A Global Crisis for Seagrass Ecosystems
Seagrasses, marine flowering plants, have a long evolutionary history but are now challenged with rapid environmental changes as a result of coastal human population pressures. Seagrasses provide key ecological services, including organic carbon production and export, nutrient cycling, sediment stabilization, enhanced biodiversity, and trophic transfers to adjacent habitats in tropical and temperate regions. They also serve as �coastal canaries,� global biological sentinels of increasing anthropogenic influences in coastal ecosystems, with large-scale losses reported worldwide.Multiple stressors, including sediment and nutrient runoff, physical disturbance, invasive species, disease, commercial fishing practices, aquaculture, overgrazing, algal blooms, and global warming, cause seagrass declines at scales of square meters to hundreds of square kilometers. Reported seagrass losses have led to increased awareness of the need for seagrass protection, monitoring, management, and restoration. However, seagrass science, which has rapidly grown, is disconnected from public awareness of seagrasses, which has lagged behind awareness of other coastal ecosystems. There is a critical need for a targeted global conservation effort that includes a reduction of watershed nutrient and sediment inputs to seagrass habitats and a targeted educational program informing regulators and the public of the value of seagrass meadows.
Keywords: seagrass, decline, sentinels, ecological services, monitoring