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Land and sea rangers work with scientists to survey seagrass habitat

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Vital seagrass habitat is more widespread and diverse than previously thought according to new research by Charles Darwin University.

Land and sea rangers have been working with scientists, surveying habitats across parts of the Gulf of Carpentaria.

The surveys were conducted using helicopters to map seafloor habitats when exposed at low tide and boat-based sampling for deeper waters.

Surveys of more than 3,000 sites revealed that seagrass habitat extends from the shallow water to a depth of 20 metres and identified eight seagrass species.

Senior sea ranger Shaun Evans says the project is important for future monitoring.

“These habitats support turtle, dugong and fish that are significant to Marra and Yanyuwa people, knowing they are healthy is important for us,” Mr Evans says.

“Projects and partnerships like this support us to work on country, which is needed for us to achieve our sea country planning and management goals into the future.”

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CDU’s Doctor Rachel Groom says the surveys will help better understand coastal processes, the healthiness of habitats and likely impacts from climate change.

“Having healthy habitats is indicative of many other things, they’re very connected in a food web sence of what we’re likely to see, what the impacts are going to be.”

Doctor Groom says the prawn and fishing industries will also benefit from the work.

“If we’ve got great habitats, we know the industry is going to be pretty healthy too and people along the coast can enjoy the food that they’ve enjoyed for many years.”

She says much of the Northern Territory coast has not been studied and hopes the project can be expanded across Northern Australia.

“We’re looking to better understand the whole coast and where the really important habitats are.”

Doing so will help identify areas that need better care and management to ensure resilience and sustainability.

“If we can see, for example, we’ve just had a cyclone go through the Gulf and there’s been a really bad impact on the seagrass, that’s likely to impact some of the fish stocks there, potentially prawn stocks,” Dr Groom says.

“The flow on effect might then be how do we improve our management of industry to lessen the impacts, maybe reduce our take or change the quota for that particular year.”

(Photos: Main - P.Lindgren via CC A-SA 3.0, Middle - CDU)