Journal of Biosciences

, Volume 40, Issue 2, pp 389–398 | Cite as

Declines of seagrasses in a tropical harbour, North Queensland, Australia, are not the result of a single event

  • Skye McKennaEmail author
  • Jessie Jarvis
  • Tonia Sankey
  • Carissa Reason
  • Robert Coles
  • Michael Rasheed


A recent paper inferred that all seagrass in Cairns Harbour, tropical north-eastern Australia, had undergone ‘complete and catastrophic loss’ as a result of tropical cyclone Yasi in 2011. While we agree with the concern expressed, we would like to correct the suggestion that the declines were the result of a single climatic event and that all seagrass in Cairns Harbour were lost. Recent survey data and trend analysis from an on-ground monitoring program show that seagrasses in Cairns Harbour do remain, albeit at low levels, and the decline in seagrasses occurred over several years with cyclone Yasi having little additional impact. We have conducted annual on-ground surveys of seagrass distribution and the above-ground meadow biomass in Cairns Harbour and Trinity Inlet since 2001. This has shown a declining trend in biomass since a peak in 2004 and in area since it peaked in 2007. In 2012, seagrass area and above-ground biomass were significantly below the long-term (12 year) average but seagrass was still present. Declines were associated with regional impacts on coastal seagrasses from multiple years of above-average rainfall and severe storm and cyclone activity, similar to other nearby seagrass areas, and not as a result of a single event.


Decline management ports seagrass tropical 



This project receives funding from Ports North and previously through the Trinity Inlet Waterways and Trinity Inlet Management Program. We would like to thank the many James Cook University and Fisheries Queensland staff who have contributed to the monitoring program over the years.


