CQUniversity researchers have been building the science base for restoring seagrass in Port Curtis Bay (Gladstone Harbour), Queensland amidst a backdrop of rapid industrialisation, catchment inputs and climate variability.
Successful seagrass restoration means not just solving questions about the ‘what’, ‘how’ and ‘when’ through research, but also the ‘why’. Since, arguably, the biggest threat to seagrass survival is apathy and a lack of public appreciation of the value of seagrass, we sought to engage the community with science, by creating community ‘seagrass ambassadors’ and taking people along on a journey to examine the possibilities to restore local seagrass meadows.
This project was an opportunity not only for Dr Jackson to test restoration theories in the field, but also to build local community volunteers and involve key partners – such as the Gidarjil Development Corporation, Green Army, and Conservation Volunteers Australia – to sustain ongoing seagrass restoration efforts.
Aims & objectives
The aim was to bring seagrass into the minds of Gladstone residents, developing an appreciation of the value of, and need to restore, seagrass. The objectives were then to build volunteer support for on-the-ground restoration efforts and develop partnerships with a local Indigenous enterprise corporation, government and large national volunteer organisations, to enable long term sustainable restoration efforts. Measurements of success were:
- Improved scientific knowledge base for tropical seagrass restoration
- Large pool of recurring volunteers
- Established partnerships with researchers, local sea rangers and local authorities, and
- Improved local appreciation of seagrass value and vulnerability.
The project ran for 14 months and involved field and laboratory trials of seagrass transplant survival, information sessions, media releases, social media coverage; school visits and game play.
Over 100 trial seagrass transplants were collected and deployed in September 2015, using community volunteers, to enable the researchers to test the influence of transplant size and position, monitoring survival of transplants and recovery of the donor site. Volunteers were involved in field and lab work following basic training and followed developments on social media.
To further engage school students and younger children, we developed the ‘Seagrass versus Zombies’ game enabling participants to learn about the ecology of different seagrass species, transplant them in the correct habitat, and look at the impact of different pressure ‘zombies'.
We also developed partnerships with the local Indigenous Gidargil Development Corporation, seagrass researchers from other institutions and local Port Authorities.
The laboratory and field trials provided insight into a tropical seagrass restoration which embraces local dynamics and utilises ‘grow out’ of transplants to improve survival.
The ‘Seagrass versus Zombies’ game was very successful as a fun and highly informative learning aid for school students. Positive feedback was received from children, parents and teachers. On request, the game has been shared with other organisations and educators across Australia.
Network Ten Totally Wild television program visited our research centre in May 2016 and made a short film about the seagrass restoration and education project. This episode aired on Saturday 9th July 2016 but is still available to view on TenPlay (note: the relevant segment begins at 15:10 minutes and is about 5 minutes long).
Developing partnerships with external organisations and researchers from other institutions has paved the way to leverage support for continuing restoration efforts.
'We hear lots about the trouble seagrass is in, it's good to be able to get out and do something to help'. — Seagrass Volunteer
The project was used to leverage further financial support from the Australian Government Landcare program, the Norman Wettenhall Foundation, and further CQUniversity funding for a seagrass restoration post-doctoral Fellow to start later in 2016.
The project has initiated community partnerships and scientific collaborations -- as an example, working with local school teachers to incorporate seagrass restoration into classroom activities for both geography and marine science students.
Recruiting and employing a three-year seagrass restoration Fellow will allow findings of the project to be taken forwards. Presenting the project work at the Australian Marine Science Association enabled the development of an Australian and New Zealand Seagrass Restoration Network with over 17 experts sharing best practice and ideas, and lobbying seagrass restoration at a high level.
Written by Dr Emma Jackson, Marine Ecology Lecturer, CQUniversity Gladstone Marina Campus
This project was built on a strong scientific evidence base, their goals were clear, their approach highly collaborative. Not only was their aim to support community involvement in the collecting and transplanting of seagrass meadows in Port Curtis Bay near Gladstone, Queensland whilst educating and promoting the value of these habitats to the local community but also to inform and influence policies and legislation on biodiversity offsets.
Globally, past success rates for seagrass restoration were low, primarily due to poor choice of transplant method, suboptimal transplant sites and a failure to understand the donor population environmental conditions. The CQU researchers have developed a model for identifying optimal sub-tropical restoration locations which this project aimed to validate, using volunteer planters.
The project is well developed and sustainable, with proactive strategies to recruit and retain volunteers for the long-term; including social activities during and between planting trips, and partnering with local environmental groups, schools, universities, and Indigenous groups.
Louise Arkles, Environment & Conservation Program Manager