17 October 2009

What is the value of our marine ecosystems?

Reefs, mangroves and other coastal ecosystems are increasingly recognised for their vital role in regulating climate change and moderating extreme weather effects.

A recent study shows a single hectare of reefs can be worth up to $1.2 million, broken down as follows:
  • Climate regulation, moderation of extreme events, waste treatment / water purification, biological control: average $26,000 (up to $35,000)
  • Cultural services (eg. recreation/tourism): average $88,700 (up to $1.1 million)
  • Maintenance of genetic diversity: average $13,500 (up to $57,000)
  • Food, raw materials, ornamental resources: average $1,100 (up to $6,000)
Another report on "Blue Carbon" found that mangroves, seagrass meadows and other coastal ecosystems account for over half of all carbon storage in ocean sediment and perhaps as much as over 70%, even though they make up less than 1% of the seabed. This makes them among the most intense carbon sinks on the planet. Blue carbon sinks and estuaries capture and store the equivalent of nearly half the emissions from the entire global transport sector.

TeamSeagrass at Chek Jawa
Mangroves and seagrass meadows of Chek Jawa,
being monitored by

It is no wonder that protecting and restoring marine ecosystems is becoming increasingly important and no doubt eventually profitable.

In Singapore, there are already ongoing studies to learn more about our marine ecosystems, to protect and rehabilitate them, such as the Singapore-Delft Alliance. As well as to incorporate natural elements in our seawalls.

These efforts are also going on elsewhere in the world.

Company profile for Seagrass Recovery
Reuters 16 Oct 09;

--(Business Wire)--Seagrass is often referred to the "rainforest of the sea", providing countless critical functions to the world`s oceans. This flowering plant is, among other things, the nursery for virtually all marine life, 70% of all marine species rely upon seagrass for life, the sole food source for many herbivores, home to endangered species such as seahorses and many species of sea turtles as well as the fishing grounds for commercial and recreational anglers. Many threats exist for seagrass meadows such as vessel groundings, propeller scarring, pollution / water quality degradation and other human interactions.

Until recently, seagrass restoration / mitigation was considered to be highly unsuccessful-this all changed through the development of Seagrass Recovery`s technologies. Now, given the 12 years of development and over 150 successful seagrass restoration / mitigation projects, the risk and unknowns in seagrass restoration have been removed by Seagrass Recovery. With success rates in excess of 85% for transplants and restoration of injury sites, Seagrass Recovery provides a vast assortment of tools (including all traditional planting and relocation techniques) that typically recover injury sites within 2 years and can successfully grow in new meadows from transplanted material within 5 years with success rates in excess of 85% through the implementation of their proprietary methods that are creatively adaptable to any environmental condition.

Twist on nature: he grows seashells by the sea shore
Deborah Smith, Sydney Morning Herald 17 Oct 09;
A SEA wall in Sydney Harbour may seem a strange place to hang some flower pots, but they have become home to life of a different kind.

The concrete pots help recreate rock pools lost when sea walls are built, said Mark Browne, an ecologist who has found that this new habitat can more than triple the marine species living there.

Dr Browne, of the Centre for Research on the Ecological Impacts of Coastal Cities at the University of Sydney, said the number of coastal defences being erected around the world is growing, due to increases in population, sea level rises and the prospect of bigger storms as the climate changes.

Replacing natural shores with walls has "huge ecological impacts", he said. "But in many parts of Australia, Asia, North America and Europe sea walls have replaced more than 50 per cent of the natural coastline."

Natural rocky shores in Sydney have well over 10 metres of inter-tidal habitat, including many crevices and pools, he said. When this is reduced to less than two metres of sea wall the amount of animals and plants that can live there is greatly reduced.

Research by Dr Browne and his colleague, Professor Gee Chapman, has shown that at two sites on the harbour shore near Neutral Bay the rock walls are largely bare, with algae and creatures such as limpets and snails only covering about 35 per cent of the man-made habitat.

Six months after attaching about two dozen pots at each of the sites, the number of different creatures has increased by between three and five times. New species have also settled there, including red and green algae, small crustaceans, grazing snails and sponges.

"We are finding crabs in the pots and getting species of starfish and snails that we've never seen in the habitat before," said Dr Browne, whose research is also a collaboration with engineers at North Sydney Council and pot manufacturers Antique Stone and ECS Services.

Previous research by the team has shown that little cavities built into new sea walls as they are constructed can act as rockpools too, and boost biodiversity. The flower pots appear to be a cheap and effective way to improve the amounts of biodiversity living on existing walls, said Dr Browne, who reported his findings at the British Ecological Society's annual meeting held at the University of Hertfordshire last month.

He said more research needs to be carried out on the best way to attach the pots because some had been washed away by waves from ferries and other passing boats.

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