Volunteer efforts propel seagrass restoration in North Queensland

Volunteer efforts propel seagrass restoration in North Queensland

Seagrass restoration in North Queensland has taken another major step forward following this year’s projects at Mourilyan Harbour and Cairns.      

OzFish Unlimited, Australia’s recreational fishing charity, has been part of the first meadow-scale restoration project in Tropical Australia, led by James Cook University TropWATER, to regenerate seagrass in Mourilyan Harbour, 100km south of Cairns.    

Volunteers, staff and researchers also conducted planting days at sites near Cairns Esplanade as part of this year’s restoration efforts which were done in collaboration with four Traditional Owner groups, local community groups and with funding support from BHP’s Blue Carbon Grants program.    

Dr Geoff Collins, OzFish Senior Project Manager North Queensland, said volunteers who gave up their time to help out had contributed a great deal to the ongoing success of the project.   

Volunteers helped sort fragments of seagrass at JCU’s Smithfield campus and assisted with the preparation of seedlings at the two planting sites at Cairns Yacht Club and the Mourilyan Harbour boat ramp. 

The 2023 project got under way in August with two further events also held in September. 

“To see the support we received from the volunteers was great,” Dr Collins said.  

 “The local communities recognise the importance of regenerating the seagrass meadows and their efforts will have a lasting effect. 

“There was a real sense of camaraderie and each year the project’s getting bigger and better. Hopefully we can build on that again in 2024 to keep the momentum going into the future.”

The project started in 2020 after JCU researchers identified that the seagrass meadows had been badly damaged after wet season flooding and cyclone events more than a decade ago.   

As part of the project, seagrass was collected by the TropWATER Seagrass Ecology team in Trinity Inlet at Cairns before it was taken to the universitys’s Smithfield campus to be sorted prior to planting.  

Associate Professor Michael Rasheed and Dr Paul York from James Cook University have overseen the project.   

“This year we have significantly expanded our efforts to undertake the first meadow scale seagrass restoration in tropical Australia,” Dr York said.   

The goal of the project is to restore much of the foundation seagrass species lost in Mourilyan in 2010 and fill in gaps that are yet to recover in Cairns.   

“We managed to reach our target of collecting, processing and planting 8000 seagrass shoots this year.” Dr York added.    

“We are looking forward to working with OzFish, Traditional Owners and community volunteers over the next three years to bring the seagrass meadows back to life.”   

The seagrass meadows are essential aquatic habitats for the region as they provide habitat for fish and crustaceans, and offer a safe haven for turtles and dugongs, lock away carbon in marine sediments to alleviate climate change while also filtering the water and preventing coastal erosion.     

This meadow-scale seagrass restoration project is led by James Cook University’s TropWATER Centre, under funding through the BHP Blue Carbon Grants program, in partnership with Traditional Owner groups, including Mandubarra, Gimuy Walubara Yidinji, Goondoi, and Yirrganydji, as well as OzFish Unlimited, the Blue Carbon Lab, Conservation International, Central Queensland University and BlueShift Consulting. The project is also supported by BCF – Boating, Camping, Fishing.