Processes Affecting the Spatial Distribution of Seagrass Meadow Sedimentary Material on Yao Yai Island, Thailand

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Many islands throughout SE Asia are experiencing rapid development and land-cover conversion that potentially threaten sensitive coastal ecosystems, such as seagrasses, through increased loading of sediment and nutrients originating from disturbed catchments draining to the sea. To evaluate this threat for one such island in Southern Thailand (Yao Yai), we perform sediment source tracing via end-member mixing analysis using stable isotopes δ13C and δ15N in organic matter to explore sediment loading in a seagrass meadow. The analysis indicates that sedimentary material in the meadow originates mostly from ocean-associated sources (∼62% from seagrass detritus, seston, and ocean sediments). Terrestrial material comprises ∼19% of the organic material found in the seagrass meadow, with another 20% originating from an adjacent mangrove forest. Approximately one-fourth of the seagrass meadow material (24%) is detritus that has been (re)deposited internally. The high contribution of terrestrial-derived organic matter deposited near the river mouth demonstrates that substantial quantities of sediment are being transferred from upslope erosion sources into the seagrass meadow. However, only a small amount of this material is deposited throughout the entire bay because much of the terrestrial- and mangrove-derived sediment is transferred to the open ocean via channels that are periodically dredged to allow boat access to two small inland harbours. This positive affect of dredging has not received very much attention in existing literature. River water flowing to the channels during falling tide delivers sediment to these efficient pathways, where much of it bypasses the seagrass meadow at periods of time when sediment deposition would normally be the greatest. There is growing concern that ongoing land-cover changes and planned urbanization related to tourism and agriculture on the island may boost sediment/nutrients above a critical threshold, beyond that revealed in our baseline survey. Our tracer-based sediment source approach did not corroborate our observations of substantial erosion and land degradation in the upper catchment—but this could be a result of sediment flushing through the dredged channels. We encourage others to combine such methods with sediment budgeting approaches to triangulate results for consistency. Finally, from an ecological perspective, the high presence of seagrass detritus we found in bay sediments suggests seagrass is potentially a key source of nutrients for the meadow itself, as well as other connected ecosystems.


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