The rainforest gets a lot of attention. There are many Save the Rainforest campaigns, and while there is certainly much more work to be done to ensure that we do what we can to stop deforestation, there’s no denying that it’s definitely a part of our collective environmental conscience. Seagrass, on the other hand, is a different story.
When was the last time you saw a Save the Seagrass initiative? Probably never. Seagrass deserves just as much attention as the tropical rainforest, because it’s disappearing just as quickly, to the tune of two soccer fields an hour.
Why is seagrass so important? It plays an essential role in the lives of juvenile fish, providing them with a habitat in which they can thrive. For example, a new study shows that seagrass contains higher fish abundance than adjacent sand. This has a big impact when we’re thinking about commercial fishing. As the report’s abstract explains, “Although fisheries are of major economic and food security importance we still know little about specific juvenile habitats that support such production. This is a major issue given the degradation to and lack of protection afforded to potential juvenile habitats such as seagrass meadows.”
If we don’t protect those areas of seagrass, those fish in turn will have a harder time surviving. “When you start to lose these habitats you’ll see smaller juveniles and smaller fish stocks,” Dr. Richard Unsworth, lead researcher on the study, told the BBC.
Seagrass deserves as much attention as some of the other sensitive environments that have taken the headlines in terms of environmental causes. “The rate of loss is equal to that occurring in tropical rainforests and on coral reefs yet it receives a fraction of the attention,” Dr. Unsworth said.
Seagrass is up against a lot. It’s facing the problems of ocean acidification, coastal development and degraded water quality, and the problem is being felt around the globe. Part of a complex ecosystem, the loss of seagrass has many impacts beyond just fish. As a 2009 report by the National Academy of Sciences stated:
“Losses of seagrass meadows will continue to reduce the energy subsidies they provide to other ecosystems such as adjacent coral reefs or distant areas such as deep-sea bottoms, diminishing the net secondary productivity of these habitats (14). Seagrass losses also threaten the future of endangered species such as Chinook salmon (39) and the habitat for many other organisms. Seagrass losses decrease primary production, carbon sequestration, and nutrient cycling in the coastal zone (5).”
Ultimately, with the current rate of seagrass loss, we’re looking at serious environmental and economic consequences. “If the current rate of seagrass loss is sustained or continues to accelerate, the ecological losses will also increase, causing even greater ill-afforded economic losses,” wrote the authors of the NAS report.
Maybe it’s time we paid a little more attention to protecting seagrass.
Photo Credit: Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble