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Monitoring Seagrass. So what’s the big deal?

We are so blessed to live where we do, surrounded by the beauty of the ocean. What we see from the shore is nothing short of spectacular, regardless of the condition of the weather. There is truly something special about the sea and its impact on us, physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually. What we see and know, we connect with and because of this, we want to protect it. It is what is under the surface that we struggle to connect with. More so, if it is not seen easily or we do not directly benefit from it, we will not understand and therefore we will not care for it. Marine ecosystems are interdependent. They depend on each other for food, protection and nutrients. Seagrass meadows may not be as colourful as coral reefs, nor do they contain large, exciting marine animals such as whales and sharks but without seagrass ecosystems, these would not exist. 

Seagrasses are flowering plants that rely on light to convert carbon dioxide and water into oxygen and sugar which is then available for use by other living organisms. Seagrass ecosystems support approximately 40 times more marine fauna than on bare sand, they provide a nursery ground and shelter for fish, prawns, shellfish and crabs. They support many human commercial activities and provide feeding grounds for larger predators, including marine birds. Furthermore, in nutrient poor regions, seagrass plants help nutrient cycling by taking up nutrients and releasing them into the water through their leaves, acting as a nutrient pump. Although they receive little attention, they are considered as one of the most productive ecosystems in the world. Unfortunately seagrass meadows are being lost due to human activities with implications for biodiversity and fisheries. 

Beginning Semester 1 this year, Marine Studies students from the Bellarine Campus adopted an area of Swan Bay to monitor the health status of seagrass beds. In collaboration with scientists from the Department of Primary Industries based in Queenscliff, Parks Victoria and access to the Sea Search in Schools national data base, students have and will use Quantifying methods to assess seagrass density and canopy height which is an important measure of habitat health. Observations of algae growing on seagrass leaves are recorded as well as the type and abundance of animals found among the seagrass beds.

Through snorkelling experiences, observations in the field and research into human impacts on marine ecosystems, students’ eyes are opened up to these habitats and the integral role they play in maintaining the balance in the ocean environment. By establishing a relationship with experts in their field and the application of specific methods in collecting and submitting data to a national database, students are engaged in making a difference for a purpose. They are exposed to concepts and methods which can be used in different environments which is meaningful to them. This experience facilitates learning through connecting and understanding, collaborating, networking and reflecting. Not only are they being informed, they have the opportunity to inform others, encouraging ownership and most importantly, a responsibility to care for the world in which they live.

Fiona Scott

Outdoor and Physical Education Teacher

Bellarine Campus


 

 

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