Seagrass Watch

A collaborative community-based habitat monitoring program

Building scientific knowledge and empowering local groups

Seagrass Watch is an award winning, community-based, habitat assessment program established in Australia in 1998 (AMCS 2007; McKenzie et al. 2001). Seagrass Watch functions  as  a  partnership  between  local  conservation groups, industry, government and various other communities of interest (Finn et al. 2010). The key aim is to raise awareness of the condition and trend of near-shore seagrass ecosystems and provide an early warning for major coastal environmental changes (Finn et al. 2010). This case study relates to the Seagrass Watch program operating in South-east Queensland.

The declining condition and loss of sea grasses from natural and anthropogenic causes was a key driver for Seagrass Watch in South-east Queensland (Finn et al. 2010). In particular, increasing intensity of human activity in coastal regions and associated impacts on water quality entering estuarine systems is a critical factor in this decline and loss (McKenzie et al.  2001).  The  combination  of  limited  government resources for extensive seagrass monitoring and pressure from coastal communities concerned about the condition and  loss  of  seagrass  was  an important factor  in  the establishment of the Seagrass Watch in the region (McKenzie et al. 2001).

Organisational Approach

Seagrass Watch was developed initially through the Queensland Department  of  Primary  Industries  (QDPI),  establishing  and co-ordinating several steering groups to capture local enthusiasm. The steering groups included representatives from local community organisations, Queensland Parks & Wildlife Services (Environment Protection Authority) and the QDPI. This led to early support through the first round of Natural Heritage Trust funding (NHT1). Key monitoring areas (representing a particular management focus) were identified jointly by community groups and QDPI, with community and industry groups also providing input into initial planning and ongoing monitoring (McKenzie et al. 2001).

The monitoring program utilises simple, but scientifically rigorous methods, with comprehensive training provided for volunteers. A website ensures the data is freely available to all Management agencies (Finn et al. 2010). Among other uses, data from Seagrass Watch is used by the SEQ Healthy Waterways partnership in their Ecosystem Health Monitoring Program, supplementing water quality data (Finn et al. 2010).

A wide range of associated activities are also used to engage community volunteers. For example, a seminar series on local wildlife and environmental processes involved with seagrass habitat and night time spotlighting expeditions that increase the natural history skills of participants (Finn et al. 2010).

Ongoing funding is supplied largely through SEQ Catchments, a regional natural resource management body. Additional funding is provided by the Ecosystem Health Monitoring Program, part of the SEQ Healthy Waterway Partnership, as well as industry representatives and a private trust. In-kind support is also made  available  through  Queensland  Parks  and  Wildlife Service, commercial supporters and various non-government organisations (Finn et al. 2010).

Key Lessons for Adaptive Learning

Learning outcomes emerging from the Seagrass Watch program include:

  • Improved monitoring capacity of coastal issues and resources that is accessible to both resource managers and the community.
  • Enhanced communication pathways between government agencies and local communities.
  • Improved collaboration between state government agencies in developing information for use in management plans and associated evaluation.
  • Integrated community engagement including industry and commercial interests, educational facilities, NGO’s and community groups.
  • Community capacity and ownership building through training, experiential learning and collaboration with a range of organisations.

Final Points

Seagrass  Watch  is  an  innovative  and  proactive community-based approach that demonstrates the value of community  input  in  the  production  and  application  of scientific data. It also provides a mechanism by which communities can directly influence local planning and decision-making.


AMCS. 2007. Australian Marine Conservation Society Annual Report-2007, 24pp. ports/AnnualReport2007.pdf (accessed on 13 December 2010).

Finn, P.G., N.S. Udy, S.J. Baltais, K. Price, and L. Coles. 2010.Assessing the quality of seagrass data collected by community volunteers in Moreton Bay Marine Park, Australia, Environmental Conservation, 37: 83-89

McKenzie, L.J., S.J. Campbell, C.A. Roder, J.S. Bité, and R.G.Coles. 2001. Local Eyes: Global Wise, International. Seagrass-Watch Volunteers Forum, Hervey Bay. 12th-15th October 2001. Proceedings of the 1st,International Seagrass-Watch volunteers Forum 85pp.

Theme Leader

Professor Tim Smith

Director Sustainability Research Centre University of the Sunshine Coast

Maroochydore QLD 4558



Dr Dana Thomsen , Dr Melissa Nursey-Bray,  Dr RW (Bill) Carter,  Dr Gayle Mayes, Dr Johanna Rosier,  Dr Claudia Baldwin, Mr Craig Stephenson, Dr Stephen Myers, Dr Pedro Fidelman, Dr Chris Jacobson, Ms Noni Keys

PhD students

Lavenie Tawake , Sabiha Zafrin,  Latif Siddique ,  Ximena Arango,  Andrew Venning

References for Seagrass Watch

Myers, S., Thomsen D.C., Tarte D., Dutra L., Ellis N., Thébaud O., et al. (2012).  Adaptive learning and coastal management. In, Kenchington, R., Stocker, L. & Wood, D. (Eds) Sustainable Coastal Management and Climate Change: Lessons from Regional Australia. Chapter 7,
Siddique, M., Myers S., Smith T.F., Babcock R., & Carter R.W. (2013).  Co-learning in Marine Protected Areas for Integrated Coastal Zone Management. In, Moksness, E., Dahl, E. & Støttrup, J. (Eds) Global Challenges in Integrated Coastal Zone Management. 192-205.
Smith, T.F., Myers S., Thomsen D.C., & Rosier J. (2011).  Integrated coastal zone management and planning. In Gullett, W., Schofield, C. & Vince, J. (Eds), Marine Resources Management. 109 - 121.
Stephenson, C., Thomsen D.C., Mayes G., & Smith T.F. (2011).  Shock treatment: adaptive learning in response to the South-East Queensland oil spill. In, Wallendorf, L., Jones, C. Ewing, L. & Battalio, B. (Eds). Solutions to Coastal Disasters 2011. 887-898.
Zafrin, S., Rosier J., & Baldwin C. (In Press).  Queensland’s coastal planning regime: the extent of participation in coastal governance. Planning Practice & Research .
De Freitas, D. M., King D., & Cottrell A. (2013).  Fits and misfits of linked public participation and spatial information in water quality management on the Great Barrier Reef coast. Journal of Coastal Conservation: Planning and Management. 17(2), 253-269.
Thomsen, D. C., & Smith T. F. (2014).  Seagrass Watch Case Study.