Why do we need to protect the seagrasses?

seagrass bed near the town of Akumal, Mexico
Much of the local tourism revolves around the wonderful diving and snorkeling opportunities to be found along the amazing coral reefs. But how many of us have thought about the importance of seagrass?

Seagrasses are flowering plants that have evolved to live in salt water. They reproduce by pollination, just like terrestrial flowering plants, and the pollen is carried by water currents.

Human pollution has contributed most to seagrass declines around the world. High nutrient levels, often due to agricultural and urban runoff, cause algae blooms that shade the seagrass. Reduction of light decreases seagrass growth and can kill whole populations. Other threats to seagrass include damage to the leaves, stems and roots by boat propellers, trawlers' nets, and dredging.

Though less spectacular than coral, seagrass beds are of critical importance, intimately linked to the well-being of reefs:
  • They provide food for turtles, manatees and a variety of fish and invertebrates such as sea urchins and sea cucumbers.
  • They are a nursery ground for shrimp, lobster, snapper and other sea life.
  • By turning carbon dioxide into oxygen (photosynthesis), they produce oxygen to be used by other living creatures.
  • They act as a buffer, protecting coral reefs from sedimentation. The roots of seagrasses help stabilize the ocean bottom and hold sediment in place, where it is recycled back into the marine ecosystem.
The interconnected relationships and delicate balance between seagrass, coral and mangrove ecosystems are what make this such a beautiful and biologically diverse coast.


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