ECU research finds climate change could stop smelly seaweed on beaches

ECU research predicts seaweed piles on Jindalee beach and WA’s south-west coastline could diminish with climate change. Picture: Will Russell.
ECU research predicts seaweed piles on Jindalee beach and WA’s south-west coastline could diminish with climate change. Picture: Will Russell.

CLIMATE change could mean the end of piles of smelly seaweed on WA’s south west beaches, ECU research has found.

The university’s Centre of Marine Ecosystems recently investigated the potential shift of species of marine life – including seagrass, seaweed, fish, turtles and dugongs, as ocean temperatures warm.

Lead researcher Associate Professor Glenn Hyndes said one of the potential impacts of the process, known as ‘tropicalisation’, was herbivorous fish species moving south from the waters of sub-tropical WA.

“What’s likely to happen as these species move south with warming waters is that they could start foraging on the different species of seagrass found around the South West,” he said

“This increased foraging could decimate those local species meaning there’s nothing washing up on our beaches.

“That might sound like it’s good news – especially if you live near one of those beaches where seagrass wash up regularly, also known as ‘wrack’.

“But it would have disastrous consequences for the coastal ecosystems in those areas which rely on the nutrients and habitat provided by the wrack to survive.”

Prof Hyndes and colleagues used information on projected sea temperature rises to predict the distribution of species of seagrass, fish, turtles and dugong in 2100.

They found the annual mean sea surface temperature off the coast of WA had been increasing by about 0.1 degrees Celsius per decade for the past 110 years.

“We predict that that change in sea temperature will see some species move more than 500km south along the WA coast,” he said.

Prof Hyndes said the changes predicted here were more rapid than elsewhere in the world.

“The speed at which we’re predicting changes will happen along the WA coast means that what goes on here could provide valuable lessons for similar ecosystems around the world,” he said.

“Seagrass meadows are incredibly important habitats for a huge number of species as well as for their ability to absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide at a rate 40 times higher than tropical rainforests.”

The journal Biosciences published the research in an article titled ‘Accelerating Tropicalization and the Transformation of Temperate Seagrass Meadows’ in September.