Monday, 11 May 2020

Dr Thomas Wernberg (Associate Professor, UWA Oceans Institute), Dr Melinda Coleman (UWA adjunct from the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment), and Dr Karen Filbee-Dexter (DECRA Fellow, UWA Oceans Institute) have been awarded a grant from the ARC for their project “Restoring Blue Forests with Green Gravel”.

The grant, which includes contributions from partner organisations the NSW Department of Primary Industries and SeaForester, dedicates $425,000 towards this innovative project in restoring vulnerable habitats.

“We were particularly pleased with this project because it closes the circle of our research program over many years and many projects,” Dr Wernberg says of this achievement. “This ranges from reporting habitat collapse and degradation to understanding its consequences and drivers to discovering opportunities and new solutions to mitigate this problem.”

This project uses a new technique of kelp forest restoration: ‘green gravel’. In this innovative approach, lab-reared kelp are seeded onto small rocks and grown until a few centimetres long, and then out-planted by scattering the seeded rocks from the ocean’s surface, allowing new kelp to be introduced into vulnerable areas on a large scale.

“These rocks can be scattered over large areas of reef without scuba diving, substantially reducing costs and risks of deployment, and making it much easier to treat large areas,” Dr Filbee-Dexter explains.

Originally developed and tested in collaboration with colleagues from the Institute of Marine Research in Norway, the project is now reaching across the world and being adapted to help kelp forests in Portugal, USA, Norway, and Australia.

By bringing this project to Australian oceans, Dr Wernberg and his team are taking a new step in marine restoration with their efficient technique.

With kelp forests dominating 25% of the world’s coastline and providing valuable ecosystem services that support coastal communities, such as providing food and habit to a diverse range of productive marine species, kelp provide approximately $10B a year to the Australian economy.

Green gravel is an exciting development in restoring these valuable members of the marine ecosystem. As Dr Wernberg puts it, “one of the key challenges is to match the scale of restoration with the scale of habitat loss and degradation but scaling up is very expensive and labour intensive using traditional kelp restoration methods.”

He hopes to “fully adapt the green gravel technique to Australian species, demonstrate the feasibility of the technique through a large-scale restoration and develop protocols that will allow community groups to take on local green gravel restoration projects.”

When looking into the future, Dr Wernberg sees the potential for this project expand the reach of existing collaborations and already established teams, forming a great platform for restoring vulnerable kelp populations across the world.

Green Gravel also provides an opportunity for local communities to get involved in the restoration process and support the kelp populations like they support the rest of our ecosystems.

“Down the track it is our hope that community groups can prepare their own green gravel and embark on local restoration projects,” explains Dr Wernberg.

This grant will hopefully be just the start to an exciting new chapter between Dr Wernberg, his team, and the community in the pursuit of healthy ocean ecosystems.

As we help the kelp population as they have unknowingly helped us, Dr Wernberg says of this achievement, “Support from the ARC is the life blood of the research program. It gives a great sense of gratitude and responsibility to receive this funding in competition with so many good projects and worthy causes and we really appreciate the opportunities this provides.”

Congratulations to Dr Thomas and all the teams working on this exciting project. We look forward to seeing the progress you make!

Media references

Tina Zhang
Communications Officer, Oceans Institute


Oceans Institute