A pinboard by
Alice Twomey

PhD Student, University of Queensland


Seagrass interactions with hydrodynamics and coastal geormorphology

Seagrasses are ecosystem engineers, meaning that they alter their own environment. It has been suggested that the below-ground biomass (roots and rhizomes) of seagrass significantly contributes to sediment stabilization however this has not been tested. Sediment is considered stable if it resists erosion and resuspension, in this case, caused by wave energy. My research aims to test whether below-ground biomass of seagrass increases the threshold for erosion, therefore stabilizing sediment along the coastline. This is currently being achieved through extensive field work being conducted within Moreton Bay in South-East Queensland. I am collecting data to investigate the significance of hydrodynamic, sediment and seagrass variables which may be contributing parameters to the stabilization of sediment and erosion threshold within seagrass meadows. If we can determine the significance of specific seagrass and environmental attributes to the erosion threshold, we can apply this information to similar environments around the world where an eroding coastline is an increasing problem due to climate change.


A nearshore model to investigate the effects of seagrass bed geometry on wave attenuation and suspended sediment transport

Abstract: The effects of seagrass bed geometry on wave attenuation and suspended sediment transport were investigated using a modified Nearshore Community Model (NearCoM). The model was enhanced to account for cohesive sediment erosion and deposition, sediment transport, combined wave and current shear stresses, and seagrass effects on drag. Expressions for seagrass drag as a function of seagrass shoot density and canopy height were derived from published flume studies of model vegetation. The predicted reduction of volume flux for steady flow through a bed agreed reasonably well with a separate flume study. Predicted wave attenuation qualitatively captured seasonal patterns observed in the field: wave attenuation peaked during the flowering season and decreased as shoot density and canopy height decreased. Model scenarios with idealized bathymetries demonstrated that, when wave orbital velocities and the seagrass canopy interact, increasing seagrass bed width in the direction of wave propagation results in higher wave attenuation, and increasing incoming wave height results in higher relative wave attenuation. The model also predicted lower skin friction, reduced erosion rates, and higher bottom sediment accumulation within and behind the bed. Reduced erosion rates within seagrass beds have been reported, but reductions in stress behind the bed require further studies for verification. Model results suggest that the mechanism of sediment trapping by seagrass beds is more complex than reduced erosion rates alone; it also requires suspended sediment sources outside of the bed and horizontal transport into the bed.

Pub.: 01 Apr '07, Pinned: 31 Jul '17

Low-canopy seagrass beds still provide important coastal protection services.

Abstract: One of the most frequently quoted ecosystem services of seagrass meadows is their value for coastal protection. Many studies emphasize the role of above-ground shoots in attenuating waves, enhancing sedimentation and preventing erosion. This raises the question if short-leaved, low density (grazed) seagrass meadows with most of their biomass in belowground tissues can also stabilize sediments. We examined this by combining manipulative field experiments and wave measurements along a typical tropical reef flat where green turtles intensively graze upon the seagrass canopy. We experimentally manipulated wave energy and grazing intensity along a transect perpendicular to the beach, and compared sediment bed level change between vegetated and experimentally created bare plots at three distances from the beach. Our experiments showed that i) even the short-leaved, low-biomass and heavily-grazed seagrass vegetation reduced wave-induced sediment erosion up to threefold, and ii) that erosion was a function of location along the vegetated reef flat. Where other studies stress the importance of the seagrass canopy for shoreline protection, our study on open, low-biomass and heavily grazed seagrass beds strongly suggests that belowground biomass also has a major effect on the immobilization of sediment. These results imply that, compared to shallow unvegetated nearshore reef flats, the presence of a short, low-biomass seagrass meadow maintains a higher bed level, attenuating waves before reaching the beach and hence lowering beach erosion rates. We propose that the sole use of aboveground biomass as a proxy for valuing coastal protection services should be reconsidered.

Pub.: 01 Jun '13, Pinned: 31 Jul '17

The Effectiveness, Costs and Coastal Protection Benefits of Natural and Nature-Based Defences.

Abstract: There is great interest in the restoration and conservation of coastal habitats for protection from flooding and erosion. This is evidenced by the growing number of analyses and reviews of the effectiveness of habitats as natural defences and increasing funding world-wide for nature-based defences-i.e. restoration projects aimed at coastal protection; yet, there is no synthetic information on what kinds of projects are effective and cost effective for this purpose. This paper addresses two issues critical for designing restoration projects for coastal protection: (i) a synthesis of the costs and benefits of projects designed for coastal protection (nature-based defences) and (ii) analyses of the effectiveness of coastal habitats (natural defences) in reducing wave heights and the biophysical parameters that influence this effectiveness. We (i) analyse data from sixty-nine field measurements in coastal habitats globally and examine measures of effectiveness of mangroves, salt-marshes, coral reefs and seagrass/kelp beds for wave height reduction; (ii) synthesise the costs and coastal protection benefits of fifty-two nature-based defence projects and; (iii) estimate the benefits of each restoration project by combining information on restoration costs with data from nearby field measurements. The analyses of field measurements show that coastal habitats have significant potential for reducing wave heights that varies by habitat and site. In general, coral reefs and salt-marshes have the highest overall potential. Habitat effectiveness is influenced by: a) the ratios of wave height-to-water depth and habitat width-to-wavelength in coral reefs; and b) the ratio of vegetation height-to-water depth in salt-marshes. The comparison of costs of nature-based defence projects and engineering structures show that salt-marshes and mangroves can be two to five times cheaper than a submerged breakwater for wave heights up to half a metre and, within their limits, become more cost effective at greater depths. Nature-based defence projects also report benefits ranging from reductions in storm damage to reductions in coastal structure costs.

Pub.: 03 May '16, Pinned: 31 Jul '17