We worked with indigenous rangers to understand the ecology of important marine plants.

The challenge

Limited knowledge about marine plants

Plants produce energy from the sun and are food for animals, forming the base of food webs.

Evidence has been found that the golden-lined rabbitfish (barrbal) is consuming vast amounts of seagrass  ©Mat Vanderklift

Marine plants, such as seagrass, are abundant in some parts of the Kimberley, and are likely to have profound ecological importance, but our understanding of their ecology in the Kimberley has been limited.

Our response

Investigating the productivity of marine plants and their use by animals

CSIRO, together with researchers from the University of Western Australia, partnered with the Bardi Jawi Rangers to study the abundance and growth of marine plants around Tallon and Sunday Islands (Jalan and Iwany in the local Bardi language).

The team measured the amount of seagrass present at different times of year, how much the seagrass grew, how many flowers it produced, and how much it was eaten.

They also measured how important it was to the diets of two species of particular importance to the Bardi Jawi people – golden-lined rabbitfish (barrbal) and green sea turtles (goorlil).

The results

Marine plants are profoundly important in the region

The research team found that seagrasses — and large brown algae that are also abundant on the reefs bordering the islands — grow very fast, and that despite experiencing extreme temperatures and periods of low oxygen, these high rates of growth are maintained throughout the year.

The seagrasses are in turn eaten in vast amounts by the rabbitfish and green turtles.

Importantly, our research showed that the abundance and growth of seagrass can be measured reliably through use of simple methods. This allows ranger groups, who typically don’t have specialised scientific equipment, to monitor seagrass with high confidence in the robustness of measurement.

Bardi Jawi ranger Dwayne George and researcher Monique Grol measuring seagrass growth  ©Monique Grol

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