A new study has determined that the global coverage of seagrass meadows is now declining at an unprecedented rate of 7% per year. The findings of this the study conducted by researchers in the US, Australia and Europe show that seagrasses are now disappearing at rates similar to coral reefs and tropical rainforests. The research estimates that seagrasses have been disappearing at the rate of 110 square-kilometers (42.4 square-miles) per year since 1980 (see Seagrass Watch for more details).
Although seagrasses, and particularly their fauna, are under increasing pressure from changing climate, declining water quality and coastal development are the major reasons that seagrass is being lost. For example the large scale loss’ of seagrass in Chesapeake Bay (U.S) in the 1970’s and Florida Bay in the 1990s were the result of poor water quality.
But why should anyone really care about these ecosystems that are considered to be ‘not as sexy as coral reefs‘. Are seagrasses really as important as rainforests?
Another high profile recent research paper published in Frontiers in Ecology and Environment by the same group of scientists highlights that seagrass meadows provide a vital role in supporting numerous faunal species. Many of these are either threatened with extinction or subjected to overexploitation.
Seagrasses have a vital role in supporting fisheries, particularly as nursery grounds, they are also important in global cycling of CO2. As seagrass grows, develops, and then dies, much of the carbon that is incorporated in to leaf tissue can be locked away in sediments, and sometimes become sequested for thousands of years. Seagrasses in some locations have also been found to be as productive as many of the most productive forest communities.
These recent research articles highlight the continuing need for governments, community groups, conservation organisations, fishermen, and all stakeholders that have a vested interest in conserving seagrass meadows to be more aware of the importance of seagrass meadows. Despite not being as sexy as coral reefs, their economic and ecological value demands that they are not left to their current plight.