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Keep off the seagrass! Why these vital grasses are vanishing

By Hunter R. Wert - 13 Mar 2011 16:10:0 GMT
Keep off the seagrass! Why these vital grasses are vanishing

What exactly is seagrass and what role does it play in our ocean?

Submerged in the shallow waters of our coast, seagrass is a flowering plant that resides in ecosystems such as lagoons, bays and near shore waters all over the world. Like other plants, seagrass uses photosynthesis, therefore it relies on water clarity to collect the rays of the sun. Seagrasses reproduce both sexually and asexually, so they also depend on the consistency of their ecosystem for both reproduction methods.

Seagrass is yet an additional organism that is being negatively affected by the degradation of coastal waters in the Northern Gulf of Mexico.

60 distinct species of seagrass have been discovered so far. Some of these species include freshwater dwelling seagrass that have the capability to also tolerate saline waters. Seagrass beds have a multitude of beneficial functions, some of which include: protecting the shoreline by stabilizing sediments and decreasing wave energy, providing a habitat for countless organisms, regulating the food system, attracting migratory organisms which is both beneficial to the food chain/ecosystem and tourism and supporting the reproduction of certain species of fish by acting as a nursery among other things. Seagrass is a truly understated and amazing creature. I could go on for paragraphs and paragraphs about their facts and benefits but I won't, for seagrass beds of all species face great danger.

The welfare of seagrass beds were not paid special attention to until their net worth was eventually estimated. The approximate economic value of seagrass to the coast of Texas ended up being $9,000 to $28,000 per square acre. In Florida, where much success, income and jobs rely on the well being and function of the coast, it was estimated that the value of seagrass beds per acre rake in an approximate 55.4 billion dollars a year. Be this as it may, estuaries in the region and near shore waters experienced 20% to 100% of seagrass loss within the last 50 years.

Areas such as the Galveston Bay system completely lost the entirety of their seagrass beds. This loss was due to both human and natural factors. Seagrass can normally withstand natural factors of stress, but the factors in this scenario became excessive and proved to be too much for the already delicate beings.

The factors that eliminated the Galveston Bay system are the very same factors that threaten other worldwide seagrasses every day.

These factors included: dredge and fill operations, shoreline development, over fishing, excessive boating, land subsidence and natural events like hurricanes.

What you may not know is that the loss of seagrass influences the amount of coastline that we lose. Because the seagrass is not there to stabilize sediments or reduce wave power, these factors accelerate the decay of our northern Gulf of Mexico coastline. It was recently estimated that we lose approximately 28 square miles of (northern gulf of Mexico) coast a year. The coastline and seagrass fields rely on each other to maintain a consistent and functioning ecosystem.

Has the EPA done anything about this threat to the environment?

Firstly, what is the GMP? GMP stands for the EPA's(Environmental Protection Agency's) Gulf of Mexico Program.

The initial effort of this program was to write and publish a report dedicated to the documentation and study of seagrasses particularly growing and residing in the Northern Gulf of Mexico region. The purpose of this report was to educate the public/society on the ever changing condition of seagrass and to make past and present studies and reports readily available. The 260 page report was entitled ''seagrass status and trends in the Northern Gulf of Mexico''.

The northern Gulf of Mexico region that the GMP has been focused on since 1999 can be defined as the waters lying adjacent to the states of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. The northern Gulf of Mexico region stretches approximately 1,500 miles and houses a recorded 25 million living organisms. It is a source of human consumption, tourism and most importantly a home to countless groups of wildlife.

Even though it was the only, somewhat depressing, attempt to do anything at all about the sea grass by the EPA, the report provides the public with an abundance of information and helped enlighten many about the vital importance of seagrass. Although words cannot save our deteriorating coastline or stop the decay of seagrass, they may gift us with the knowledge required to take action.

What can you do to help prevent the loss of these vital organisms?

1. Choose and Support Eco Friendly Tourism Methods! If you are planning on a visit to the coast, take tour boats and vacations that haven't/won't interfere with the fields of seagrass. Take tours/boats that guarantee to stay out of areas that are inhabited by seagrass. Do not support hotels/resorts who have built their establishments on certain shores and active coasts that are close to or closely interact with seagrass beds.

2. Know Where Your Fish Comes From: If you are a regular consumer of fish or fish solubles, find out where your fish comes from. Make sure that you're receiving your fish from scientifically (not corporate) regulated areas for fishing. These regulated areas for fishing lessen the impact on seagrass and their ecosystem. You can do this at the: Blue Ocean Institute Seafood.

3. Do not fall for or support ambiguous organizations or allegedly 'Certified' fisheries without further research into their authenticity.

For example: Fisheries who are allegedly ''certified'' with the MSC are supposed to be fishing in regulated areas that will not cause great harm to fragile ecosystems such as seagrass beds. With 104 certified fisheries, the MSC has only rejected the certification of one fishery in their entire existence of an organization; this acceptance rate may well be valid but some news reports over the past year, like this one in The Vancouver Sun and this one on the CLIMATE PROGRESS Blog, have started to cast doubt on the organizations credibility. It is therefore important to just check all the facts first before buying.

''Nature does nothing in vain'' - Aristotle