  1. Bach SS, Borum J, Fortes MD and Duarte CM 1998 Species composition and plant performance of mixed seagrass beds along a siltation gradient at Cape Bolinao The Phillipines. Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser. 174 247–256CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Björk M, Uka J, Weil A and Beer S 1999 Photosynthetic tolerances to desiccation of tropical intertidal seagrasses. Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser. 191 121–126CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bureau of Meteorology 2012 Australian Federal Bureau of Meteorology Weather Records, viewed October 2012,
  4. Campbell SJ and McKenzie LJ 2004 Flood related loss and recovery of intertidal seagrass meadows in southern Queensland, Australia. Estuar. Coast. Shelf Sci. 60 477–490CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Chartrand KM, Ralph PJ, Petrou K and Rasheed, MA 2012 Development of a Light-Based Seagrass Management Approach for the Gladstone Western Basin Dredging Program. DEEDI Publication Fisheries Queensland Cairns pp 91Google Scholar
  6. Coles RG, Lee Long WJ and Squire LC 1985 Seagrass beds and prawn nursery grounds between Cape York and Cairns. Queensland Department of Primary Industries Information Series QI85017 pp 31Google Scholar
  7. Coles RG, Lee Long WJ, Squire BA, Squire LC and Bibby JM 1987 Distribution of seagrasses and associated juvenile commercial penaeid prawns in north-eastern Queensland waters. Aust. J. Mar. Freshwat. Res. 38 103–119CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Coles RG, Poiner IR and Kirkman H 1989 Regional studies-seagrasses of tropical Australia; in Biology of seagrasses (eds) AWD Larkum, AJ McComb and SA Shepherd (Amsterdam: Elsevier) pp 261–278Google Scholar
  9. Coles RG, Lee Long WJ, Helmke SA, Bennett RE, Miller KJ and Derbyshire KJ 1990 Seagrass beds and juvenile prawn and fish nursery grounds, Cairns to Bowen. Queensland Department of Primary Industries Information Series No. QI92012Google Scholar
  10. Coles RG, Lee Long WJ, Watson RA and Derbyshire KJ 1993 Distribution of seagrasses, and their fish and penaeid prawn communities, in Cairns Harbour, a tropical estuary, northern Queensland, Australia. Aust. J. Mar. Freshwat. Res. 44 193–210Google Scholar
  11. Coles RG, McKenzie LJ and Campbell SJ 2003 The seagrasses of eastern Australia; in The World Atlas of Seagrasses: present status and future conservation (eds) EP Green, FT Short and MD Spalding (University of California Press) Chpt 11 pp 131–147Google Scholar
  12. Coles RG, McKenzie LJ, Rasheed MA, Mellors JE, Taylor H, Dew K, McKenna S, Sankey TL, Carter AB and Grech A 2007 Status and Trends of Seagrass Habitats in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. Report to the Marine and Tropical Sciences Research Facility. Reef and Rainforest Research Centre Limited, Cairns 122 ppGoogle Scholar
  13. Coles RG, Grech A, Rasheed, MA, McKenzie LJ, Unsworth RKF, Short F 2010 Seagrass ecology and threats in the tropical Indo-Pacific bioregion; in Seagrass: ecology, uses and threats editors (ed) Pirog RS (Nova Science Publishers, Inc)Google Scholar
  14. Coles RG, Rasheed MA, McKenzie LJ, Grech A, York PH, Sheaves M, McKenna S and Bryant C 2015 The Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area seagrasses: Managing this iconic Australian ecosystem resource for the future. Estuar. Coast. Shelf. S.
  15. Collier C and Waycott M 2009 Drivers of change to seagrass distributions and communities on the Great Barrier Reef: Literature Review and Gaps Analysis. Report to the Marine and Tropical Sciences Research Facility. Reef and Rainforest Research Centre Limited, CairnsGoogle Scholar
  16. Collier CJ, Lavery PS, Ralph PJ and Masini RJ 2009 Shade-induced response and recovery of the seagrass Posidoniasinuosa. J. Exp. Mar. Biol. Ecol. 370 89–103CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Collier CJ, Waycott M and McKenzie LJ 2012 Light thresholds derived from seagrass loss in the coastal zone of the northern Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Ecol. Indic. 23 211–219CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Collier CJ and Waycott M 2014 Temperature extremes reduce seagrass growth and induce mortality. Mar. Pollut. Bull. 83 483–490PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Collier CJ, Villacorta-Rath C, van Dijk K-j, Takahashi M, Waycott M 2014 Seagrass proliferation precedes mortality during hypo-salinity events: A stress-induced morphometric response. PLoSONE 9 e94014Google Scholar
  20. Davies JN, McKenna SA and Rasheed MA 2013a Port of Townsville Long-Term Seagrass Monitoring: September 2012, Centre for Tropical Water and Aquatic Ecosystem Research (TropWATER) Publication, James Cook University, CairnsGoogle Scholar
  21. Davies JD, McCormack CV and Rasheed MA 2013b Port Curtis and Rodds Bay seagrass monitoring program, Biannual Western Basin and Annual Long Term Monitoring November 2012, Centre for Tropical Water and Aquatic Ecosystem Research (TropWATER) Publication, James Cook University, CairnsGoogle Scholar
  22. Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, Water Monitoring
  23. Derbyshire K, Sheppard R, Louise J, Beumer J and Coles R 2002 Managing impacts of adjacent development on Aquatic Protected Areas: Case Studies from the Trinity Inlet Fish Habitat Area, North Queensland. Proceedings of the World Congress on Aquatic Protected Areas Cairns Australia-August 2002, 539–545Google Scholar
