Developing and refining biological indicators for seagrass condition assessments in an integrated monitoring program

Catherine Collier 100dpi
Led by: Dr Catherine Collier, JCU


Project Summary

Refinement of biological indicators for condition assessment is an immediate priority as highlighted in a recent review of the GBR Marine Monitoring Program (MMP). Seagrass carbohydrate content is an early-warning indicator of water quality impacts. Samples collected quarterly since 2008 will be analysed and used to establish baselines and optimize protocols for applying carbohydrates as an indicator for future monitoring. Furthermore, calibration formulae to convert seagrass percent cover, the principal condition indicator, to biomass will be developed allowing integration across programs critical for the Reef-wide Integrated Monitoring and Reporting Program. This project provides excellent value for money because samples have been collected in-kind.


Problem Statements


Refinement of biological indicators for condition assessment is an immediate priority under the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan. The MMP, the flagship monitoring program of the GBR, recently underwent a comprehensive review and is transitioning into reporting through the integrated monitoring framework.

How Research Addresses Problem

This has highlighted that sensitive indicators are required to inform management actions in a timely manner, and has recommended 1. new potential indicators, and 2. refinement of current indicators.

  1. Carbohydrates, or energy reserves, are a good indicator of resilience and provide an early warning of changes in seagrass condition. Opportunistic quarterly collections (eight sites, 2008-2015) will be analysed for carbohydrate content. These data will establish baselines and be used to optimize sampling protocols. Environmental data from the same sites will be used to assess key pressures influencing carbohydrate content.
  2. In addition, we will calibrate the principal seagrass condition indicator, percentage cover, for reporting as biomass. This will enable integration with other monitoring programs (e.g. Ports), which is critical for the Reef-wide Integrated Monitoring and Reporting Program, and will enable seagrass historical baselines (1984-1987) to be migrated to biomass to inform GBR desired state. The calibration will be performed on the basis of species and habitat.


Project Keywords

Seagrass health indicators; Early-warning; GBR Report Card; Monitoring protocols.


Project Funding

This project is jointly funded through JCU, GBRMPA and the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Programme.


Project Publications
NESP TWQ Project 3.4 Final Report
Final Report