Seagrasses, the “Lungs of the Sea,” are in Peril

October 11, 2016 | Erica Tennenhouse

Photo credit: Alberto Romeo/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 2.5)

Scientists call on governments and global institutions to ensure the survival of seagrass meadows.

Seagrasses grow in the shallow coastal waters of nearly every continent on Earth, yet their global decline has been largely overlooked.

Recently, the World Seagrass Association issued a statement, endorsed by 122 scientists from 28 countries, calling on “all governments and global institutions to take local, regional and global action to ensure the future survival of seagrass meadows.”

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Along with their key function as fish nurseries, seagrass meadows also store massive amounts of carbon. As well, according to the BBC, their ability to release oxygen into the water via photosynthesis has earned seagrasses the title of the “lungs of the sea.”

“The loss of seagrass puts the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people at risk and exposes many people to increasing levels of poverty,” the release says.

“Seagrass loss also places the viability of our remaining populations of green turtle, dugong and species of seahorse at risk.”

Poor water quality — a result of increasing coastal development due to growing human populations — poses the greatest current threat to seagrasses, particularly in developing nations with fast-growing economies.

Boating, tourism, and aquaculture place additional pressures on seagrasses, all of which are amplified by the impacts of climate change and rising sea levels.

The statement calls for more effective management of seagrasses during coastal development, improvement of local water quality, prevention of damage by destructive fishing practices, inclusion of seagrasses in marine protected areas, and greater efforts to ensure that fisheries are not over-exploited.

“These important ecosystems can no longer be ignored on the conservation agenda, they need to be increasingly managed, protected and monitored,” the statement reads.

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