The structures, made from potato starch, have been deployed at
Phillip Bay and Western Port Bay. They are designed to provide
seedlings with protection from high-energy environments without limiting their
growth. They break down over time, making way for the established plants to
Coastal wetlands, such as mangrove forests and saltmarshes, provide many benefits including protection from storm surges, and habitat for coastal wildlife. They also store atmospheric carbon, acting as a nature-based solution against climate change. However, coastal wetlands have been degraded and lost around the world and restoring them can be challenging.
Dr Stacey Trevathan-Tackett, from the Blue Carbon Lab, says that restoration efforts can be hampered by harsh environmental conditions that damage wetland plants at crucial early stages of their growth and so it's important to constantly come up with new methods to encourage growth.
"We are exploring new ways to help improve the success of restoration and recovery of wetlands," Dr Trevathan-Tackett said in a press release. "This includes trialling new and creative techniques in different habitats and conditions, as well as working with local communities along the way."
While mangrove seeds planted into these structures over the summer have started to sprout, researchers want to quantify survival and growth over time and determine how the novel approach is working and to make improvements along the way.
The three-year project, titled Regenerating Our Coasts, is in partnership with Beach Energy and focuses on research and outreach.
Beach’s CEO Morné Engelbrecht said: "This is Beach's largest ever environmental partnership and demonstrates our commitment to leaving a positive contribution to communities."
"With the Regenerating Our Coasts program, we are excited to see seedlings beginning to grow through the structures," said Dr Trevathan-Tackett. "But they have a long way to go, and so do we in terms of trialling different approaches to maximise what this method can do."
Not all coastal wetlands are the same, different environmental conditions, historical impacts, and even the types of plants and animals present influence the restoration success. With such diversity at play, the Blue Carbon Lab team aim to optimise these structures across different wetlands and plant species in Victoria's Port Phillip Bay and Western Port Bay.
The trial site in Western Port has enlisted the help of citizen scientists, who will measure both the survival and growth of a batch of mangrove seedlings. The data collected as part of ongoing monitoring will help the researchers further develop restoration approaches at local mangrove sites.
"We see outreach as a vital part of the project," said Dr Trevathan-Tackett. "Engaging with communities through education and knowledge-exchange means that more people understand the problem and support what we're doing to solve it.
In turn, by getting involved in citizen science activities, they are contributing to research projects that will ultimately benefit restoration efforts."