SeagrassNet: Assessing a Critical Coastal Resource Worldwide
SeagrassNet is an expanding, global ecological monitoring program that investigates and documents the status of seagrass resources and the threats to this important and imperilled marine ecosystem. The program includes 135 sites in 34 countries with a global monitoring protocol and web-based data reporting system. Our ultimate aim is to preserve the valuable seagrass ecosystem. Seagrasses are underwater flowering plants that often occur in vast meadows and provide nurseries, shelter, and food for a variety of commercially, recreationally, and ecologically important species (e.g., fish, sea turtles, dugong, manatee, seahorses, crustaceans). Additionally, seagrasses filter estuarine and coastal waters of nutrients, contaminants, and sediments and are closely linked to other community types: in the tropics to coral reefs and mangrove forests, and in temperate waters to salt marshes, kelp forests, and oyster reefs. Existing at the interface of the land margin and the world's oceans, seagrasses are threatened by numerous anthropogenic impacts as well as global climate change. A lack of information exists on the status and health of seagrasses worldwide, particularly in less economically developed regions. SeagrassNet's efforts to monitor known seagrass areas and to reconnoiter uncharted seagrasses are important first steps in understanding and sustaining the seagrass resource. From Brazil to the U.S. to east Africa and many Western Pacific island nations, SeagrassNet is collecting information with the goal of elevating awareness of seagrasses and providing a "global report card" on the health of seagrass coastal habitat. SeagrassNet is based at the University of New Hampshire, USA.
SeagrassNet results are now displayed instantaneously on the worldwide web to provide an overview of our findings. In the Western Pacific, we find seagrasses are relatively healthy in many locations, except where direct human impact occurs or where ocean warming stresses the plants. Across the Americas, we see a general decline in seagrass health, particularly near centers of population, while in Viet Nam, seagrass declines are related to rapidly increasing tourism. In Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, seagrass beds are closely linked to coral reef species, and are a nursery for many reef fish.
SeagrassNet Team Leaders are trained at workshops where they learn sampling techniques, plant ID, and environmental monitoring. They also learn to upload their data to UNH over the web for incorporation into the global database: www.SeagrassNet.org
Humans, through commercial and subsistence fishing, and endangered fauna worldwide, depend on seagrasses for a living. Future SeagrassNet activities include expansion to new areas, among them the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean, education of coastal managers, and synthesis of our findings in upcoming publications.
Global Seagrass Research Methods F.T. Short and R.G. Coles (eds.) 2001 Elsevier
World Atlas of Seagrasses E.P. Green and F.T. Short (eds.) 2003 Univ. of California Press.
Short, F.T., B. Polidoro, et al. 2011. Extinction Risk Assessment of the World’s Seagrass Species. Biological Conservation 144: 1961-1971.