Marine Mapping and Monitoring: New Atlas Reveals Seagrass Loss and Its Impacts

Article excerpt

The world's underwater meadows are deteriorating, threatening the manatees, dugongs, turtles, and thousands of other animals and plants that depend on them, report the authors of the World Atlas of Seagrasses.

Underwater grasses form a unique marine ecosystem that protects fisheries and coral reefs and helps to prevent coastal erosion. An estimated 15% of seagrass habitat has been destroyed by the side effects of construction in coastal zones, boating, dredging, and land reclamation projects during the past decade.

These beds and meadows continue to be destroyed for short-term gain, according to Mark Collins, director of the United Nations Environment Program's World Conservation Monitoring Center. This destruction continues despite the value that intact ecosystems bring to coastal societies through protection from the erosive impact of waves and tides, habitat for fish and shellfish, and ecotourism attractions such as the dugong, manatee, and green turtle.

In East Africa, for example, hotels remove dead seagrass leaves from white sandy beaches frequented by tourists. Beached leaves release nutrients as they die and decay, forming an important food for fish. …

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