Over 120 scientists from 28 countries, including marine conservationists from Fauna & Flora International (FFI), have signed a statement from the World Seagrass Association calling on governments and global institutions to take action to secure the future of seagrass meadows, which are in rapid decline.

The World Seagrass Association statement has been released ahead of an international meeting on seagrass protection in north Wales this month. It is hoped it will bring more attention to the worrying loss of these extraordinary underwater plants.

Seagrasses are often called ‘the lungs of the sea’ due to their ability to produce and release oxygen into the water through photosynthesis. They are important food sources and provide crucial habitat for a diverse array of marine life including seahorses, sea turtles and dugongs. They are also home to many commercially-important fish and invertebrates (such as crabs and lobsters) which in turn support the livelihoods of people in fishing communities.

Despite their importance, however, seagrass habitats around the world face many threats including unsustainable development, destructive fishing methods and pollution.

The statement sets out the challenges facing seagrasses and the urgent action needed, reading, “We call for action to be taken to secure a future for seagrass. This means improving local water quality, preventing damage from destructive fishing practices, including seagrasses in MPAs [marine protected areas] and ensuring that fisheries aren’t over exploited. Seagrasses also need to be managed effectively during coastal developments and bold steps need to be taken to ensure the recovery and restoration of these habitats in areas where losses have occurred.”

The statement also calls on the media to give more attention to this often-overlooked ecosystem.

Underwater surveys are important to assess seagrass health. Credit: Paul Colley (www.mpcolley.com).

Underwater surveys are important to assess seagrass meadows. Credit: Paul Colley (www.mpcolley.com).

Asia-Pacific marine conservation

Fauna & Flora International (FFI) recognises the vital importance of seagrass meadows and other marine habitats and is protecting them at a number of its project sites.

At one such project site, in Cambodia’s Koh Rong Archipelago, FFI is working with local communities and the Fisheries Administration to protect coral reefs, mangroves and seagrasses. In May, FFI and partners discovered a previously undocumented seagrass bed on the east coast of Cambodia’s Koh Rong Island, and this news was followed shortly afterwards by the exciting news that Cambodia’s first large-scale marine protected area had been declared in the Archipelago as a result of tireless efforts by the Fisheries Administration (FiA) and conservation organisations.

Kate West, FFI’s Project Manager for Coastal and Marine Conservation said, “Seagrasses are often overlooked by their seemingly more exciting neighbours – coral reefs, so it is great to see scientists and conservation organisations come together internationally in order to bring some much needed attention to these critical and threatened habitats.”