Prairies of the sea are globally under threat; their importance to humanity needs to be recognised

Posted on Jun 19 2014 - 2:51pm by Sustainable News

Seagrass meadows are a globally important resource that is being threatened by a whole series of issues ranging from climate change and major weather events to poor water quality and coastal development.

A series of publications led by researchers at Swansea University highlights the critical stressors and drivers of change in seagrass meadows globally, and examines the consequences of habitat loss to humanity. The work stresses the need to manage these globally productive habitats in order to make sure their long-term viability is not in doubt.

Sea Grass

Sea Grass

Unfortunately, seagrass meadows globally are declining at an alarming rate. To promote conservation management activities that can help foster renewed efforts to manage these systems in to the future, an international group led by Dr Richard Unsworth and including many world renowned scientists have summarised the present knowledge about the challenges that seagrass meadows are facing now and in the future. This work is in a special issue of the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin titled ‘Seagrass meadows in a globally changing environment’.

The contribution by scientists from Swansea University was to examine the value of seagrass meadows to humanity in terms of both human well-being (Dr Richard Unsworth) and fisheries habitat (Dr Richard Unsworth and Chiara Bertelli), and to investigate the long-term environmental drivers of change in these systems (Dr Jim Bull).

Dr Unsworth, leading this special issue on behalf of the World Seagrass Association (together with Dr Rob Coles and Dr Mike van Keulan at James Cook and Murdoch Universities in Australia) explains that seagrass are marine plants and therefore need good water quality and an affable temperature to photosynthesise and grow. Our special issue highlights that in many locations around the world seagrass meadows are being subjected to poor water quality (particularly excessive nutrients) and extreme climatic variability that are having detrimental impacts upon seagrass. The special issue highlights that these meadows are globally important for supporting fisheries production, with case studies in Wales, Australia, East Africa, Indonesia and the Caribbean all confirm this case.

The special issue can be found at: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/0025326X.

Explaining the significance of his research, Dr Richard Unsworth said: “These prairies of the sea are critically important for many fish species throughout their life cycle, and in many countries these meadows form expansive fishing grounds. For example, seagrass forms important nursery habitat for our fish and chip staple the Atlantic Cod (Gadus morhua)”.

Dr Jim Bull explained that his studies from the Isles of Scilly, supported by Natural England, show the importance of maintaining long-term monitoring programmes to understand how experimental results translate to the natural setting. They also highlight the value of long-term ecological surveillance through its potential to inform conservation.

Dr Unsworth also explained that research in the special issue also highlights how seagrass meadows are becoming increasingly recognised for their importance in trapping and storing carbon dioxide from our atmosphere, reducing the impacts of future climate change.

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