Collaboration aims to bridge seagrass conservation efforts

A year ago, Dr. Guanglong Qiu traveled almost 9,000 miles from southern China to work with Dr. James Fourqurean in the Seagrass Ecosystems Research Laboratory housed within the Center for Coastal Oceans Research (CCOR). 

Dr. Guanglong Qiu holding bags of samples.

At the GuanXi Mangrove Research Center in China, Qiu is a seagrass scientist who studies the diversity, distribution and conservation efforts of Chinese seagrasses in the South China Sea. Over the years, he found his work was almost a direct parallel to the ongoing research Fourqurean was pursuing in Florida.

In 2017, Oiu invited Fourqurean to visit the coast of Southern China and share his work on blue carbon and long-term seagrass monitoring in the Florida Keys. The presentation began a fruitful collaboration which developed into a formal partnership between Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, which has strong ties to FIU’s CCOR, and the Shankou Mangrove Reserve near the GuanXi Mangrove Research Center. This partnership has provided opportunities for comparative research between the scientists studying similar systems across the world.

During Oiu’s time working with Fourqurean, the researchers compared findings on seagrass meadows and their responses to a changing climate. Both understand the importance of seagrass beds to storing carbon. Together, they are working to support conservation efforts that will help prevent emissions from being released into our fragile atmosphere.

Qiu was struck by Florida’s seagrass meadows during a visit to the Everglades. “The area is so huge,” he says. “The seagrasses grow everywhere, and there are so many creatures I’ve never seen before. In Florida, there are organisms, like conchs and manatees and dolphins, that are nowhere to be found in a Chinese seagrass ecosystem.” Qiu says that seeing the parallels and the stark differences between the two geographic areas has been a huge advantage for his work. 

Such differences include the fact that the seagrasses in Florida Bay store lots of carbonates and high inorganic carbon, but this doesn’t happen with Chinese seagrasses. Qiu emphasized that it’s essential to view these landscapes as a whole and think about their carbon storage as a total sink, and not simply disjointed pieces of the same puzzle. By comparing net storage capacities across the world, scientists can more accurately gauge the potential storage abilities of these ecosystems and better advocate for their conservation.

After his return to China, Qiu continues to collaborate with Fourqurean and build an important relationship between the American and the Chinese scientific community to preserve these marine ecosystems.

The Center for Coastal Oceans Research resides in FIU’s Institute of Water and Environment, a university preeminent program.