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Segrasses have a hugely important ecological and economic role – new research publication 

A complex web of legislation, a lack of awareness about the benefits of seagrass meadows, and powerful interests all combine to make the governance, protection and maintainance of seagrass meadows difficult according to new research from LUCSUS. Meanwhile segrasses have a hugely important ecological and economic role in maintaining ecosystems and the tourism industry.

Seagrasses
Photo: A Lorente.

In a new paper, Torsten Krause, together with Ana Ruiz-Frau and Núria Marbà from Global Change Research Group, analyse stakeholders' perceptions of seagrass ecosystem services including what drivers are contributing to the observed decline in seagrasses around the Balearic Islands, a Spanish archipelago located in the Mediterranean Sea.

– We use this analysis to link the ecosystem services that seagrass meadows provide to direct and indirect social benefits, for instance tourism and healthy fish populations. We also indicate how the existing governance structures can provide a path towards a more sustainable management of seagrasses, says Torsten Krause, researcher at LUCSUS.

– Ultimately, we intend to show that seagrasses have a hugely important ecological role that is also very important to the Balearic economy which is largely based on tourism. However,  seagrasses are not directly appreciated by most people, since they do not know about their ecological role and about how much they actually contribute to the health of the marine ecosystem. The segrass meadows keep the water clean and transparent, which surely many people on holidays who want to swim, snorkel or dive in the Mediterranean appreciate a lot.

Seagrass ecosystems are important marine ecosystem service providers and contribute to coastal protection, replenish beaches, are a nursery habitat for many fish species and store vast amounts about carbon in their root systems. 

– It is crucial that the different stakeholder groups work together in protecting and maintaining the seagrass meadows. Currently, as we show, there is a complex web of legislation, lack of awareness about the benefits of seagrass meadows, and powerful interests that make a better governance across different governmental institutions at the regional and state level and society difficult, says Torsten Krause.

– An open and informed discussion across these sectors about the marine environment and the land-sea linkages, and in the context of the Balearic Islands, also the tourism industry, is an important step to decide about a more sustainable management of the seagrass meadows in the long run.

Research graph rendering by Emma Li Johansson.
Graph rendering by Emma Li Johansson.

The research touches on several of the SDGs, foremost goals 13 (climate action – carbon storage and mitigation of climate change by seagrass meadows) and goal 14 (life below water – seagrass meadows having multiple ecological functions). Indirectly other SDGs can be linked to the research, for example the need for a more responsible consumption and production (goal 12) as industry, agriculture, urban expansion, fisheries and tourism negatively impact the seagrass meadows in one way or another.

Download: 'In the blind-spot of governance – In the blind-spot of governance – Stakeholder perceptions on seagrasses to guide the management of an important ecosystem services provider.in Science of the Total Environment.

Recommendations for healthy seagrass meadows

Based on the research, Torsten Krause recommends the following actions on the Balearic Islands:

  • Enforce the existing laws prohibiting anchoring on seagrass meadows
  • Build more water treatment plants on the island to treat sewage and reduce the pollution of the coastal water, which affects seagrasses
  • Manage tourism on the islands which has seen an increase of visitor numbers in the last couple of years
  • At a global level - mitigate climate change, since rising water temperatures are a major stressor for the seagrass meadows, which in turn affects their ability to absorb and store carbon
  • Increase the awareness among local population and tourists about the many ecological and social benefit of healthy seagrass meadows

About the Researcher

Torsten Krause

Torsten Krause is an associate senior lecturer at LUCSUS. He does research on hunting and defaunation in tropical forests, with a focus on the Colombian and Ecuadorian Amazon.

To Torsten Krause's personal page. 

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