Cockburn Sound seagrass growth success overshadowed by Westport dredging prospect

Seeds for Snapper volunteers are successfully seeding critical seagrass meadows in Cockburn Sound having dispersed seeds across the equivalent area of 12 Optus footy fields since it was launched five years ago.

Scientists monitoring the project report an average return of anywhere between 10 and 200 per cent more juvenile plants growing in areas where seeds have been dispersed than previously.

However, there continues to be serious concerns that all their great work will be undone by some ongoing industrial development in the Sound, including large-scale dredging required for the Government’s Westport development.

Now in in its sixth year, Seeds for Snapper, run by Ozfish and supported by Recfishwest, involves volunteer divers and boaties gathering seagrass pods, removing the seeds from the ripened pods and then re-sewing them in key areas of the Sound to promote the restoration of the meadows.

Photo: Rachel Austin

This year, with the assistance of Cockburn Power Boats Club, Seeds for Snapper harvested and released 600,000 seeds into the Sound.

An army of committed community volunteers

A hot November saw seagrass pods ripen earlier, this year and with the support of 600 registered volunteers 670,000 seeds were collected and will result in another three hectares of seabed being seeded.

It’s fantastic fishing experiences like this that seagrass supports in Cockburn Sound

Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland said, “This project is delivering seagrass restoration success in places where many previous projects attempts and methods have failed. It’s literally a ‘groundbreaking’ approach.

“This reseeding method is restoring seagrass habitat that is critical for underpinning an ecosystem and environment enjoyed by thousands of fishers in Cockburn Sound.

“The passion and commitment from the small army of volunteers involved demonstrates just how much people care about the health of the Sound, whether for fishing, diving or boating – they deserve great credit for their efforts.

“However, we are concerned that all this could be undone if the Government presses ahead with a poorly planned Westport development.

The Environment Minister Reece Whitby recently acknowledged the ‘critical’ importance of Cockburn Sound and its seagrass habitat. The Government needs to put its money where its mouth is and help genuinely restore this important environment and not contribute to its further degradation. It owes it to these dedicated Seeds for Snapper volunteers and the wider community.”

Bearing fruit

As a result of industrialisation, Cockburn Sound has lost 80 per cent of its seagrass meadows since the 1960s – deeply concerning as the meadows act as nurseries for much of the Sound’s popular fish species including crabs, whiting, herring, squid and snapper.

From this…..the seeds dispersed on the seafloor….Photo Dr Giulia Ferreto
… this….seagrass shoots pushing through…Photo: Dr Giulia Ferreto

Seeds for Snapper co-founder and Chief Scientist Professor Gary Kendrick, widely regarded as one of Australia’s leading seagrass scientists, says the community-driven initiative run by Ozfish Unlimited, is beginning to bear real fruit.

“It is working and working in an environment that is quite polluted,” said Gary “We’re getting a 1-10 per cent return of large plants that has been documented over the last six years.

“We are now in the process of monitoring new meadows. We’re going to get to the point where we’re not going to be able to monitor the work we do because it’s that big.

“By us going down there and casting our seeds off the boat, we’re increasing the total number of seeds and the seagrass on the bottom to point where we’ve been seeing zero survivors from a natural process to a settlement of five to 10 per cent through our process – and in one of our sites it’s 200 per cent more young juveniles growing than there was ever before.”


Seeds for Snapper co-founder Professor Gary Kendrick Photo: Ozfish

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