnerable, in many of the 46 range states that contain Dugong its status is a lot worse. Historic hunting, loss of its seagrass habitat and the impacts of by-catch have been the primary causes of its decline. Back in 2007 the Secretariat of the Convention on Migratory Species (to which Dugong is one) negotiated the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation and Management of Dugongs and their Habitats throughout their Range (Dugong MoU) between 7 of these 46 countries. The aim of which was to promote internationally coordinated actions to ensure the long-term survival of dugongs and their seagrass habitats throughout their extensive range. Since 2007, the Secretariat of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) has managed to persuade a total of 26 states to sign up to this MoU and hopes to expand this further with the intention of protecting this wonderful species and its important seagrass habitat. A major spin off from this MoU has been the development of a Global Environment Facility funded project that aims to support the implementation of this MoU by 8 of the 26 signatories. Over the few months I’ve been lucky enough to become part of this project, principally as a technical advisor on the ecosystem services of seagrass meadows and as a result attended the recent inception workshop in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Back in October, along with partners from Mozambique, Vanuatu, Madagascar, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Soloman Islands, Temor Leste, and Malaysia I attended a workshop to discuss how local partners could develop projects aimed at promoting the conservation of seagrass and dugong. This workshop brought together a range of technical experts from the fields of dugong biology and conservation, seagrass monitoring and assessment, and applied conservation decision making. By enabling partners to critically consider the focus and methods of their respective projects, the aim of the workshop was to ensure that the investment of the Global Environment Facility has the greatest potential conservation impact. A nice example of this was how partners were provided with information and tools to consider (and reconsider) the most appropriate methods for mapping seagrass in their locations (see the Remote Sensing Online Tool Kit). Online toolkit for remote sensing of Seagrass It was great to discuss seagrass ecosystem services with partners from around the region, many of which are dealing with the same research questions and considerations that the work of Project Seagrass and SERG are currently investigating. In the Solomon Islands it was felt that local communities might not respond to conservation measures to protect Dugong, but that they would respond to measures aimed at protecting the habitat of the key local Rabbitfish fishery (seagrass) and indirectly help the Dugong. In Madagascar much the same issues were present, but the knowledge of the seagrass resources and their associated Dugong was at a very low level and needed to be improved. The Indo-Pacific seagrass species Halophila ovalis is a key food source for the Dugong, its soft energy rich roots and rhizomes are targeted above many alternative seagrass species. This project that is being managed through and co funded by the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund appears a once in a generation opportunity to start a fight back for Dugong and Seagrass in a region where ecological decline is so widespread. I sincerely hope that this project expands and becomes a wider success in order to inspire more countries to become involved and for more countries to sign the MoU.