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Partnerships for enhanced engagement in research (PEER) SCIENCE
Cycle 2 (2012 Deadline)

Combating Seagrass Decline: Developing a Restoration Manual for Indonesia and the Coral Triangle

PI: Rohani Ambo-Rappe (Hasanuddin University)
U.S. Partners: John J. Stachowicz and Susan L. Williams (University of California, Davis)
Project Dates: August 2013 to July 2016
 
The goal of this project is to advance the ecological understanding of seagrass restoration to reverse damage and loss of associated ecosystem functions, such as provision of food, habitat, and nursery areas for diverse marine organisms, including commercially valuable or endangered species such as sea cucumbers (bêche de mer or trepang), snappers, groupers, dugongs, and sea turtles. Seagrasses are marine flowering plants that form large, shallow, undersea meadows. They are as productive as sugar cane, stabilize shorelines against erosion, and form critical habitat links between land, mangroves, and coral reefs. Seagrass meadows also serve as sinks for trapping excess atmospheric carbon dioxide. Unfortunately, they are declining at rates equal to tropical rain forests and coral reefs. Indonesia is a hot-spot for global seagrass diversity; however, the region does not receive the research attention it merits, and seagrass status is poorly documented for Indonesia. Besides their other beneficial roles, seagrass beds also contribute significantly to people’s livelihoods, and seagrass conservation, management, and restoration are urgently needed.

   Indonesia Partnership Picture 1
The project team takes a break from collecting the seagrasses which are to be used in the transplantation process (Photo courtesy Dr. Ambo-Rappe)
   Indonesia Partnership Picture 1A
Collected seagrasses are selected for the transplantation process (Photo courtesy Dr. Ambo-Rappe)

This project will create a pilot seagrass restoration by transplanting different combinations of seagrass species to determine which combinations have the best performance in terms of seagrass growth and persistence and the diversity and abundance of associated animals. The project researchers will also measure the performance of commercially-valuable sea cucumber juveniles in the different mixtures of seagrass species. This research will be the first to address the role of different seagrass species in seagrass restoration in the Coral Triangle. Although it is generally known that some species facilitate or inhibit the growth of others during the establishment of plant communities, the specifics are not known for Indo-Pacific seagrass communities. The knowledge gained will help guide restoration practices and will provide new data on the relationship between species diversity and ecosystem function, which is important for the conservation of marine biodiversity. Other project outcomes will include development of a manual for restoring Coral Triangle seagrass beds and their ecosystem functions, as well as creation of a seagrass curriculum for the local primary schools to raise awareness of the value of seagrass and engage children in the project activities. As for the research infrastructure at Hasanuddin University, the institution’s Marine Station will be developed further and research opportunities for faculty, staff, and students will be enhanced.

Summary of Recent Activities
 
To begin project work, a transplant experiment was conducted on combinations of five common species of seagrasses found in the Spermonde Islands. The grasses were planted in monoculture as well as in various combinations. The experiment, encompassing 96 plots, was set up on Barranglompo Island in South Sulawesi, Indonesia, by a joint project team including the Indonesian researchers and the U.S. partner’s group from the University of California, Davis. They monitored the experiment weekly until the end of December 2013 to measure transplantation performance in terms of survival rate, percent area covered, and extension rate. In addition to this work, one female student commenced an undergraduate research project on impact of marine debris on seagrass, representing an educational outreach element of this project.
 
   Indonesia Partnership Picture 1
The project team prepares seagrasses, in both monoculture and in combinations, for transplantation (Photo courtesy Dr. Ambo-Rappe)

   Indonesia Partnership Picture 1A
Sites on the sea floor are mapped out for the transplantation process (Photo courtesy Dr. Ambo-Rappe)

 
The research team plans to tabulate and analyze the data from these experiments. Results from the interpretation of the data are being prepared in a draft report. The exercise has thus far given rise to the idea to revise the transplantation experiment in the next term to enrich the method of seagrass restoration method, which may lead to a good guideline for seagrass restoration. The project team has been preparing a seedling nursery of two tropical seagrass species in the hatchery unit at Barranglompo Island. The aim of this activity is to examine the performance of seagrass restoration using seedlings in comparison to transplantation methods. A workshop on socializing the importance and benefit of seagrass restoration to the island community is scheduled for March 2014. The workshop, which will be targeted to high-school students and other stakeholders, may allow the participants to plant their own seagrass seedlings in the field.
 
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