|First demonstration site for seagrass protection and management launched in China|
Recently the CAS South China Sea Institute of Oceanology and the Coordinating Unit for the UNEP/GEF Project on Reversing Environmental Degradation Trends in the South China Sea and Gulf of Thailand signed an agreement on Hepu Seagrass Demonstration Site in Southwest China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. The move marks the inauguration of the first such site in China. Started from January 2002, a research team from the CAS institute has made efforts to map and study seagrass meadows in the coastal areas in Guangdong, Hainan provinces and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. The investigation has led to the discovery of seagrass beds with a total area of more than 2,000 hectares in the coastal area of south China. Via the survey, the scientists have initially made clear the geographic distribution of seagrass, its taxonomic composition, coverage, productivity, and the bio-diversity and ecological features of the seagrass ecosystem. The goal of the three-year project in Hepu is to establish a demonstration site of community based management, with the aim of maintaining the existing biodiversity and environmental condition and utilize the seagrass resources in a rational and sustainable way. This is to be accomplished through maintaining the balance between utilization and conservation, with the aid of community and government involvement. Experiences in the research, protection and utilization of seagrass beds in the site are expected to be useful for other seagrass beds in China and even hopefully other parts of the world. As one of the three typical ecosystems in shallow seas (the other two are mangrove and coral reef), the seagrass forms the groundwork for many complex marine ecosystems and provide a valuable nursery for commercially important fish and crustaceans. When the seagrass decline, the links in the productivity chain are broken and the whole ecosystem collapses. Most importantly, it has ecological value in purification of water quality, absorption of the excessive nutrients which tend to trigger the outbreak of "red tides", that is algal blooms, silt fixation and act as a spawning field for various marine organisms. In addition, the seagrass beds are ideal habitats and shelters for sea turtles, Dugong and other rare kinds of marine wildlife.