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Community engaged in seagrass restoration

Published:21 July 2021

Volunteers collecting seagrass flowers on the Pelican Banks in the Gladstone Harbour

A CQUniversity-led citizen science project will use community volunteers to collect seagrass flowers from seagrass banks off Gladstone, Bundaberg and the Sunshine Coast for use in seagrass restoration, with the first collection for the year set for August.

Member for Gladstone and Minister for Regional Development and Manufacturing and Minister for Water Glenn Butcher said CQUniversity had received $29,573 in Queensland Citizen Science Grants funding to involve the local community in important seagrass research.

“The Queensland Citizen Science Grants are designed to support scientists, organisations and community groups to conduct citizen science projects that tackle important issues in Queensland,” Mr Butcher said.

Leader of the SeaFlowers: growing community engagement for seagrass restoration project, CQUniversity’s Associate Professor Emma Jackson, said substantial seagrass loss in Queensland waters had led to a recognition that seagrass restoration was urgently required to maintain important food sources for green turtles and dugong.

“Across Queensland there is developing public concern about the state of our ocean’s seagrass and its ability to recover from storms and flood events,” A/Prof Jackson said.

“Our project provides a proactive method so local people, voluntary organisations and apprenticeship schemes can become citizen scientists to help restore seagrass.

“This week in our Coastal Marine Ecosystems Research Centre seagrass nursery in Gladstone we had our first emerging seagrass flower, which indicates to us that flowering will soon occur out on the natural meadows.

“We are looking forward to our first flower collection for the year, off Gladstone, on 21 August.

“The project will involve us storing the seed, germinating it, and using this to restore seagrass off Gladstone, Bundaberg and the Sunshine Coast.

“The project will also help us build a scientific seagrass restoration knowledge base, to a point where it becomes as well known as the details you might see on the back of an everyday seed packet.

“We’re asking anyone – young or old - in the local area to join the collection – no experience or science background is necessary to become a citizen scientist with the project by contacting us at cmerc-admin@cqu.edu.au.

“The trips usually involve boat travel so numbers are limited.”

Seagrasses have the same basic structure as terrestrial plants, with flowers and leaves, and form meadows in estuaries and shallow coastal waters.

They are critical for much of our marine life – providing food for dugong, turtles, sea urchins and many fish, and supporting an array of seaweeds and tiny filter-feeding animals, as well as sea squirt and mollusc eggs that provide food for small fish that in turn feed larger fish. They also act as filters for fine sediment and nutrients and can be an important sink for carbon.

Queensland Chief Scientist Prof Hugh Possingham said the CQUniversity seagrass project would run for three years and was due for completion at the end of 2023.

“It was among 23 projects that were supported by more than $630,000 in the most recent Queensland Citizen Science grant round to help increase Queenslanders’ participation in citizen science,” Prof Possingham said.

“Involving the community in science projects not only helps researchers by increasing the scope of data collected, but it also helps increase the community’s understanding of science and build critical thinking skills – vital in today’s world where we rely on evidence to make informed decisions.”

Minister Butcher said Great Barrier Reef-related projects featured in the grant round, with more than $162,000 allocated to six projects to help the reef.

“The reef-related Queensland Citizen Science Grants complement the work the Queensland Government is already undertaking to protect the Great Barrier Reef including our $270 million Reef Water Quality Program,” Mr Butcher said.

“Through this program, we’re investing in water quality improvement projects involving industry, agricultural producers and regional communities that will create more than 230 jobs.

“In addition, we’ve invested $10 million in ‘Reef Assist’ environmental projects which have created another 130 jobs in the Wet Tropics, Burdekin and Mackay Whitsunday regions."

Information on the Queensland Reef Water Quality Program and Reef Assist projects is available on the Queensland Government website. While information on projects funded through the Queensland Citizen Science grants is available at chiefscientist.qld.gov.au/.