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Seagrass studies reveal the bigger picture


Seagrass is one of the most productive marine organisms and its health is an excellent indicator of environmental health.

It pays to keep your lawn happy and healthy, and it’s no different underwater.

Vast, submerged “meadows” of seagrass play an important role in keeping coastal water healthy – they help to stabilise the sea floor, capture carbon, and provide homes (and food) for many marine creatures. They even keep shipwrecks safe.

In fact, seagrass is considered an indicator organism – the “canary in the coalmine” of the ecosystems they inhabit. If the seagrass isn’t faring well, it spells trouble not only for marine life, but humans as well.

A world leader in marine research

Since 2005, Edith Cowan University’s Centre for Marine Ecosystems Research has led the way in better understanding how seagrass can thrive in the face of increasing coastal development, and dredging.

Seagrass needs sunlight to survive, and dredging can upset the balance of light and nutrients available to them.

The consequences can be on the nose. When sea vegetation accumulates near the shore, it is known as “wrack”. This unpleasant substance can pose health threats, and also impact property values.

Finding solutions to real world problems

At Port Geographe in Western Australia, ECU research was vital to resolve wrack-related problems that were affecting hundreds of residents.

Seagrass health is now monitored every summer throughout the Perth metropolitan area and Geographe Bay.

“Without the research undertaken, the Department of Transport would not have been able to adequately achieve a complete understanding of the issues contributing to the wrack accumulations. The subsequent approach to redesign the existing coastal structures, developed with the expert advice of ECU researchers, was innovative and has resulted in significant improvements,” said James Holder, Manager of Maritime Projects, WA Department of Transport.

Recognised expertise

ECU seagrass researchers Professor Paul Lavery and Associate Professor Kathryn McMahon are regularly invited to provide advice to government agencies and industry, and join technical advisory panels.

They are also asked to present as expert witnesses in court cases related to dredging.

Since 2012, Standard Operating Procedures developed by the Centre for Marine Ecosystems Research have been used by the Western Australian Government to predict the impacts of dredging on seagrass.

In establishing best practice, this research also reduces future costs for monitoring and management of dredging programs.

Links to industry

Industry is a major partner of this work. Three major industry-funded projects have applied novel modelling techniques to develop tools to better monitor, manage, and conserve seagrass habitat.

Partners include the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation, the Water Corporation, and South West Catchment Council.

As a result of the Centre’s research, marinas, groynes (shore protection structures), and other coastal infrastructure has been redesigned to alleviate transport, public health, and coastal amenity issues.

For further information contact ECU Research.

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