Australia: Study shows seagrass is recovering in Gladstone harbour

Mara Pattison-Sowden Gladstone Observer 6 Jul 13;

DESPITE Gladstone harbour's major dredging project, a study has found that Gladstone's seagrass is thriving, with a better spread than other Queensland ports.

The James Cook University study found seagrass - a vital food source for dugongs - had been increasing in the Western Basin since November 2011.

Gladstone Port Corporation welcomed the study, saying it proved the additional safeguards it put in place for the current dredging project helped to decrease its impact on the marine environment.

JCU Aquatic Ecosystem researcher Dr Michael Rasheed said previous reductions in seagrass across the eastern coast, including in Gladstone, were attributed to regional drivers of change including heavy rainfall, severe flooding events and cyclones.

Gladstone and Townsville were the only locations where coastal seagrass had significantly recovered since then, according to the JCU study.

"The increase in seagrass for Gladstone is welcome news and has occurred despite the Western Basin dredging program being conducted during this period," Dr Rasheed said.

"This good news needs to be taken with some caution, as seagrass, particularly in the inner harbour, remains in a vulnerable state."

GPC CEO Leo Zussino said he was "thrilled" the study had shown minimal impact, despite more than 14 million cubic metres of dredging that took place in the Gladstone Port between November 2011 and November 2012.

"One of the most interesting things about the recovery in Gladstone was that the slowest recovery was in Rodds Bay where there is no (dredging) activity taking place," he said.

"These are obvious issues we need to have further information to understand, but the intense monitoring adds a lot of value to understanding the seagrass, which was the significant requirement we were asked to protect during this massive dredging project."

Mr Zussino said it was important the ports corporation continued to review the Curtis Coast Coastal and Marine Resource report on a five-yearly basis to ensure it was minimising, mitigating and compensating for the impacts that dredging had on the marine environment in Gladstone's harbour.

Part of the study was funded by GPC under requirements to protect and manage seagrasses.

Key findings:

Seagrass significantly increased in five of the 15 monitoring areas from 2011 to 2012.
Dugong and their feeding trails were seen for the first time in the South Trees Region, providing positive signs of recovery.
It may take some time for seagrass areas to reach pre-flood (2009) levels.

Huge seagrass regrowth at Queensland port
Cleo Fraser AAP 5 Jul 13;

SEAGRASS is making an unlikely comeback at a large Queensland port that's been criticised by green groups for damaging the environment.

But the new findings, released by James Cook University's seagrass monitoring program on Friday, paint a grim picture for the flora in other areas of the state.

During 2010 and 2011 huge areas of seagrass were wiped out by heavy rainfall, flooding and cyclones.

"We've had three years in a row of poor conditions," lead researcher Dr Michael Rasheed told AAP.

"The seagrass really hasn't had a chance to bounce back in most areas."

Of the populated areas monitored by researchers, only Gladstone Harbour, Townsville and off-shore areas of Abbott Point near Bowen saw significant regrowth in 2012.

At Gladstone Harbour, where the highest growth was recorded, researchers found meadows had expanded by 700 hectares.

The amount of seagrass in the area is now what it was in 2010.

The findings come as an independent review panel assesses the health of the harbour and the impacts of port developments on the Great Barrier Reef.

The United Nation's environment arm was highly critical of Australia's management of the reef in a report last year and requested a review of the harbour.

Environmentalist Bob Irwin has described the harbour as a war zone.

Dr Rasheed says activities at Gladstone Harbour are likely affecting seagrass, but the port's water quality management scheme is encouraging growth.

Researchers found there has been far less growth in coastal areas at Abbott Point near Bowen, Weipa, Cairns, Innisfail, Karumba and Mackay.

Dr Rasheed says it has been difficult for seagrass to bounce back in these areas as such large chunks were destroyed during storms such as Cyclone Oswald.

Seagrass is an important part of the marine eco-system, is a nursing habitat for many species and is also a food source for turtles and dugongs.

The seagrass monitoring program is partly funded by the Gladstone Ports Corporation.

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