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Shark Bay Festival to focus on seagrass devastated by heatwave

Shark Bay Festival

Raising awareness of the devastation to seagrass in the Shark Bay area from the 2011 heatwave and conservation efforts by scientists from The University of Western Australia and Malgana Rangers will be the focus of next month’s (October 2020) Wirriya Jalyanu (seagrass) Festival.

The festival will be held in Denham on Sunday 4 October 2020 and the community is invited to attend.

Festival activities include learning about the local seagrasses and how they are being restored from rangers and scientists, cooking demonstrations using local fish, archaeology and craft demonstrations, and awards for childrens’ writing and drawing entries.

Seagrass form extensive meadows, creating the foundation for a biodiverse ecosystem. Shark Bay was listed as a World Heritage Site in 1991, based on its exceptional natural features that includes vast seagrass meadows and a large dugong population they support.

In 2011 Shark Bay experienced a marine heatwave and more than 1,000 square kilometres of seagrass was lost or damaged. Loss of seagrass meadows resulted in collapsing crab and scallop fisheries.

Dramatic reductions in iconic species including green sea turtles, dugong, cormorants and sea snakes followed as the disappearance of seagrass meadows meant they lost their food and homes. Even the bottlenose dolphins were impacted as their food depends on the seagrass for habitat.

Senior Research Fellow Elizabeth Sinclair from UWA’s School of Biological Sciences and Oceans Institute said as part of the seagrass restoration project, UWA scientists and Malgana Rangers were working together to assess two dominant species of seagrass in the World Heritage-listed Shark Bay area – wire weed (Amphibolis antarctica) and ribbon weed (Posidonia australis).

“We are using several restoration methods to assist with the recovery of these important marine plants,” Dr Sinclair said.

“The Wirriya Jalyanu Festival is a dynamic way to share knowledge two-ways – combining knowledge of the Traditional Owners and western science.”

“The local Community of Denham and Shark Bay including Gathaagudu and Malgana Traditional Owners are celebrating seagrass and the animals that live among the seagrass through artistic, scientific and cultural activities for all ages.”

The seagrass restoration project is funded through the National Environmental Science Program Marine Biodiversity Hub, and supported by the National Department of Agriculture Water and the Environment and the WA State Department of Biodiversity Conservation and Attractions.

This festival was developed by the Malgana Aboriginal Corporation, Malgana Rangers and UWA scientists.

A series of science talks will also run on Friday 2 October 2020 in Denham. For more information on the Seagrass Festival and science talks visit https://www.seagrassresearch.net/festival

Source: UWA