Friday, June 13, 2008

copyWrite - VIMS Featured Research

copyWrite is a feature of the re.web blog. Often on Fridays, we'll show you a snippet of some of the new web copy. In this week's copyWrite, we highlight a new special interest feature that will be available on the new website for VIMS. Dave Malmquist wrote this sample for Featured Research - the new VIMS site will also have Featured People and Featured Programs.

Featured Research
Seagrass? Me neither
A study led by Dr. Robert Orth reveals a troubling decline in seagrasses around the world. He’s now striving to inform the public about why these grasses are so important, and how their loss affects humans and marine ecosystems.

Seagrass crisis global

Dr. Robert Orth has studied Chesapeake Bay seagrasses for more than 30 years. He knows that this vital resource is in serious trouble—with excess nutrients, turbid water, and a warming climate as the main culprits.

Now, a study by Orth and a dozen international colleagues reveals what may be the most troublesome finding of all: seagrass loss is global, but the public remains largely unaware of both the problem and its consequences. Seagrasses provide a home for many important fish and shellfish species, limit erosion, soak up nutrients, and help improve water clarity.

The study was conducted by Orth and other members of the Global Seagrass Trajectories Working Group, part of a national effort to promote the analysis and synthesis of ecological information.

Orth's team found that reported cases of seagrass loss haven risen by nearly a factor of 10 during the last 40 years. Says Orth, "We compiled reports of seagrass loss from as far north as Denmark, as far south as Australia, and from the Chesapeake Bay to the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean, and Japan."

The scientists argue that these losses, caused mostly by human activities in the coastal zone, constitute a global crisis for seagrasses.

Despite the magnitude and rapidity of these losses, the team found that seagrasses receive from 3- to 100-times less media attention than coral reefs, salt marshes, and mangroves—even though seagrasses deliver "ecosystem services" that are at least twice as high as these other imperiled habitats.

Orth attributes the public's lack of knowledge to the "invisibility of seagrasses." "These plants grow underwater," he notes, "and in very shallow areas that most boaters avoid. Also, the animals that seagrasses harbor are often small and hidden, in contrast to the large and dazzling organisms that attract the general public to coral reefs."

Orth's team recommends a two-pronged effort—increased conservation efforts and education for the public and resource managers.

"One of our goals," says Orth, "is to educate people about the value that seagrasses provide and how important they are compared to coral reefs, mangroves, and other coastal ecosystems. Right now we're the 'ugly duckling' of these charismatic habitats, but hopefully we're going to change that."

posted by Dave Malmquist, VIMS Director of Communications

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