JCU seagrass researcher Skye McKenna maps seagrass from a helicopter in Gladstone in November last year.
JCU seagrass researcher Skye McKenna maps seagrass from a helicopter in Gladstone in November last year. Contributed

Study shows seagrass is recovering in Gladstone harbour

DESPITE Gladstone harbour's major dredging project, a study has found that Gladstone's seagrass is thriving, with a better spread than other Queensland ports.

The James Cook University study found seagrass - a vital food source for dugongs - had been increasing in the Western Basin since November 2011.

Gladstone Port Corporation welcomed the study, saying it proved the additional safeguards it put in place for the current dredging project helped to decrease its impact on the marine environment.

JCU Aquatic Ecosystem researcher Dr Michael Rasheed said previous reductions in seagrass across the eastern coast, including in Gladstone, were attributed to regional drivers of change including heavy rainfall, severe flooding events and cyclones.

Gladstone and Townsville were the only locations where coastal seagrass had significantly recovered since then, according to the JCU study.

"The increase in seagrass for Gladstone is welcome news and has occurred despite the Western Basin dredging program being conducted during this period," Dr Rasheed said.

"This good news needs to be taken with some caution, as seagrass, particularly in the inner harbour, remains in a vulnerable state."

GPC CEO Leo Zussino said he was "thrilled" the study had shown minimal impact, despite more than 14 million cubic metres of dredging that took place in the Gladstone Port between November 2011 and November 2012.

"One of the most interesting things about the recovery in Gladstone was that the slowest recovery was in Rodds Bay where there is no (dredging) activity taking place," he said.

"These are obvious issues we need to have further information to understand, but the intense monitoring adds a lot of value to understanding the seagrass, which was the significant requirement we were asked to protect during this massive dredging project."

Mr Zussino said it was important the ports corporation continued to review the Curtis Coast Coastal and Marine Resource report on a five-yearly basis to ensure it was minimising, mitigating and compensating for the impacts that dredging had on the marine environment in Gladstone's harbour.

Part of the study was funded by GPC under requirements to protect and manage seagrasses.

Key findings:

  • Seagrass significantly increased in five of the 15 monitoring areas from 2011 to 2012.
  • Dugong and their feeding trails were seen for the first time in the South Trees Region, providing positive signs of recovery.
  • It may take some time for seagrass areas to reach pre-flood (2009) levels.


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