Seagrass Specialist Group Chair, Fred Short, on Seagreass

Fred Short

May 01, 2016

Fred Short is an oceanographer and a Research Professor at the Jackson Estuarine Laboratory, University of New Hampshire. He has advocated for and studied eelgrass across New England for over 30 years as well as investigating other seagrasses throughout the U.S. and internationally. As Director of SeagrassNet, a worldwide seagrass monitoring program with 133 monitoring sites in 34 countries, his research includes coastal ecology, environmental sustainability, seagrass restoration, and plant physiology as well as seagrass blue carbon and biodiversity. He has written extensively on seagrass ecology and is the editor of two seagrass books. He published the first paper looking at seagrass and global climate change (Short and Neckles 1999). In 2011, he completed the listing of all seagrass species on the IUCN Red List and published the results with other members of the Red List Authority (Short et al 2011). He is the IUCN Species Specialist Group Chair for Seagrasses and also the Seagrass Red List Authority.

Please tell us a little about what you/SeagrassNet do?
I have studied seagrasses for over forty years worldwide, with an emphasis on seagrass ecology, physiology, restoration and monitoring. In the year 2000, a group of us started SeagrassNet, designed as a scientific global monitoring program that investigates and documents the status of seagrass resources worldwide and the threats to this important and imperiled marine ecosystem. SeagrassNet now includes 135 sites globally that all conduct quarterly monitoring and report their findings to, using a global monitoring protocol and web-based data reporting system.

The ultimate aim of SeagrassNet is to preserve the seagrass ecosystem by increasing scientific knowledge and public awareness of this threatened coastal resource. SeagrassNet data provides the ability to assess rapid change in seagrass status and health within a statical framework that enables the user to confidently express warnings to coastal managers and environmental authorities.

The DSCP aims to work closely with local communities – can you tell us about your experiences working with communities?
SeagrassNet Team Leaders are recruited from community organizations and are trained at workshops where they learn sampling techniques, plant ID, and environmental monitoring as well as data uploading. Gr0ups involved include NGOs, government fisheries departments, schools, universities, national parks, and scientific research organizations. There is an emphasis on gathering information from local fishers and others who use the seagrass resource and in communicating with coastal people about the findings of the research, and especially treating all involved with respect. Many coastal communities use the seagrass resource and depend on it for a large portion of the protein in their diet.

What advice/lessons learnt can you pass to our project partners?
It is much easier to preserve the existing seagrass resource than to try to remediate or restore it after it is lost. Sedimentation and excess nutrients are the cause of most seagrass loss worldwide, along with direct impacts like dredging, and some fishing and aquaculture practices. Care must be taken to avoid damaging the seagrass beds while sampling. A strong sampling protocol must be used that can scientifically document status and change in seagrasses, so that monitoring funds are used effectively and can provide the information needed. Monitoring site selection is also critical and must be done with overall goals in mind. Training is needed of monitoring teams to insure comprehensive and useable data across wide geographic areas, often with very different characteristics.

How would you like to be involved with the DSCP?
I would like to make the SeagrassNet program and protocols available to DSCP participants, and the best way to do this is to have SeagrassNet help establish new and representative sites across DSCP region including direct training from myself to Teams at these SeagrassNet sites. Such training is invaluable to insure that the protocol is well understood and can be followed effectively and efficiently, insuring good scientific and comparable data across time and between locations with minimal effort. I would also recommend that all SeagrassNet Teams be started with a SeagrassNet Kit that provides everything that is needed for the first 2 years of sampling and in that way ensures that all groups have complete and comparable sampling equipment and supplies to conduct the sampling.

As a global representative of seagrass, what message do you want to promote most?
Seagrasses are critical coastal and estuarine habitats around the world, that provide important functions and values to the marine ecosystem and the people that use and enjoy coastal environments. Seagrasses are important as food for dugongs and sea turtles and to the overall biodiversity of the world’s oceans. Seagrasses are diminishing rapidly because of coastal development and human activities. Monitoring can provide information to help support and preserve these important habitats.