World Seagrass Conference. Napoli, Italy

09 July 2024  /  By Jean-Luc Solandt

2024 World Seagrass Conference & 15th International Seagrass Biology Workshop

 

Napoli, Italy June 17 – 21

 

491 delegates from 48 countries attended a meeting in the heart of Naples at a spectacular 13th century Baroque church ‘Santa Maria la Nova’. The theme of the conference was ‘Seagrass in the Anthropocene’ that was reflected in many talks on climate change effects, resilience, restoration and management. The science surrounding understanding of seagrass threats – and helping to make them resilient to those threats – was everywhere. Researchers from Italy, USA and Australia are actively moving plants from hotter areas to cooler areas, to allow cooler area populations to start to be resilient to heat stress. Seedlings are being ‘heat stressed’ in controlled lab conditions; so called ‘priming’ – to see how they may fare in later life, and indeed generations to ocean warming. All this is relevant to the UK where we saw a 4 degree marine heatwave in 2023 in the North Sea and Irish Sea. One thing that most presenters described was that seagrasses all start reproducing – both sexually and by cloning, when heat-stressed: We will see more of these events & responses in future for sure. Our own restoration and conservation efforts through the ReMEDIES programme were also presented – with seeding and planting taking up a whole day of discussions and workshops.

The calmness of our spiritual conference surroundings contrasted with the madness & exciting claustrophobia of the streets.

 

The meeting curated a fascinating section on current human-seagrass interactions with progressiver studies within Malaysia and Australia on the use of intertidal beds for gleaning (picking animals from the sandflats), and how ‘dreamtime’ aboriginal folk tales of Australia has resulted in conservation efforts to preserve beds in the great northern expanse of Carpentaria Bay from locals, academics and park managers alike. We heard of an encouraging, well-respected zoned management approach of the use of shallow-water Virginia seabeds between clam fishers (needing mud habitat) and adjacent seagrass bed expansion where clam fishers can’t operate. We presented our conservation efforts in Plymouth Sound; applying advanced mooring systems to secure protection of beds from abrasion from mooring chains. Quite surprisingly we were alone in presenting our story on such modifications and their ramifications.

 

So whilst we sat, often sweating in the resplendent architecture that surrounded us, with a field trip to the Anton Dohrn Instituta Scientifica Zoologica de Napoli, and the archeological site of Erculaneo (covered by the ash of Vesuvias in AD 79), I couldn’t help feel that the claustrophobic, hectic and heated streets of Naples being analogous to the climate and human threats faced day in day out by seagrass. We hope they adapt to survive climate change: The efforts of the multiple dedicated scientists and managers are laudable, but small relative to the scale of the issue. Seagrass habitats are another ‘canary in the coal mine’ of our times alongside coral reefs and polar bears. Do they have enough time to adapt to survive? And indeed, do we?

 

Just one tip if you visit Naples and like a bit of adrenaline in your lives; take a taxi at night. Worth the price of entry to any theme park ride!