4. Discussion and Recommendations
Overall, there has been a decrease in the native species of T. testudinum and an increase in the invasive species H. stipulacea. S. filliforme populations appear to be stable, with a slight increase in coverage. Native seagrass Thalassia testudinum (Tt) has had an overall decrease in coverage from 48.78% in 2011 to 20.61% in 2022 . Over this same time period there has been a slight
increase in native seagrass Syringodium filiforme, from 3.85% in 2011 to 6.44% in 2022.
Lastly, there has been an alarming increase in the invasive seagrass Halophila stipulacea, growing from 6.01% in 2011 to 35.24% in 2022. A table with the annual averages for the three seagrasses can be found below in Table 1.
Sargassum has been an issue within Lac Bay, with several of the survey sites being locations where decaying sargassum has created a thick mat, which in most cases was slowly removed with the tide. Physical impact of the sargassum landings can be seen by the seagrass dieback all along the mangrove border from the south until just north of Punto Kalbas. This is noticeable at G.
Additionally, at location E, a very fluffy sediment was found to be covering the substrate. A likely explanation is that this is the result of decomposed sargassum settling at this site. The overall cover by all species together seems to be stable, but in terms of biomass it would appear to be lower. The ecosystem services provided by Halophila stipulacea are significantly lower than those of
Thalassia testudinum due to its shallow root structure (Smulders et al., 2017) and the fact that it is less nutrient rich than native seagrass species (Boman et al., 2019). The shift towards this nonnative species is of concern and should be closely monitored.
Since 2018 Halimeda species and in 2022 bioturbation observations were added to the methodology of these surveys. Although bioturbators were noted in 2020, they were not quantified in such a way to allow objective, quantitative comparisons moving forward. Overall cover by Halimeda seems to have decreased but a longer time series is required to draw more definitive conclusions.
Two students have looked into carbonate sand production by Halimeda during the Lac Ecological Restoration project: Laura Timmermans (2018) and Valeria Pesch (2019). Results from these studies were inconclusive, highlighting the need for additional research to fully understand the contribution of Halimeda to carbonate sands and infilling of the bay.
In addition, more information is needed on the influence of eutrophication (Slijkerman et al., 2011) on this process. Table 2 below shows the overall averages for both species of Halimeda from 2018 to 2022. Table 2: Overall Halimeda averages between 2018 and 2022.
Sand particles size in Lac was measured during the Conch Stock Restoration project. Largerfractions often show Halimeda segments next to small shells and other carbonate particles(Figure 5). For this reason, it is believed thatHalimeda sp.are a major contributor of sandwithin the bay.
Sediments have been analyzed for carbonate content in several other studies such as theEHLZK projectand duringthe baseline surveys conducted in 2012 (Debrot et al, 2012).Although the findings have not been published, the data showed that sediments towards thecenter of the bay have a higher CaCO3content, and the distribution sand, silt, clay changes(Appendix VI). In addition, it was foundthat terrigenous sediments were most prevalent alongthe borders of Lac-mainly in the northwestern sector, whereas endogenous sediments werefound in the central part of the bay and towards the reef.
Bioturbators have also been added to recent surveys as it is believed to be important as itmay cause a loss of sequestered carbon, and new sediment may facilitate settlement ofH.stipulacea. Bioturbators are considered to be ecosystem engineers, changing the substratelandscape.Common bioturbators are callianassid (burrowing ghost) shrimp, the lugworm,mantis shrimp and the burrowing sea cucumber.