At risk: a vital terrain that feeds the ocean's most fragile creatures

A A A

They are the meadows of the sea, beautiful and bountiful, feeding and sheltering some of the world's most endangered marine species.

They are the meadows of the sea, beautiful and bountiful, feeding and sheltering some of the world's most endangered marine species.

In the seagrasses that hug many of the world's coastlines, dugongs and manatees, green turtles and seahorses find refuge and rich pickings.

But survey of seagrasses has revealed that 15 per cent of this unique marine ecosystem has been lost in the past decade. Conservationists hope the findings will act as an alarm call to governments and policy makers to prevent further losses.

Seagrass beds are being destroyed by nutrient enrichment from human sewage, intensive fishing and even by yachting and jet-skiing, the editors of the World Atlas of Seagrasses say.

The atlas was produced by the Cambridge-based World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC), in conjunction with the United Nations Environment Programme.

Dr Ed Green of the WCMC and Professor Fred Short, of the University of New Hampshire, pointed out at the launch of the atlas yesterday that unlike coral reefs and mangrove swamps - two associated habitats which are well known and at least in some cases, protected - seagrass beds are largely taken for granted.

"Seagrasses are possibly the most widespread shallow marine ecosystems in the world, yet there are few places where seagrass meadow are protected," Dr Green said.

Professor Short added: "Like coral reefs, seagrasses are at a critical juncture, heavily impacted by human activities and climate change."

The atlas, the work of more than 50 authors, provides the first estimate of seagrasses worldwide - 110,000 square miles, an area two-thirds the size of the UK.

It suggests that seagrass meadows should be considered one of the most important marine ecosystems for humans, playing a vital role in fisheries, protecting coral reefs by binding sediments, cleaning coastal waters and providing coastal defence from erosion.

They are vital habitats for sirenians - dugongs and manatees, the odd-looking sea cows which were once mistaken for mermaids. Sirenians are the only true marine mammal herbivores and seagrass beds are essential for their survival. Green turtles, one of the most endangered of the world's seven marine turtle species, are also highly dependent on seagrass.

Seagrasses are lovely to look at, waving in the current like cornfields in an underwater wind, and are a mixed group of about 60 species of true flowering plants (not seaweed) which reproduce sexually and produce pollen.

Thousands of other plant and marine animal species utilise the seagrass habitat, which ranges from strap-like blades of eelgrass in the Sea of Japan to the tiny leaves of sea vine in the deep. Seagrasses grow in large meadows in both tropical and temperate seas. Most are found in the tropics where they can be enormously important as shallow-water fisheries for coastal communities. But seagrass beds can also be found around much of the British coastline, particularly at Salcombe and Torquay in Devon, in Plymouth Sound and at Looe in Cornwall.

Two species of seahorse, the long-snouted ( Hippocampus guttulatus) and the short-snouted ( Hippocampus hippo- campus), are occasionally seen in British seagrass beds, along with shellfish, cuttlefish, pipefish and sea bream.

Examples of seagrass species can be seen at the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth.

Sport
Lionel Messi pictured after reaching the final
world cup 2014
Sport
Lionel Messi and Thomas Muller have shone brightest for Argentina and Germany respectively on their way to the World Cup final
Sport
Brazilian fans watch the match for third place between Brazil and Netherlands
Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: Dutch pile on the misery in third place playoff
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Eminem's daughter Hailie has graduated from high school
music
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Voices
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success
voicesWhen it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Arts and Entertainment
'Deep Breath' is Peter Capaldi's first full-length adventure as the twelfth Doctor
TVFirst episode of new series has ended up on the internet
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Developer (ASP.NET, F#, SQL, MVC, Bootstrap, JavaScript)

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Payment Developer (Swift, FOX, Vigil, .NET, SQL)

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Payment Dev...

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?