The crucial ribbon of life on Australia's coasts

A pipefish makes itself at home in one of Peter Macreadie's artificial seagrass

A pipefish makes itself at home in one of Peter Macreadie's artificial seagrass beds. Images courtesy Peter Macreadie

In summary: 
  • Research on making seagrass habitats more resilient to climate change has recently won two fellowships for UTS Chancellor's Post Doctoral Research Fellow Dr Peter Macreadie
  • Macreadie says that besides supporting an estimated 50 per cent of the world's fisheries, seagrass is a crucial component in carbon sequestration in the marine realm

It's doubtful the makers of the finest Italian avocado green ribbon envisaged a role for it in environmental science, but masquerading as a seagrass it has been an invaluable tool in UTS research on making seagrass habitats more resilient to climate change.

UTS Chancellor's Post Doctoral Research Fellow Dr Peter Macreadie has been deploying the faux seagrass to see how soon dependent sea life will recolonise a restored seagrass bed.

Fish, algae and other small creatures have liked the ribbon well enough, but it's not as good as the real thing for a crucial reason to do with climate change.

Rupert Murdoch congratulates Peter Macreadie at the American Australian AssociatRupert Murdoch congratulates Peter Macreadie at the American Australian Association Benefit Dinner

"Seagrass habitats occupy one per cent of the seafloor, but recent data estimates they (along with their counterparts the salt marshes and mangroves) lock up as much as 70 per cent of carbon in the marine realm," Macreadie said. "Theoretically, this makes them one of our most powerful natural systems for reducing greenhouse gas emissions”.

"The seagrasses not only stand out for their amazing carbon sequestration capacity, but also the other ecosystem services they provide.

"They support an estimated 50 per cent of the world’s fisheries, providing valuable nutrition for close to three billion people. They stabilise our shorelines and prevent coastal erosion, and their nutrient cycling value is estimated at $2 trillion per year.

"However, seagrasses are facing a global crisis. They are extremely vulnerable to disturbance, and we are concerned about whether they can survive climate change."

It's a message Macreadie is passionate about and that has helped him win two prestigious research fellowships the past couple of months.

On 8 November he was in New York – in a crowd that included Rupert Murdoch and Hugh Jackman – to receive the American Australian Association Dow Chemical Company Fellowship. The Association awards 12 fellowships to Australian postgraduate scholars to undertake research and study at leading American institutions such as MIT, Harvard and Yale.

Peter Macreadie setting an artificial seagrass bedPeter Macreadie setting an artificial seagrass bed

A few weeks before he was awarded the Brian Robinson Fellowship at the Banksia awards. This award aims to nurture young people with the potential to contribute to the future sustainability of Australia, or even globally.
 
"With the support of the Dow Fellowship, I will work in America with leading coastal ecologists to devise innovative ways we can improve the resilience of seagrasses to climate change, so they may have the best chance of adapting to what lies ahead," Macreadie said.

"The Brian Robinson Fellowship will also support me during study tours with leading seagrass ecologists in the USA and Australia.

"Seagrasses are among the most productive and economically important of all the species we call 'ecosystem engineers' that facilitate nutrient cycling, stabilise coastal sediments, support fisheries, and sequester large amounts of carbon. Their estimated value per hectare is nine times higher than tropical rainforests.

"Australia has more seagrass coverage and higher species diversity than anywhere else in the world, but it has also suffered some of the largest-scale losses of seagrass.

"This project will represent the biggest Australian effort so far to investigate key factors that mediate seagrass resilience and will lead to a robust framework for how seagrass recovery is achieved."

In the end that will be a lot easier than hand-tying expensive avocado ribbon to replace what we have lost.

Good on Peter!

Someone doing something really worthwhile. How come everyone is moved to comment on the Gehry Building design - but not something like this that makes a real difference in the world????

I WANNA TO UTS STUDY!