Australia: Science appeals to fisheries for seagrass salvation

Jeremy Story Carter ABC News 7 May 14;

The scientific community is reaching out to the fisheries industry in the hope of preserving a vital part of its aquatic ecosystem.

Seagrass provides vital food and shelter, for a huge range of fish species, but recent years has seen it decline in eastern Victorian waters.

“There’s certainly been persistent decline over the last two decades,” said Dr Ford, a research fellow from the University of Melbourne's Department of Zoology.

Dr Ford says a broad range of species are dependent on seagrass for survival.

“All these lovely local, sustainable fish that we eat, things such as King George Whiting, Garfish, Calamari, Rock Flathead, rely on seagrass in different ways,” he said.

“They either live in the seagrass, or they might actually eat the seagrass, or eat what is living on the seagrass.

“If we want to have a viable sustainable industry out of them, we need the seagrass to be there.”

A central part of Dr Ford’s research into seagrass decline, hopes to draw on the knowledge of commercial and recreational fishermen.

“The key difference to my project, to a lot of science and research that has gone on before, is that I am trying to harness the local knowledge of those who spend their lives on Gippsland waters.

“They’re out there every day when the weather’s good and they’re observing so many things,” said Dr Ford.

“As a scientist, I go out and do a short scientific survey, but I’m never going to pick up the things that they do.

“There’s so much information and observations that they have, that is vital for understanding the dynamics of the system.”

Dr Ford hopes the knowledge gained from those in the fisheries industry, can direct future ecological management strategies.

“What I’m doing is chatting to fishermen, getting them to document their observations, changes in seagrass cover and quality over time, and map algal bloom and how they might be affecting seagrass,” said Dr Ford.

“Algae can starve seagrass of light, nutrients and oxygen, so we’re trying to document what’s actually going on out there.

“[Fishermen] have such investment; their livelihood is invested in this seagrass, they are stewards of the system, they see these things and they care about them.”