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Let’s Start Caring About Seagrass Like We Care About The Rainforest

Let’s Start Caring About Seagrass Like We Care About The Rainforest

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.

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Photo Credit: Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble

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2:25PM PDT on Aug 5, 2015

We should! They play an important role in aquatic ecosystems, besides they are so pretty down there!

2:55PM PDT on Aug 19, 2014

I wish that there were enough attention on saving rainforest, but only about 1/3 of the remaining rainforest has any protection. The rest is disappearing rapidly. And loss of the rainforest hurts seagrass, as the CO2 released on rainforest destruction causes ocean acidification.

Fight global warming and ocean acidification for the cost of a cup of coffee - stop 1000 tons of CO2 emissions by saving acres of rainforest for just a few dollars:

8:51AM PDT on Aug 18, 2014

Linda K, thanks for this website. They do restoration work from boat propeller gouges, which is great.

Here's what the article said:"Evidence of causes of decline was available for 77 of 128 declining sites. Among these, 2 major causes of seagrass loss were indicated: (i) direct impacts from coastal development and dredging activities (21 sites) and (ii) indirect impacts from declining water quality (35 sites). Only 6 sites with decreases were classified as being caused by natural processes such as storm damage or biological disturbance. Of the 51 sites with increases, 29 had attributed causes, including 11 increases attributable to improved water quality and habitat remediation. Among the remaining increasing sites, recoveries from historical declines attributable to storm damage or episodes of wasting disease were the most common explanations." So natural disasters recover, but human effects don't.

6:35AM PDT on Aug 18, 2014

Learn to love the salt marsh, too. It's another key part of an ecosystem:
"Salt marshes and mud flats are some of the most productive marine habitats. They are nutrient traps because they are so shallow with slow moving water. While visiting the salt marsh or mud flat one should be thinking about the critters that live there and take some care while tramping through the salt marsh or digging in the mud. It is best to try to disturb the habitat as little as possible. If you must dig a hole you should fill it back in when you finish - because it may take many tidal cycles to return your hole to its original level. "

9:16PM PDT on Aug 17, 2014

It's funny how some causes get so much exposure and others are forgotten. We need a mentor like Jacques Cousteau to speak up for seagrass!

12:02PM PDT on Aug 17, 2014

I had no idea that seagrass is disappearing so quickly, let alone that it's so important ecologically. I plan to learn more about seagrass myself. Clearly, these plants need more attention.

11:00AM PDT on Aug 17, 2014

Thank you.

10:21AM PDT on Aug 17, 2014

Its really nice to see an article here with citations! Thanks for writing a great informative article.

5:29AM PDT on Aug 17, 2014


5:00AM PDT on Aug 17, 2014


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