Fields on the land impact fields on the sea floor.

If I thought yesterday was about as hectic as it was going to get, then I have been seriously misled! Saturday was a full day of travelling to North Stradbroke Island, meeting the scientists and getting my head in the research space.  

From a geographer's perspective, the excitement pretty much started as soon as the plane left the ground. It was a beautifully clear day for flying which gave me an opportunity to see how land cover and land use changed as the plane flew north.

Of particular interest was flying over the Murray River, only slightly to the east of Barmah-Millewa Forest which is a Ramsar listed wetland as well as a topic in year 12 Geography. It was also really interesting to see the distribution of irrigated agriculture along the major rivers and then a shift to dryland agriculture the further I flew from the river. It is one thing to look at this land use change on a map, but quite another when seen from the air. Check out these amazing pictures.

IMG 2570  

After an introductory 'lecture' that outlined the reason for the research, the organisations involved, and an amazing welcome to country message from an elder of the community it was an early night to prepare mentally and physically for what is clearly going to be a pretty intense week.

Today (Sunday) was the first day in the field. The 'field' is a field of seagrass in Moreton Bay and we have been charged with the very important task of mapping the extent of seagrass. The plan is to keep an up-to-date map of the distribution of different types of seagrass (of which there are quite a few). According to lead researcher and scientist James Udy (Healthy Waterways is the organisation that is conducting the research), 'seagrass is the canary of the sea. If the seagrass is healthy, then the rest of the ecosystem is likely to be healthy. If the seagrass is not healthy, then it means that the ecosystem is in trouble' (this is not a direct quote, but the gist is the same). Seagrass can become unhealthy for a range of resaons: competition from algae, increased sediment from rivers, increased toxicity (it is bio-accumulating in the plant tissue - I have learnt something!). The picture below is of some of the seagrass I collected today. There is also a rogue bit of algae in the middle...

Seagrass and some algae  

There are a couple of ways to map seagrass. I spent the day on a little boat with two other people. We would cruise the boat to a location where the researchers thought there may have been seagrass. We then jumped overboard, grabbed a handfull of seagrass from the seabed (depth of anywhere from 3 metres to only 30cm), identified it and then made a call on the extent of the cover of each type of grass and algae in the location. We also noted down the longitude and latitude co-ordinates in order to map it accurately. It commonly looked something like this: type of seagrass - CS 60% and HO 5%; algae 20%; depth 1.2m. I'll post later on with further explanation of the different types of seagrass we found, but for now, more information can be found here.

Although it WAS pretty exciting finding all the different types of seagrass, the best things about the day were the other marine life I saw: sea cucumbers, massive starfish, manta ray, dolphin and even a dugong! Yes, I just saw the fins of dolphins and the back of a dugong, but it all counts.

More to come.