RESEARCH at Gladstone harbour has shed light on the eating habits of dugongs and turtles – turns out they like sea grass an awful lot.
The animals’ appetite for seagrass was highlighted in a recent experiment established by James Cook University (JCU) researchers in partnership with Gladstone Port Corporation, Deakin University, Griffith University and Queensland Department of Environment and Science.
JCU Principal Research Scientist Dr Michael Rasheed said the project confirmed the important role dugongs and turtles play in shaping seagrass condition.
“While we long suspected dugongs and turtles had an impact on seagrasses in parts of the Harbour, this is the first time we have been able to demonstrate that,” he said.
“Our PhD student, Abbi Scott, established an exclusion experiment near the South Trees Inlet where dugongs and turtles were cordoned off from portions of seagrass, in a bid to shed light on food webs and ecosystem services in seagrass meadows.
“The seagrass in the exclusion zones flourished during the experiment, while the surrounding areas were devoured by hungry marine life.”
Research is also being undertaken at Pelican Banks and Rodds Bay, with initial results suggesting grazing by dugongs and turtles may be a potential contributor to seagrass declines in combination with environmental conditions and disturbances.
GPC Marine Scientist Dr Megan Ellis says it was exciting be part of the research team and show that dugongs and turtles are thriving in Port Curtis.
“Dugongs and turtles are two iconic marine animals living in Port Curtis and are both a member of Gladstone’s Big6,” she said.
“Research into their food webs and ecosystems is invaluable in educating us on the impacts of their interactions and how we can protect them moving forward.”
Funding for the program is through an Australian Research Council industry linkage grant and GPC.