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Keep our marine life out of strife! (Seagrasses in Victoria)

Media Release

2 December 2002

Coastcare Week 2002

Australian marine experts and Coastcare Week ambassadors, Ron and Valerie Taylor, today sent an urgent warning to all Victorians — protect our threatened marine species or risk losing them forever.

The Taylors have issued the call as part of Coastcare Week (1 -7 December), which is drawing attention to the plight of Australia's threatened and vulnerable marine species in a new campaign — 'The Coast is our Home'. The Victorian Coastcare community is focusing on the significant loss of seagrasses along Victoria's coastline and the need for increased preservation of this vital marine habitat.

Ron and Valerie Taylor have been worldwide pioneers in marine education for over 50 years. They filmed the live shark sequences in the blockbuster movie 'Jaws' for Steven Spielberg in the 1970's and made a series of hit television programs about marine life.

Australia has the highest diversity of seagrass species in the world with around 30 species. Seagrasses provide a critical breeding habitat for many juvenile fish and crustacean species, as well as a feeding habitat for predatory fish.

According to Valerie Taylor, who was awarded the 2002 Australian Senior Achiever of the Year for marine conservation, seagrasses have been under increasing pressure in recent years.

"Unfortunately, Australian seagrasses have declined extensively over the last decade. We are destroying many of these valuable communities at a faster rate than we are able to protect and restore them," Ms Taylor said.

"Boat propellers and anchors are ripping out clumps of seagrass, dredging and trawl nets are adversely impacting seagrass communities.

"Nutrients and sedimentation from catchments that are released into the sea are also contributing to their demise."

Seagrasses are commonly found in shallow water in the shelter of bays and inlets and in salt marshes. In Victoria, seagrasses mostly occur in Corner Inlet, Port Phillip Bay and Western Port. Corner Inlet is the only place in Victoria where Posidonia (a broad-leaved seagrass) forms large meadows. It grows up to a metre in length and is one of the world's largest seagrasses.

"A staggering 85 percent of the seagrass communities in Western Port alone has been lost due to detrimental human influences," Ms Taylor added.

Ron Taylor said that while Coastcare groups are doing a fantastic front-line job conserving and protecting seagrass, but more work needs to be done.

"It is critical all Victorians lend their hands to sustainable management of our seagrass communities and other coastal and marine habitats if we are to make long-term environmental change. Coastal communities need to actively monitor and repair seagrasses to help turn-around their degradation.

"Seagrass communities are a vital part of the ecological chain and as they diminish, the long-term impacts on Australia's fish stocks may be significant."

Ron and Valerie have worked tirelessly over the years to raise awareness about the need to protect many marine species including the Grey Nurse Shark, Great White Shark, marine turtles and seals.

"Coastcare is something we all need to be part of and this year's Coastcare Week campaign aims to significantly lift awareness about the very real threats our marine species are facing. We also want to highlight what people can do in the community to protect these species," Mr Taylor said.

"We know relatively little about the ocean whereas we know so much about animals and plants that live on the land. We simply do not know the real number of threatened marine species. We do not even know the level of rarity of most marine species.

"However, what we have observed is a whole range of marine creatures just aren't around in the same numbers because of the impact of issues such as nutrients and sediments from catchments, coastal development and over fishing," Mr Taylor said.

Victorian Coastcare Coordinator, Michelle Lauder said, seagrass communities help reduce wave and current energy.

"They also help filter sediments from the water thus maintaining or improving water quality. Stabilising sediments reduces erosion and protects shorelines," Ms Lauder said.

"A significant decline in seagrass beds in recent decades has occurred throughout the world. In Victoria the most affected areas are Westernport Bay and Corner Inlet.

"A number of research programs are operating throughout Victoria to collect baseline data and determine causes of seagrass loss. The Friends of Mud Islands has received funding through Coast Action/Coastcare to undertake seagrass monitoring around Mud Islands. Over the past two years a research program focused on seagrass in Swan Bay has been undertaken by the Marine and Freshwater Resources Institute.

Ms Lauder added, "There is also a community seagrass partnership that has recently formed in Westernport to help protect, conserve and rehabilitate the seagrass beds.

"Unfortunately, even the most hardy seagrass species spread very slowly and while seagrass regeneration is taking place throughout Victoria, any substantial renewal will be long term."

Coastcare is a program of the Commonwealth Government's Natural Heritage Trust, in partnership with State/Territory and Local Governments.

For more information on Coastcare or to join a Coastcare group, please call Environment Australia's Community Information Unit on 1800 803 772 or visit the web site at: www.ea.gov.au/coasts/coastcare

Further Media Information:

Interviews with Ron & Valerie Taylor, contact Ross Woodward or Jessica Morrow from Media Key on (03) 9787 5844.

Media in Victoria can also contact Michelle Lauder direct by calling 03 9412 4823.

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