What are Seagrasses?

Seagrasses are the only truly marine flowering plants and they form a unique meadow habitat in shallow water.  The species at Studland is the common eelgrass, Zostera marina.

What Does it Do?

The plants provide food for wildlfowl, such as brent goose and wigeon, and the meadows shelter a wide range of fish and invertebrates.  Some pipefish species are almost totally restricted to seagrass meadows and the spiny seahorse is strongly associated with this habitat.

The underground stems (rhizomes) and roots of the seagrass help bind together and stabilise the seabed sediment, reducing rates of erosion - potentially important in a site like Studland.

A Rare & Unique Underwater Habitat

Globally, seagrass meadows are under threat.  A recent study reported that 58% of the world's seagrass meadows are declining, with 110km2 of seagrass disappearing every year since 1980 - the main causes being direct loss from coastal development and dredging and indirect impacts of declining water quality.

Other impacts include boating, fishing and natural impacts such as storms and disease.

Seagrass meadows appear on several lists indicating the conservation importance of this habitat.  It is a UK Priority habitat, and is on the OSPAR List of Threatened and/or Declining Species and Habitats.

Benefits of seagrass meadows

As well as being an important wildlife habitat Seagrass meadows offer significant benefits to people. These include:

  • Protection of shores from erosion ­ seagrass roots stabilise sandy seabeds and the leaves absorb wave energy before it hits the shore.
  • Acting as a nursery ground for commercially important fish and shellfish such as bass, sea bream, cuttlefish and spider crabs by offering plentiful food and shelter at this vulnerable time of their life.
  • Rapid absorber of CO2 ­ creating what is called a ‘blue carbon sink’ by locking up carbon and helping in the fight against climate change.

It is nationally scarce in Britain and is of international importance

Spiny in Seagrass by Mike Markey

Spiny in Seagrass by Mike Markey

 

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