Seagrass meadows are undeniably important in our oceans. Seagrass meadows are one of the most endangered and underappreciated ecosystems on the planet. These apparently innocuous aquatic flowering plants play a critical role in maintaining the health of our oceans and providing shelter for a diverse range of marine life. With the exception of Antarctica, seagrasses can be found in both warm and cold waters around the world. Seagrass, on the other hand, is in decline and under attack. We’ll read more about these hidden underwater forests here, as well as what we can do to help preserve them in the future.
Creating Habitat For Other Important Species
Seagrass has the ability to turn mud and sand flats into intricate seagrass meadows. These underwater forests sustain a vast ecosystem that supports thousands of marine animals, including over 1000 different fish species. Seagrass meadows also provide habitat for threatened species, including turtles and seahorses. Seagrass meadows are also important nurseries for juvenile fish; in reality, seagrass meadows are thought to support the productivity of about 20% of the world’s largest fisheries. Finally, they have a safe environment for cuttlefish and sharks to lay their eggs. They provide not only habitat, but also a crucial food source that is an important part of the food web and a favorite of dugongs and manatees.
Improving Water Quality
Seagrass helps with chemical processes, including water purification. Seagrasses, as aquatic organisms, use photosynthesis to help oxygenate the water column. Seagrass meadows also help to control sediment, improving water clarity and therefore local water quality. Seagrass eliminates waste from the water column by filtering it. This involves eliminating fish parasites, which aids in the protection of local fish stocks, reduces seafood pollution, and reduces coral disease.
Protecting Our Coastlines
Seagrass meadows also assist in the protection of coastlines all over the world. Many coastlines are at risk of erosion due to rising sea levels. Seagrass meadows minimize the power of waves reaching the shore, and some seagrass species have leaf blades up to 1 meter long, which can really help dampen wave action. This also protects coastlines from floods and hurricanes by reducing wave action.
Because of the numerous benefits that healthy seagrass meadows can naturally offer us, they are recognized as globally important ecosystems that contribute significantly to human well-being and marine diversity. Ecosystem services are the term for these advantages. Seagrasses help approximately three billion people, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, by providing food and financial income from coastal fishing, coastal defense, and cultural significance. After estuaries and wetlands, seagrass meadows are the world’s third most important ecosystem. To put it another way, seagrass habitats add an estimated $1.9 trillion to the global economy per year.
Trapping Ocean Plastics
Seagrass meadows have also been found to help trap ocean plastics, according to new findings. Floating waste, such as that found in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, is believed to make up just 1% of all plastic in the ocean. The rest of it sinks to the seabed. Seagrasses have the ability to trap plastic fragments inside their natural fibers, resulting in the formation of small balls known as neptune balls. During floods, these bundles are thrown from the meadow and wash up on beaches. According to the report, seagrass meadows in the Mediterranean alone can trap about 867 million pieces of plastic per year.
Offsetting Climate Change
Seagrass is one of the most important plants for storing toxic carbon dioxide in the ocean. This greenhouse gas is well-known for contributing greatly to global warming. Seagrass, which aims to mitigate climate change, absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere up to 40 times faster than tropical rainforests. Seagrass meadows make up less than 0.2 percent of the world’s oceans, but they account for more than 10% of all carbon buried in the oceans each year. Seagrass’ natural ability to reduce carbon dioxide emissions has significant consequences for climate change mitigation.
Seagrass Meadows Are Under Threat
The number of seagrass meadows is dwindling. According to conservative figures, 58% of seagrass meadows are in decline. Seagrass depletion is on par with that of mangroves, coral reefs, and tropical rainforests, rendering seagrass meadows one of the most endangered habitats on the planet. According to a recent report, we are currently losing a football field’s worth of seagrass every 30 minutes.
The widespread loss of seagrass meadows can be attributed to a number of factors. Overexploitation, physical alteration (such as the construction of ports and harbors), nutrient and sediment degradation, introduction of non-native organisms, and global climate change are the five most important threats to marine biodiversity. Destructive fishing activities, coastal engineering, and extreme weather events all contribute to direct and immediate seagrass depletion. The effects of declining water quality are more indirect and potentially more harmful.
What Can You Do To Help Seagrass Meadows?
There are several fantastic organizations working to save seagrass meadows all over the world. Examples to check out include Project Seagrass, the Marine Conservation Society and the Ocean Conservation Trust.
- Citizen Science
If you know of a nearby seagrass meadow? Help identify where seagrass meadows are using Seagrass Spotter by contributing to global maps. With only a few taps of your phone, you can contribute to new seagrass discoveries while also joining the global group of ocean enthusiasts.
- Advocate for Action
Changes in legislation or laws that help preserve and conserve seagrass meadows, such as sewage contamination, are being advocated for. Petitions are a perfect way to get people to take action.
- Get Involved
You may participate in a variety of other events that will benefit seagrass meadows. Beach clean-ups, working with a local wildlife organization or charity, and making more environmentally friendly decisions are all fantastic ways to improve the protection of our seas and coastlines.
- Educate Others
Education is crucial! Educating others helps to raise awareness about the value of seagrass meadows and inspires others to participate in the protection and conservation of seagrasses.