Researchers at CQUniversity's Coastal Marine Ecosystems Research Centre (CMERC) have been working with passionate citizen scientists to engage communities and regenerate ecologically important seagrass meadows. Their flagship citizen science project involves engaging community volunteers to collect seagrass flowers so that seeds can be germinated and transplanted to regenerate existing meadows and establish new ones.
Gidarjil Development Corporation
CMERC's Sea Flowers project is contributing to the restoration of the vital flora which is responsible for filtering nutrients and sediments from the water.
Associate Professor Emma Jackson
Researchers at CQUniversity's Coastal Marine Ecosystems Research Centre (CMERC), led by Associate Professor Emma Jackson, have been working with passionate citizen scientists to engage communities and regenerate ecologically important seagrass meadows.
CMERC experts have been doing this through a flagship citizen science project that involves engaging community volunteers to collect seagrass flowers so that seeds can be germinated and transplanted to regenerate existing meadows and establish new ones.
The Sea Flowers: growing community engagement for seagrass restoration project is being implemented at intertidal seagrass banks within Gladstone, Bundaberg and the Sunshine Coast.
Seagrass plays an important part in the ecology of marine environments especially within the southern Great Barrier Reef. Seagrass is referred to by many marine experts as 'the kidneys of the Great Barrier Reef' for its role in filtering nutrients and sediments from the water. Seagrass meadows also contribute an estimated $31.5 million a year to Australia's fisheries through their role as a breeding habitat for everything from fish to turtles and scallops to dugongs.
However, at least 291 000 hectares of seagrass meadows have been lost around Australia since the 1930s – resulting in a massive disruption to marine habitats which is consistent with global trends – caused by rising sea surface temperatures, extreme temperature events, coastal urbanisation and agricultural run-off.
Associate Professor Jackson explains that seagrasses are disappearing at an alarming rate, but the Sea Flowers project will contribute to the restoration of this vital flora.
'Through citizen science, we can involve local people, voluntary organisations and apprenticeship schemes to become involved in the non-destructive collection of seagrass flowers.
'The seagrass flowers are then used in seed storage, germination, viability and restoration by seed studies while educating and promoting the value of these habitats to the local community,' says Associate Professor Jackson.
Researchers from CMERC engage local stakeholders to recruit volunteers to participate in the harvesting of seagrass flowers so that seeds can be collected.
They do this through engagement with local organisations including schools and through media engagement and promotion ahead of the planned harvests.
CMERC also works closely with the Gidarjil Development Corporation as part of the Land and Sea Rangers program. The partnership with Gidarjil provides benefit to the overall project as it allows researchers to learn about and apply traditional ecological knowledge and practices and how they can combine them with western science.
The development of the project and recruitment of new volunteers, thanks initially to the Ian Potter Foundation and more recently through funding from the Queensland Government's citizen science fund, has allowed the project to grow and it is now at a point where the project can collect enough seagrass flowers and seeds to run larger trials resulting in greater regeneration of seagrass meadows.
The project has also attracted several new postgraduate research students who are studying a variety of seagrass growth factors including genetics and adaptation, flowering triggers, and seed based restoration protocols to support seed germination and seedling growth.
Associate Professor Jackson says that the expansion of the project now means that the centre has a large collection of seeds and is using data findings and modelling to determine the best areas and timings for germination of seeds and transplanting of seedlings.
'At the moment we are focused on upscaling our seagrass nurseries and providing people with the capacity to manage and run those nurseries, including the training of Indigenous Sea Rangers to manage and monitor restored sites.
'By establishing a nursery system where we can produce seeds without large scale collection efforts, we will be better able to support the rehabilitation and mitigation efforts related to protecting our seagrass meadows and the ecosystems they support.
'Essentially it will be a real game changer to get 'industrial scale' seagrass nurseries up and running to be able to produce seeds for dispersal by volunteers such as recreational fishers.
'Usually, seeds are dispersed through dugongs eating the grasses and through natural tidal movements, but as meadows are depleted there is less opportunity for this to happen, so by creating nurseries and mechanisms including training for citizen scientists and modelling on where meadows aren't growing and need support, we will be able to help improve seagrass environments,' says Associate Professor Jackson.
'Doing this work has enormous potential for transforming our coastal marine environments and improving the general health of these ecosystems because the successful transplantation of one seagrass seed has the potential to grow into one hectare of seagrass meadows.
'Ultimately what we are trying to do is share the message of the importance of seagrass and the vital role it plays within our coastal environments.
'Involving people in this allows us to create awareness and nurture advocacy for our marine environments.'
Another unique engagement activity has included combing science with art through the commissioning and exhibiting of marine and seagrass inspired artworks by well-known Gladstone artist Margaret Worthington. The exhibition allows attendees to immerse themselves in several interactive displays while learning about the powerful role of seagrass within the local environment.
Connect with CQUniversity
At CQUniversity we know the value of our connections locally and around the world. Our partnerships help us create opportunities, deliver solutions and change lives. From time to time, we share our Connections Count update where we share our highlights, including research impact stories like the ones below. Sign up to become one of our valued connections.