Seagrasses, Nature’s Water Filter

Kathryn Behesht, The Ocean Foundation Fisheries & Aquaculture

Seagrasses, Nature’s Water Filter
Photo by Djalu A. P. on Unsplash

Seagrasses are aquatic flowering plants that are found along a broad latitudinal range. As one of the planets most effective and efficient coastal systems for carbon sequestration, proper conservation and management of seagrass meadows is critical to combat the global loss of seagrasses. Carbon storage is one of many ecosystem services provided by seagrass beds. Seagrasses also provide a nursery ground for commercially and recreationally harvested species of fishes and invertebrates, serve as a storm buffer to developed coastlines and improve water quality.

Due to high light requirements, seagrass spatial extent is limited in part by the clarity of coastal waters. Water that is too murky attenuates or blocks sunlight from reaching seagrass blades, inhibiting seagrass photosynthesis. Poor water clarity can cause seagrass dieback, narrowing of spatial extent to shallower waters and ultimately seagrass loss.

But, seagrasses are also autogenic ecosystem engineers. Meaning they alter their own physical environment and initiate processes and feedbacks that have the potential to ensure their own persistence. The physical structure of seagrasses slows the flow of water as it moves across the seagrass bed. Suspended particles within the water column are then able to drop out and settle on the seagrass bed floor. This trapping of sediment can improve water clarity by settling particles that make the water more murky. More light is then able to penetrate to deeper depths...

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