WA’s crayfish, dhufish rely on volunteers to drive Australia’s largest seagrass restoration project

Among all the natural beauty teeming in the ocean, Professor Gary Kendrick gets most excited about the parts of the sea people usually ignore.

“If you look at a stage, you see the actors, and everybody focuses on the actors,” he said.

But Professor Kendrick likes to focus on the background.

“That stage in the background is what the seagrasses and the seaweeds are.”

He and a group of volunteers are working to throw a million seagrass seeds into Western Australia’s waters.

The seemingly unremarkable plant plays a significant role in marine ecosystems.

A large scaly fish with pink skin swimming around seaweed.
Populations of demersal fish, including pink snapper, are declining off WA’s coast.(Supplied: OzFish)

Seagrass meadows capture carbon, protect coastlines from erosion, and act as nurseries for iconic WA species, including pink snapper, dhufish, and rock lobster.

In a bid to bid, the Government has proposed to recover the decline of some fish populations until September 30.

Professor Kendrick said seagrass restoration could play a significant role in boosting the recovery effort.

“A lot of juvenile fish settle into the seagrasses first … they live in the seagrass meadows because there’s a lot of food in them,” he said.

All hands on deck to help rehabilitation

The seagrass restoration project in Cockburn Sound, just south of Perth, relies on hundreds of volunteers.

Three people in wet suits adjusting their gear while standing in shallow water on the beach.
The restoration project is run by OzFish, UWA and RecFishWest.(ABC News: Cason Ho)

Fish habitat restoration organization OzFish say its the largest and longest running project of its kind in Australia.

Volunteer divers collect seagrass fruit which grow once a year in November when the weather warms up.

The fruit is taken on-shore for processing, before the seeds inside are dispersed back into the water at strategic locations.

Hands holding hundreds of small green seed-like fruits above a bucket full of the fruits.
Volunteers have distributed hundreds of thousands of seeds in previous years.(Supplied: OzFish)

Researchers say the community engagement has allowed restoration efforts to begin scaling up to an ecologically relevant scale.

Dive coordinator Tania Douthwaite said there are many ways for volunteers to get involved.

A woman in a wide-brim hat and blue shirt stands in a crowd of people wear wet suits on the beach.
Ms Douthwaite and other volunteers are preparing for the harvest season.(ABC News: Cason Ho)

“You don’t need to be a diver to be involved. You could help with lookout, you could help out with collecting wrack from the beach in part of our other projects,” she said.

unique biodiversity hotspot

Seagrass Restoration is one of 31 research projects being carried out at the Cockburn Sound inlet.

It’s part of the WA Government’s long term plan to grow its trade network by building a new port.

More than 3,000 hectares of seagrass were lost between the 1960s and 1980s because of industrial development in the area.

Closeup of seagrass underwater
Seagrass density in the Sound remains relatively low compared to levels prior to the 1960s.(ABC: Chris Lewis)

The marine collaborative science programs are hoped to allow new developments to proceed while protecting the Sound’s marine environment.

“In Western Australia, we are in a global hotspot in biodiversity and endemism in our backyards,” Professor Kendrick said.

“Cockburn Sound is an amazing system… it’s a place of great value.”

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