  24. Fourqurean JW, Boyer JN, Durako MJ, Hefty LN and Peterson BJ 2003 Forecasting responses of seagrass distributions to changing water quality using monitoring data. Ecol. Appl. 13 474–489CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Freeman AS, Short FT, Isnain I, Razak FA and Coles RG 2008 Seagrass on the edge: land-use practices threaten coastal seagrass communities in Sabah, Malaysia. Biol. Conserv. 141 2993–3005CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Grech A, Coles RG and Marsh H 2011 A broad-scale assessment of the risk to coastal seagrasses from cumulative threats. Mar. Pollut. Bull. 35 560–567Google Scholar
  27. Grech A, Chartrand-Miller K, Erftemeijer P, Fonseca M, McKenzie L, Rasheed MA, Taylor H and Coles R 2012 A comparison of threats, vulnerabilities and management approaches in global seagrass bioregions. Environ. Res. Lett. 7 024006Google Scholar
  28. Grech A, Bos M, Brodie J, Coles R, Dale A, Gilbert R, Hamann M, Marsh H, et al. 2013 Guiding principles for the improved governance of port and shipping impacts in the Great Barrier Reef. Mar. Pollut. Bull. 75 8–20PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Grice AM, Loneragan NR and Dennison WC 1996 Light intensity and the interactions between physiology, morphology and stable isotope ratios in five species of seagrass. J. Exp. Mar. Biol. Ecol. 195 91–110CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Hothorn T, Bretz F and Westfall P 2008 Simultaneous inference in general parametric models. Biom. J. 50 346–363PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Inglis GJ 2000 Disturbance-related hetergeneity in the seed banks of a marine angiosperm. J. Ecol. 88 88–99CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Jarvis JC and Moore KA 2010 The role of seedlings and seed bank viability in the recovery of Chesapeake Bay, USA, Zostera marina populations following a large-scale decline. Hydrobiologia 649 55–68CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Larkum AWD, Orth RJ and Duarte CM 2006 Seagrasses: biology, ecology and conservation (Netherlands: Springer)Google Scholar
  34. Lee Long WJ, Mellors JE and Coles RG 1993 Seagrasses between Cape York and Hervey Bay, Queensland, Australia. Aust. J. Mar. Freshwat. Res. 44 19–33Google Scholar
  35. Longstaff BJ 2003 Investigations into the light requirements of seagrass in Northeast Australia, PhD thesis, Department of Botany University of Queensland, BrisbaneGoogle Scholar
  36. Longstaff BJ and Dennison WC 1999 Seagrass survival during pulsed turbidity events: the effects of light deprivation on the seagrasses Halodule pinifolia and Halophila ovalis. Aquat. Bot. 65 105–121CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Lucas P 2008 Far North Queensland Draft Regional Plan 2025. The State of Queensland Department of Infrastructure and PlanningGoogle Scholar
  38. Macreadie PI, York PH and Sherman DH 2014 Resilience of Zostera muelleri seagrass to small-scale disturbances: the relative importance of asexual versus sexual recovery. Ecol. Evol. 4 450–461PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Margerum RD 1999 Integrated environmental management: lessons from the Trinity Inlet Management Program. Land Use Policy 16 179–190CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. McKenna SA and Rasheed MA 2013a Long-term seagrass monitoring in the Port of Mourilyan – 2012, JCU Publication, Centre for Tropical Water and Aquatic Ecosystem Research, CairnsGoogle Scholar
  41. McKenna SA and Rasheed, MA 2013b Port of Karumba Long-term Seagrass Monitoring, October 2012, James Cook University Publication, Centre for Tropical Water and Aquatic Ecosystem Research, CairnsGoogle Scholar
  42. McKenna SA and Rasheed MA 2014 Port of Abbot Point Long-Term Seagrass Monitoring: Annual Report 2012-2013, JCU Publication, Centre for Tropical Water and Aquatic Ecosystem Research, CairnsGoogle Scholar
  43. McKenzie LJ, Finkbeiner MA and Kirkman H 2001 Methods for mapping seagrass distribution; in Global seagrass research methods (eds) FT Short and RG Coles (Amsterdam: Elsevier Science) pp 101–121CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. McKenzie LJ, Yoshida R, Grech A and Coles R 2010 Queensland Seagrasses. Status 2010 – Torres Strait and East Coast. Fisheries Queensland (DEEDI), Cairns, 6ppGoogle Scholar
  45. McKenzie LJ, Collier C and Waycott M, 2012 Reef Rescue Marine Monitoring Program - Inshore Seagrass, Annual Report for the sampling period 1st July 2010 – 31st May 2011. Fisheries Queensland, CairnsGoogle Scholar
  46. McKenzie LJ, Coles R, Johns L and Leech J 2014 Post Tropical Cyclone Ita assessment of intertidal seagrass status in dugong and green turtle feeding grounds - Jeannie River to Cape Bedford (Cape York), JCU Publication, Centre for Tropical Water and Aquatic Ecosystem Research, CairnsGoogle Scholar
