La Nina ignites fears of reef seagrass destruction
THE PREDICTION of a La Nina weather pattern and the associated increased rainfall has ignited fears the seagrass 'kidneys' of the Great Barrier Reef could be impacted.
Research has shown seagrass meadows are vital ecosystems to support breeding, feed animals, filter sediment and reduce diseases in the oceans.
CQUniversity Coastal Marine Ecosystems Research Centre director Dr Emma Jackson said important seagrass habitats that supported commercial fisheries and tourism industry had been disappearing and faced a new threat from the predicted La Nina.
Dr Jackson shared her concerns on a recent episode of CQUniversity's podcast IMPACT, a weekly conversation exploring groundbreaking research projects and their real-world impact.
"La Nina means there's likely to be increased flooding and cyclones, and that's very bad for seagrasses, so what we need to be doing is actively supporting the seagrasses," she said.
At the $6.6 million CMERC facility, Dr Jackson and her team have been harvesting and germinating seeds to replant and regenerate seagrass meadows.
As part of the project, volunteer 'citizen scientists' have been recruited to help harvest seagrass flowers to collect seeds, while taking precautions for resident crocodiles and managing heat and mud challenges.
"We do that in a way that doesn't impact the seagrass meadows, and it's a great way to get people involved," Dr Jackson said.
CMERC received $29,573 from the Queensland Government's Citizen Science Grants last week for project Sea Flowers: growing community engagement for seagrass restoration.
In nature, flowering water plants usually pollinate via the water column.
Through their research, Dr Jackson and her team have found an innovative and effective way to promote germination in the lab.
"We actually found recreating the stomach of a dugong, with its acidity, its freshwater, and darkness and temperature, had the best results for germinating seagrasses," Dr Jackson said.
A partnership between Gladstone Ports Corporation, Gidarjil Development Corporation, Burnett Mary Regional Group, and Fitzroy Basin Association, plus other coastal research organisations, CMERC is home to a seagrass nursery of 36 large tanks.
"CMERC is the only coastal and marine research facility based in Central Queensland, and it has a specific focus on the Southern Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area," Dr Jackson said.
The seagrass research, Dr Jackson said, would pave the way for commercial seagrass nurseries, which could provide plants to restore areas impacted by development.
"Developers can be required to create mitigation offsets if they impact on existing ecosystems - and for trees, or coral, they'd be able to go to a commercial nursery to do that," she said.
"Those nurseries don't currently exist for seagrass, but our research shows how they could be viable."
For more information on CMERC's citizen science Sea Flower collection project visit the CQ University website.