Operation Posidonia

A fish swimming over Poidonia

Operation Posidonia aims to innovatively restore endangered Posidonia australis seagrass meadows in the most urbanised estuaries of the NSW coastline.

Led by marine ecologists from UNSW Sydney, Operation Posidonia is a flagship project of the Sydney Institute of Marine Science, a research institute that brings together four universities.

Clayton Mead is a research assistant and project manager with Operation Posidonia. He has a passion for solutions-based marine science and the co-benefits for people and the environment that restoration can bring.

“I studied marine science because I love the natural world and have always had an affinity for our oceans. I quickly learned at university that ecology is not all good news and documenting environmental damage and declines is a big part of the job. This is probably why I was so drawn to restoration projects like Operation Posidonia and Operation Crayweed, which I now work on – they are about giving nature a helping hand and reversing some of the damage that’s been done.”

Clayton Mead

The 2022 National Science Week project Gardening below the surface was unique as it was the first time Operation Posidonia had combined science and art to engage local communities. Operation Posidonia partnered with Newcastle & Sydney based artist Liss Finney to tell the story of seagrass meadows, which are incredibly vital habitats that go largely unnoticed by most people. They conducted four workshops, in both Lake Macquarie and Sydney, where Operation Posidonia currently have active restoration projects.

A short video of the Gardening below the surface workshops.

“A significant part of our project is raising awareness for the marine environment, particularly the threats that seagrass meadows face. We do this by getting out in the community, hosting workshops and walk-and-talks, giving people a glimpse into the underwater world on their doorstep, which they may never directly interact with” says Clayton.

Liss Finney is an artist with a background in scientific and natural history illustration, and is a lover of both the sciences and the arts.  She’s passionate about using art to facilitate a greater understanding, awareness and appreciation for the natural world, as well drawing attention to issues that cause threat to the environment. This project in particular sparked her interest as it is very solutions focused and empowers the community to be able to contribute in a really positive and tangible way.  

“Art has always been a significant communication tool of the sciences, and it is a great way to cement experiences and learnings in peoples psyche through creativity and fun. The process of looking, interpreting, and creating provides a greater depth of understanding and is a fantastic way to engage the wider public” says Liss.

“The idea behind having an art component was to not just communicate the science to our audience, but to empower them to communicate the science back to their own communities” says Clayton.

Participants at Gardening Below the Surface got up close and personal with seagrasses and seaweeds of their local area and used microscopes to find and identify all the tiny animals or ‘epifauna’ that live among them. They then used the diversity of species they found as inspiration for scientific illustrations. These illustrations then populated silk seagrass leaves, also painted by participants, to create a giant ‘living’ seagrass meadow on land.

Seagrass Meadow is now on display as concurrent exhibitions in the Museum of Art and Culture in Lake Macquarie and the Mosman Art Gallery, where Science Week participants and their communities can go and see what they have helped create.

“The beauty of Operation Posidonia is that your involvement doesn’t have to end at coming to one of our outreach events. We actually need community volunteers to help collect viable pieces of Posidonia to use as donor plant material in the restoration of real underwater meadows”, says Clayton.

Find out how to get involved in Operation Posidonia at operationposidonia.com

Attend the launch of the Sydney Harbour project on Saturday 10 September at Balmoral Beach.