  47. Mellors JE 1991 An evaluation of a rapid visual technique for estimating seagrass biomass. Aquat. Bot. 42 67–73CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Mellors J, McKenzie LJ and Coles RG 2008 Seagrass-watch: engaging Torres Strait Islanders in marine habitat monitoring. Cont. Shelf Res. 28 2339–2350CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Mumby PJ, Edwards AJ, Green EP, Anderson CW, Ellis AC and Clark CD 1997 A visual assessment technique for estimating seagrass standing crop. Aquat. Conserv. Mar. Freshwat. Ecosyst. 7 239–251CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Petrou K, Jimenez-Denness I, Chartrand K, McCormack C, Rasheed M and Ralph PJ 2013 Seasonal heterogeneity in the photophysiological response to air exposure in two tropical intertidal seagrass species. Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser. 482 93–106CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Petus C, Collier C, Devlin M, Rasheed M and McKenna S 2014 Using MODIS data for understanding changes in seagrass meadow health: a case study in the Great Barrier Reef (Australia). Mar. Environ. Res. 98 68–85PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Pollard PC and Greenway M 2013 Seagrasses in tropical Australia, productive and abundant for decades decimated overnight. J. Biosci. 38 157–166PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Preen AR, Long WJL and Coles RG 1995 Flood and cyclone related loss, and partial recovery of more than 1000 km2 of seagrass in Hervey Bay. Aquat. Bot. 52 3–17CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Quinn GP and Keough MJ 2002 Experimental design and data analysis for biologists (United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. R Core Team 2013 R: A language and environment for statistical computing, R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Vienna, Austria
  56. Ralph PJ, Durako MJ, Enriquez S, Collier CJ and Doblin MA 2007 Impact of light limitation on seagrasses. J. Exp. Mar. Biol. Ecol. 350 176–193CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Rasheed MA 1999 Recovery of experimentally created gaps within a tropical Zostera capricorni (Aschers.) seagrass meadow, Queensland Australia. J. Exp. Mar. Biol. Ecol. 235 183–200CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Rasheed MA 2004 Recovery and succession in a multi-species tropical seagrass meadow following experimental disturbance: the role of sexual and asexual reproduction. J. Exp. Mar. Biol. Ecol. 310 13–45CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Rasheed MA, Dew KR, McKenzie LJ, Coles RG, Kerville S and Campbell SJ 2008 Productivity, carbon assimilation and intra-annual change in tropical reef platform seagrass communities of the Torres Strait, north-eastern Australia. Cont. Shelf Res. 28 2292–2303CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Rasheed MA and Unsworth RKF 2011 Long-term climate-associated dynamics of a tropical seagrass meadow: implications for the future. Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser. 422 93–103CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Rasheed MA, McKenna SA, and Tol S 2013 Seagrass habitat of Cairns Harbour and Trinity Inlet Annual monitoring and updated baseline survey. JCU Publication, Centre for Tropical Water and Aquatic Ecosystem Research Publication 13/17, CairnsGoogle Scholar
  62. Rasheed MA, McKenna SA, Carter AB and Coles RG 2014 Contrasting recovery of shallow and deep water seagrass communities following climate associated losses in tropical north Queensland, Australia. Mar. Pollut. Bull. 83 491–499PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Taylor HA and Rasheed MA 2011 Impacts of a fuel oil spill on seagrass meadows in a subtropical port, Gladstone, Australia – the value of long-term marine habitat monitoring in high risk areas. Mar. Pollut. Bull. 63 431–437PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Udy JW and Levy D 2002 Deep seagrass and coral habitats found in eastern Moreton Bay (Brisbane: The University of Queensland and Tangalooma Wild Dolphin Resort)Google Scholar
  65. UNESCO 2013 Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, World Heritage Committee, 37th Session Phnom Penh Cambodia, 63–64Google Scholar
  66. Unsworth RKF, Rasheed MA, Chartrand KM and Roelofs AJ 2012 Solar radiation and tidal exposure as environmental drivers of Enhalus acoroides dominated seagrass meadows. PLoS ONE 7 e34133PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Watson RA, Coles RG and Lee Long WJ 1993 Simulation estimates of annual yield and landed value for commercial penaeid prawns from a tropical seagrass habitat, northern Queensland, Australia. Aust. J. Mar. Freshwat. Res. 44 211–220CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Waycott M, Longstaff BJ and Mellors J 2005 Seagrass population dynamics and water quality in the Great Barrier Reef region: a review and future research directions. Mar. Pollut. Bull. 51 343–350PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Waycott M, Duarte CM, Carruthers TJB, Orth RJ, Dennison WC, Olyarnik S, Calladine A, Fourqurean JW, et al. 2009 Accelerating loss of seagrass across the globe threatens coastal ecosystems. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 106 12377–12381PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. York PH, Davies JN and Rasheed MA 2014 Long-term seagrass monitoring in the Port of Mourilyan– 2013, JCU Publication, Centre for Tropical Water and Aquatic Ecosystem Research, CairnsGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Indian Academy of Sciences 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Tropical Water and Aquatic Ecosystem ResearchJames Cook UniversityBrisbaneAustralia

Personalised recommendations