Seagrass beds provide essential services to marine life and must be protected, experts say – Technology News, Firstpost

As the world’s largest biodiversity summit is due to begin Friday in the Mediterranean city of Marseille, experts are sounding the alarm over a long-neglected seagrass that is increasingly threatened by human activity.

Appointed ocean posidonia – or “Neptune grass” – for the Greek god of the seas, the plant covers at least one million hectares (3,900 square miles) of the Mediterranean seabed from Cyprus to Spain.

Since seagrasses grow slowly – only a few centimeters each year – the impact can take a long time to repair.

The Mediterranean Network for Posidonia says the actual area is likely much larger than this, with data largely unavailable for countries on the eastern and southern shores of the sea.

But the neptunate grass meadows have long been prey to boating activity, with official figures estimating some 7,500 hectares of damage along the French coastline alone.

“The biggest culprit is the anchorage,” explains Thibault Lavernhe, spokesperson for the maritime prefecture of the Mediterranean. “When a boat drops anchor, it hits the bottom of the ocean and has a devastating effect…which is repeated when the anchor is lifted.”

Since seagrasses grow slowly – only a few centimeters each year – the impact can take a long time to repair.

In an open letter published this month in the French daily Le Monde, 10 scientists from France, Italy and Spain highlighted the essential services the humble herbarium provides “to all humanity”.

Seagrass beds serve as spawning grounds and nurseries for species of fish living along our coasts, from the most common to the rarest,” they wrote.

A wide range of animals depend on it, including tiny invertebrates that are a food source for fish prized by small-scale artisanal fishing operations.

Arnaud Gauffier, director of conservation for the French branch of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), says the plant’s ability to absorb carbon makes it an essential ally in the fight against global warming.

And he says the plants protect the coastline from erosion – both when they are firmly rooted in the seabed and when they wash up on the shore.

Dead blades of grass accumulate along the beaches and mix with the sand to form large shoals that protect the coastline.

But for some, the phenomenon is just an unsightly annoyance.

“Unfortunately, the ecosystem is poorly understood,” explains Gauffier. “A lot of times people are like, ‘Oh no, it’s some dead thing on the beach that’s stopping me from swimming.'”

In an effort to tackle damage to Mediterranean seagrass beds, France has banned large boats – measuring over 24 meters (79ft) – from anchoring in sensitive areas.

The Spanish Balearic Islands took similar measures in 2018 and are enforcing them with regular patrols.

Their conservation efforts, which include awareness campaigns in schools and a seagrass festival, have been highlighted as exemplary by WWF.

Comments are closed.