Dr.Joleah Lamb, Cornell University, and Dr. Syafyuddin Yusuf, Hasanuddin University, survey corals for signs of disease.

Study examines seagrass services to health

The role of seagrass beds for improving seaweed farming businesses is being studied by research teams at Hasanuddin University, Makassar, Indonesia, and Cornell University, Ithaca, US.

The new study follows the teams’ success documenting the role of seagrass in filtering pathogens from reefs adjacent to coastal islands in Indonesia.

Together these two studies promise to allow the CCRES project to model the ecosystem service value of seagrasses to human health, coral reef health and algal farming. 

Threats to human health are growing in developing coastal areas, in part due to increases in the spread of diseases. However, there may be natural mechanisms to reduce levels of disease-causing pollutants entering coastal waters.

The filtration of toxins, nutrients and pathogenic microorganisms provided by coastal ecosystems, such as seagrasses, mangroves and bivalves, have not yet been examined as tools to moderate human and coral reef pathogens in the field.

Over the past year Dr Joleah Lamb, Cornell University, Nur Abu, Hasanuddin University, and Indonesian and international colleagues have been examining this novel concept.

The group has led a series of studies suggesting that seagrass meadows in Indonesia are capable of reducing the effects of bacteria that cause disease in humans and several coral reef organisms. In addition, reef-building corals located adjacent to seagrass meadows have significant reductions in two globally devastating coral diseases – novel findings for both Indonesian and reefs across the world.

Now, they have turned their attention to seaweed farming.

Seaweed farming is frequently practised as an alternative livelihood and to reduce fishing pressure and over exploited fisheries.

However disease outbreaks threaten the value of this industry and livelihoods. The teams are using field and lab-based studies to understand the role healthy seagrasses play in moderating water quality and pathogenic bacteria that impact seaweed farmers in Indonesia. The next field trip is planned for October.