Save the seagrass!

Seagrass meadow surrounding coral and other organisms. Photo credit: Steve De Neef.

Seagrass meadow surrounding coral and other organisms. Photo credit: Steve De Neef.

Just like the forests on land are important to the organisms on land, seagrass is important for the water. It keeps the coasts clean, healthy and supports other organisms. Unfortunately the seagrass has not been given the spotlight attention that it deserves and its population has been declining.

So what are seagrasses?

Seagrasses are the only known angiosperms that can live underwater (except the genus Enhalus which needs to emerge to the surface to reproduce). Seagrassses are more related to terrestrial lilies then to true grasses. It grows on the sediment of the seafloor, have rhizomes and leaves that are thin (grass like). These plants take in nutrients from coastal run-off and like a filter help keep the water clear. Seagrasses are home to many organisms (prawns and fish) and food to others such as dugongs and green turtles. These plants can produce sexually and asexually.

Dugong, a relative of the manatee, can eat up to 40kg/day of seagrass

Dugong, a relative of the manatee, can eat up to 40 kg/day of seagrass . Photo credit Reefbiosearch

What is happening to the seagrasses?

Poor water quality, developments on the coast, boating and over fishing has made the seagrass lose its habitat. Other effects like above average rain fall and climate impacts have declined the seagrass population.

Why do we need to save the seagrasses?

  • Seagrasses and the organisms that live there support the fisheries. If these plants are not saved it will affect the livelihoods of the fishers.
  • Seagrasses increase biodiversity since it grows in muddy and usually uninhabitable conditions
  • It filters nutrients, stabilizes sediments, stores carbon and prevents shoreline erosion
  • Turtles, seahorses, fish and other organisms are losing their food and or shelter

Are the seagrasses doomed to be extinct? No there are some ways to prevent it.

Even though we are losing about a soccer field size of seagrasses every 30 minutes there have been some conservation acts. Volunteers have collected reproductive shoots with ripe seeds and prepared it for fall planting. If a person lives near the coast it is advised that they use slow release fertilizers on their lawn so they do not worsen the water quality. When boating people should make sure that they are following the signs to prevent the boat from damaging the seagrass and their boat. Other tips can be found  here.



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