From: Harriet Jarlett, Planet Earth Online
Published August 12, 2014 07:05 AM

The importance of maintaining seagrass

Seagrass meadows provide the ideal place for young fish to thrive, say NERC-funded scientists researching the importance of these habitats for commercial fishing.

Seagrass
Globally seagrasses are being lost at the same rate as Amazonian rainforests, and little is being done to conserve these habitats as their importance isn't fully understood.

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But scientists at Swansea University have just published two studies in the journals Marine Pollution Bulletin and Marine Biodiversity showing these areas are vital to the wellbeing of juvenile fish, and consequently the fishing industry.

'When a fish spawns the larvae settle in shallow waters, but we don't truly know what habitat fish around the UK use and what they want from that habitat,' explains Dr Richard Unsworth, lead researcher on the project. 'If you're a small fish, like a juvenile cod, then you need food and shelter. Seagrass meadows provide both.'

Over twelve months the team assessed the size and number of fish from various species in seagrass meadows around Britain, and compare the results with nearby sand habitats.

'We were surprised to find so many fish with a commercial value, like plaice, cod, pollock and herring, using the seagrass meadows. In one site in Wales we found 42 species living in the seagrass and eleven of these were commercially important,' Unsworth says.

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