Save our Seagrass: Reflections from Jesi Bautista

**This blog was written by Jesi Bautista, one of our 2015 summer interns, based on her mini-case study with Jocelyn Emia


This summer I was very fortunate to return home to Guam and intern with the Guam Community Coral Reef Monitoring Program. I was able to learn about Guam’s marine life, while working closely Jocelyn Emia guided by Marybelle Quinata, program coordinator, and Val Brown, science coordinator. We decided to complete a mini­case study on seagrass habitat, which are found threatened all over the island due to exposure during extreme low tides. Our goal was to create a baseline that could lead to continued seagrass monitoring and study the various impacts threatening the health of seagrass.

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So why should we save our seagrass? Seagrass play several fundamental roles in the marine ecosystem. They provide a place for habitat, nursery, feeding, and refuge from predators for juvenile fish. They also have long rhizomes and root systems that reduce erosion and stabilize sediments during rough conditions. Seagrass is a primary producer that converts sunlight and carbon dioxide into sugar and oxygen, which increases dissolved oxygen (DO) in the water. Many marine organisms, such as fish, crab, and oysters, need sufficient levels of DO to survive. Seagrass also improves water clarity by trapping fine sediment and particles, causing less movement of sediment on the bottom which often cause the water to look cloudy (Tsuda, R. 2009)


My favorite part of the internship was becoming more aware about what was taking place in the marine ecosystem. I realized that most of the threats to the health of marine life is due to human impacts. Guam is the most populated island in Micronesia (around 170,000) with an increasing and booming tourism industry. The increase in coastal development from tourism and infrastructure to support a growing population leads to nutrient pollution, fertilizer runoff, and sewage waste.  Snorkeling, fishing, diving, jet­skiing, and off­-roading also have an impact on the reefs and seagrass communities.
As Sylvia Earle, a marine biologist, oceanographer, explorer, and author stated, “Our past, our present, and whatever remains of our future, absolutely depend on what we do now.” Jocelyn and I hope that our mini­case study on seagrass can be a baseline for future projects. We also hope that we brought some awareness to the community and that the data we have collected will encourage others to find a potential solution to save our seagrass.  See our mini-case study presentation here.

2015 intern presentation
                     Presentation of our mini-case study to local partners

References:  Tsuda, R. 2009. Seagrasses Overview. Guampedia.com.

 

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Coral Bleaching on Guam

Since this original entry, Guam has experienced three more mass coral bleaching events. In 2015, the Eyes of the Reef Marianas (EOR Marianas) was established as a community-based early warning system to invite all ocean users to report coral bleaching and other reef impacts online. Visit eormarianas.org to learn more or to make a report. 

The effects of climate change are a rising concern for Pacific Islanders who find themselves on the front lines. The livelihoods of our brothers and sisters on neighboring islands have been impacted through increased occurrences of droughts and king tides. What about here on Guam? Have we felt the effects of climate change yet?

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Photo credit: Tammy Jo Anderson-Taft, Guam EPA

The answer is YES! Increased and early coral bleaching is only one of the effects brought on by climate change. What is coral bleaching? Coral bleaching occurs when sea water temperatures are too hot or too cold causing corals to stress and expel their zooxanthellae, a special algae that lives in corals, is their main food source, and gives corals their beautiful color. Corals begin to pale and turn stark white when they’re bleached. But there is hope! Corals can survive and recover, but that can take a long time.

Bleached soft corals in Merizo
Bleached soft corals in Merizo. Photo taken July 2014

Last year, Guam and CNMI had a significant coral bleaching event. Even more alarming is the fact that Guam and CNMI were seeing early reports of coral bleaching. Local marine biologist usually expect to see paling/ bleaching corals around October, but there were reports as early as August in 2013. GCCRMP members attended an information session on coral bleaching and helped document bleaching corals at our regular monitoring site at the Piti Bomb Holes Marine Preserve. Members learned how to identify coral bleaching and they can report sightings of coral bleaching. Additionally, Roxanna Miller kicked off our first Science Sunday program with a public talk on coral bleaching. She shared photos and tips on how to identify bleaching or paling corals.

This summer only added to concerns from marine biologists and new concerns brought up by community members. This year, there were reports of coral bleaching as early as June. If you’ve been snorkeling at Ypao Beach this summer, you probably saw large colonies of staghorn corals that were very white or pale-looking. Other areas where coral bleaching has been sighted around Guam is Tumon, Piti, Umatac, and also in Merizo. Last Saturday, GCCRMP members started conducted monitoring surveys in soft coral habitat to help quantify soft coral bleaching in Piti. In addition, members have participated in another reconnaissance survey to look for diseased/sick echinoderms, such as sea cucumbers and sea stars. We’ll continue to work with GCCRMP members to do surveys that can help quantify coral bleaching and track recovery of bleached corals.

GCCRMP Member laying quadrat on paling soft coral
GCCRMP Member laying quadrat on paling soft coral

Ultimately, more Guam residents are aware of the effects of coral bleaching to our reefs and understanding its connection to climate change. GCCRMP members have shared stories of relatives or neighbors asking “why are the corals white?,” which has given them an opportunity to share what they know about coral bleaching.  Want to become a member and help our team collect data?  Email gureefmonitoring@gmail.com or message us on Facebook.

Becoming A Member

Want to learn more about Guam’s waters? Need Service Learning hours? It’s easy to become a member.

1) Register and attend Coral Reef Monitoring Training. Check our upcoming events and sign up for a training session here.
2) Participate in future Monitoring Events to do coral reef monitoring.

Check out what it’s like to be part of the GCCRMP team at our Photo Gallery.

Learn more about our Coral Reef Monitoring training sessions, the rewards of joining, and why it’s important to monitor coral reefs. Check out the details here: Become a Member