Dwarf eelgrass

My name is Buga, I’m a part of the research group in the Center of the marine sciences at the University of Algarve. Project I’m involved is in concerned on one of the three seagrasses found in the Ria Formosa lagoon – dwarf eelgrass Zostera noltii. We are interested in discovering the principles of population genetic structure, its dynamics and relation to the landscape characteristics. In another words we want to see how the network of channels, channel dredging and clam aquaculture affect the resilience of the population. One of the applied outcomes of this project would relate human activities to the conservation of the Ria Formosa ecosystem. Seagrasses are important part of both the habitat network and the food chain in the lagoon. They provide shelter for the juvenile fish, clam larvae, seahorses and pipefish and many other species. Also, they are a feeding ground for larger fish, cuttlefish and sea slugs. Some of the species that rely on the seagrasses are commercially very important for people living in and around the lagoon, while other (and sometimes the same ones) are food for many birds inhabiting and resting in the lagoon. With this project we wish to define the conditions in which the population of this particular seagrasss can withstand all of these factors. This interests us from the scientific point of view, enabling us to learn more about the biology of the species but our results should also be helpful for the managers and stakeholders involved in the lagoon’s resources use and exploitation.

As a part of the project we have to collect samples at 1000 points along the lagoon. This is extensive, long and sometimes quite difficult task. Luckily  RTV (Responsible Tourism Volunteer Association – aECO) offered us their help. During June and July this year, over 120 points were sampled in one week stay at the Culatra island. There we got accommodation in a nice apartment with an amazing terrace, which we used as the outdoor laboratory to process the samples. Our host, Silvia was very kind and helpful more than we could expect. We also had available the school facilities, in case we need them, with the kitchen, showers and even more space to work. Besides the lodging, Silvia introduced us to the local people, which as a consequence helped us with our sampling. When the weather conditions didn’t allow us to go sampling with our kayaks, Gaspar and Elio were driving us with their boat to the sampling points and picking us up after the work. Additional help was also offered by RTV Association, in case we need more help with reaching the sampling areas, but luckily, during this campaign, we had much more help than we needed.

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Results of this one week stay at Culatra are not just 120 sampling points crossed from the list, but also all the nice encounters with the local people. Talking with them, we learned about the seagrass dynamics, occurrences and disappearances in this area, about the value the seagrasses have for them and also about the problems that are occurring lately in the aquaculture and clam harvesting activities. These are of vital importance for the nice people of Culatra island, and we will from our side try to help to find solutions for them.

This way I wish to express our big thanks to the Associacao, RTV Association, Ricardo, Silvia, Gaspar, Elio and all the other who helped us. Continue the good work!

Buga Berkovic

MAREE-Marine Ecology and Evolution group (http://ccmar.ualg.pt/maree/)
CCMAR – Centro de Ciências do Mar, Universidade do Algarve

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