Seagrass study key to ecosystem success

Declining seagrass meadows in Moreton Bay will be studied by an international team of researchers to overcome the largest remaining barrier to effective management of the world’s marine resources.

The team, led by researchers from the Australian Rivers Institute at Griffith University and funded by the Australian Research Council, will develop new software tools that will help manage the cumulative impacts that threaten coastal ecosystems.

Ecosystems like seagrass meadows, mangroves and coral reefs are highly threatened but globally important. They provide habitat for fish, support fisheries, capture carbon from the atmosphere and are food for many animals including dugongs.

Lead Dr Chris Brown said decision makers must manage a bewildering array of threats that coastal ecosystems face.

“Many coastal ecosystems are threatened by urbanisation, overfishing, pollution and climate change all at once,” he said.

“Managers are often unsure about how to plan for cumulative impacts. They typically have very limited data on how cumulative impacts interact to degrade ecosystems.

“The tools we aim to develop will help make reliable predictions about cumulative impacts, even where there are little data. ”

Professor Rod Connolly, a chief investigator on the grant, said the project aimed to overcome the largest remaining barrier to effective management of the world’s marine resources.

Seagrass ecosystems in Moreton Bay have been in decline for decades due to multiple pressures brought on by urbanisation of Brisbane and surrounds.

The team will collect new data to test the ability of the software tools to predict the impact of cumulative impacts, including urbanisation and pollution.

The team then aims to scale up the tools developed for Queensland seagrass so they can be used elsewhere.

The team also includes Professor Côté from Simon Fraser University in Canada, an international expert on cumulative impacts. Canadian seagrass meadows face many of the same threats as those in Australia, making it a perfect testing ground for the new tools.

“This is a unique opportunity toprovide practical tools, underpinned by strong science, for decision-makers to tackle the most complex issues that affect coasts around the world,” Professor Côté said.

“We hope that the results of this project will reduce the amount of guesswork currently involved inmanaging threatened coastal habitats”