James Cook University scientists have been using helicopters and remote camera systems to check on dugong feeding areas in the Mackay-Whitsundays.
JCU Principal Research Scientist, Dr Michael Rasheed lead the seagrass surveys, working with the Mackay-Whitsunday Healthy Rivers to Reef Partnership.
“The area south of Mackay from Carmila Creek to Clairview is an important feeding ground for dugongs that rely on seagrass meadows for their food. The region has been declared a Dugong Protection Area and understanding how seagrasses are going will help us to better manage dugongs in the region,” he said.
Maintaining good water quality is vital to seagrasses and corals, which rely on light reaching the seafloor in order to flourish.
“Our seagrass monitoring will be coupled with water quality assessments that will provide continuously logged data in order to understand how the marine environment is faring,” said Dr Rasheed.
All survey data will be entered into a Geographic Information System (GIS) to assess the seagrass area and biomass. A GIS base map will be generated using aerial photography, satellite imagery and results from the helicopter survey.
Dr Rasheed said the area is clearly important, but up until now little regular monitoring information has been available for seagrass, coral and water quality.
"The helicopter survey found extensive dugong feeding trails throughout the seagrass meadows and large numbers of green turtles were also observed, which is a great sign of a healthy marine environment," Dr Rasheed said.
“There have been no proper assessments done since 1999, so this work, will provide the basis for ongoing assessments of seagrass, coral and water quality to ensure these areas are looked after into the future,” he said.
Charlie Morgan, Executive Officer of the Mackay-Whitsunday Healthy Rivers to Reef Partnership said the monitoring had been a priority for the organisation for some time.
“It is a tangible outcome of what we can achieve when partners work together. We identify the data gaps and then find a way to complete the picture over time,” she said.
Ms Morgan said the work fills a critical information gap on how the marine environment is going to inform annual report cards for the partnership from 2018.