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Modelling seagrass distribution and risks to seagrass

Seagrass distribution in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area

In 2012 the Seagrass Ecology group published the results of two workshops and a web based survey examining the risk to seagrass across global bioregions. The research focused on linking impacts with threats to seagrass and comparing the results for different parts of the world in a quantitative way. Urban, port and industrial runoff, and agriculture were consistently ranked high. Other impacts varied across the world reflecting the nature of seagrass species and meadows and specific issues. Generally, seagrass scientists saw climate change factors as having a low impact, but there were marked differences between the northern and southern hemispheres.

This project was a team effort to initially amalgamate various seagrass maps in a consistent form with consistent metadata to provide a broad scale composite map of all the locations where seagrass had been recorded. The group has mapped seagrass meadows in the reef province since the mid 1980s. Some of these maps are broad scale, covering most of the coast and some focused on smaller scales such as mapping of a port or Dugong Protected Area.

Working with Alana Grech from the James Cook University ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies we then used this information as the base layer for a Bayesian Model to estimate the probability of seagrass being present at any location in the inshore waters of the World Heritage Area. We have now used this probability layer as a tool to investigate levels of risk to seagrass, identifying coastal hotspots, and to quantify the changes in protection afforded seagrass meadows by spatial management arrangements.

The risk approach was expanded to study global bioregions and global risk to seagrass, and we are presently using the modelled data to examine potential seagrass propagule movement as a way to evaluate likely pathways for recovery after losses at scales of tropical storm events.

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