School students set to get serious about seagrass

29 April 2022

A new seagrass research and education facility run in partnership between CQUniversity Australia' the Konomie (North Keppel) Island Environmental Education Centre (KIEEC)' and Woppaburra TUMRA will see school students and Traditional Owners assist in the delivery of important marine research being conducted on Konomie Island in the Southern Great Barrier Reef.

The formal launch of the new seagrass education and research facility – officially known as SeaGrow Konomie Island – took place alongside the signing of an important Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between CQUniversity and the KIEEC on Konomie Island.

The MoU allows for CQU students – such as those studying environmental science' digital media or conservation and land management – to visit Konomie Island as part of their coursework and assessments.

It also allows an 'island base' for CQUniversity researchers and research students to conduct studies across a broad range of disciplines such as engineering' environmental science' or education.

The new SeaGrow Konomie Island facility will allow primary and high school students who are visiting Konomie Island for their school camps' to work alongside researchers from CQUniversity's Coastal Marine Ecosystems Research Centre (CMERC) to help regenerate seagrass meadows which will involve the collection of seagrass flowers and propagation of seeds at the research facility.

Students will also have the opportunity to learn from Traditional Owners from Woppaburra TUMRA who will share cultural' conservation and environmental knowledge with visiting groups.

CQUniversity's Director of CMERC' Dr Emma Jackson said the MoU and the SeaGrow Konomie Island facility would be catalysts for connecting Central Queensland students to the Great Barrier Reef.

"This partnership will allow us to work with the Konomie Island Environmental Education Centre and Woppaburra Traditional Owners to expose primary and secondary school students to real-life university research' teaching and training activities.

"They will also have the opportunity to learn more about valuable seagrass ecosystems along our coasts and take part in important seagrass regeneration work that has the potential to benefit and support the long-term health of the Capricorn Coast marine environment and the Great Barrier Reef'" Dr Jackson said.

"Seagrasses are an important component of the Great Barrier Reef Ecosystem and act as key fish breeding and feeding grounds' in capturing and storing carbon' and filtering out nutrients and fine sediments. They are also a great food source for dugong and turtle that swim in these coastal waters.

"The seagrass nursery as part of SeaGrow Konomie Island will not only allow students coming to the Centre to learn about the meadows surrounding the island and their value but will also provide a research base for CMERC staff and students and visiting scientists to study seagrass in the region and methods for enhancing their resilience.

"Seagrass nurseries are critical for scaling up seagrass restoration' in the same way that we rely on native terrestrial plant nurseries."

Sonny Van Issum from Woppaburra TUMRA said that the partnership would help pave the way for Traditional Owners to transfer important traditional knowledge to new generations.

"The Woppaburra people have always considered our people and country to be an interconnected ecological' cultural and spiritual system. This includes the land' sea' winds' sky' flora' fauna and sea creatures.

"Mugga Mugga (humpback whale) as our clan totem is revered by our people along with a variety of sea life which are personal totems and often used in ceremony and Wa wan gan or the dugong is a part of this system who grazes extensively on seagrass.

"This facility (SeaGrow Konomie Island) is a vital piece of infrastructure which can promote the growth of seagrass that our dugong graze and most importantly add to long term maintenance and development of our whole ecosystem'" Mr Van Issum said.

Andrew Gill' Principal of the KIEEC said that the partnership and seagrass education research facilities would be the first of its kind globally and would offer primary and high school students a unique opportunity to study marine biology alongside research experts.

"Seagrow Konomie Island is a world first' being the only seagrass education and research nursery to be built on a Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Island.

"This facility will contribute to the Konomie Island Environmental Education Centre becoming the only Department of Education and state-owned site to become carbon negative.

"The partnership with the Woppaburra TUMRA will also help to ensure a bright future for the Land and Sea Country we operate on' as well as providing a solid educational base for students' community and Traditional Owners'" Mr Gill said.

CQUniversity has worked with the KIEEC and the Woppaburra TUMRA to secure around $210'000 in combined funding from the State Government and Australian Government National Landcare Program and the Fitzroy Basin Authority (FBA) for the ongoing partnership and the development of the SeaGrow Konomie Island seagrass research facility.