The Mystery of Seagrass: A Breakthrough in Marine Science


| LAST UPDATE 03/22/2023

By Stanley Wickens
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Beneath the murky depths of the ocean lies a mystery waiting to be uncovered. Seagrass, the elusive and unparalleled plant that is vital in slowing climate change, has always been shrouded in secrecy. Despite the thousands of miles it stretches across the ocean floor and its significant role in the marine ecosystem, seagrass beds remain an enigma.

In a quest for answers, Austin Gallagher, a marine scientist, and his team turned to some unusual allies - tiger sharks. Equipped with cameras, these deep-diving predators revealed that the Bahamas was home to a vast seagrass meadow, the likes of which had never been documented before. Hours of footage from the sharks revealed a seemingly endless expanse of seagrass, enough to extend the world's previously documented seagrass beds by 41%. Their research suggests that the seagrass meadows in that region may be far larger, perhaps covering an area the size of Portugal.

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The humble seagrass may hold more mysteries than we realize. While coral reefs get all the glory, seagrass is the hidden guardian of many creatures, and it even has the power to combat climate change. Recent studies have shown that in some communities, seagrass is even more important than coral reefs. The elusive seagrass had gone unnoticed for so long, eclipsed by the revered coral that steals the limelight in the underwater world.

"The UK has a rich biological sciences history, but we know way more about kelp and seaweeds than we do about seagrasses," says Benjamin Jones, co-founder of Project Seagrass, a UK-based group that conserves seagrass. He adds that the fish living in protected seagrass are not only more nutritious, but also preferred by residents of coastal villages in Tanzania, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and Cambodia. While there are four or five times as many scientists globally studying corals, there aren't enough doing research on seagrass. The discovery of the seagrass meadows is a breakthrough in marine science, uncovering the secrets of the underwater world, and providing vital information for conservation efforts. It shows that there is still so much to be learned, a whole new world waiting to be explored beneath the waves.

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