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Seagrasses are the "coastal canaries" of oceans and bays. When these underwater flowering plants are sick or dying, it means the ecosystem is in big trouble – typically due to pollution that reduces water quality. But when they are thriving and expanding, it is a sign that the ecosystem is becoming healthier.
We have collaborated on seagrass research for three decades in the Chesapeake Bay and beyond. One of us (Bob "JJ" Orth) has mapped and studied the bay's submerged aquatic vegetation since the 1980s. And the other (Bill Dennison) studies seagrass ecophysiology and has led efforts to make this science understandable and useful.
Seagrasses - Chesapeake - Bay - Habitat - Sediments
Seagrasses are critical to a healthy Chesapeake Bay. They provide habitat for fish and shellfish, stabilize sediments and help clarify the water. The bay's grasses declined sharply in the 1970s, as pollution and development degraded its water quality. States around the bay have been working together since 2010 on a sweeping plan to clean it up and restore its ecosystems.
In a new study, we provide conclusive evidence that reducing discharges of nitrogen, phosphorus and other pollutants into the bay has produced the largest resurgence of underwater grasses ever recorded anywhere. This success shows that coastal ecosystems are resilient and that concerted efforts to reduce nutrient pollution can result in substantial improvements.
Years - Effort - National - Center - Ecological
Ten years ago we led an effort through the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis to understand the global trajectories of seagrasses. What we found was that seagrasses were being lost at an alarming rate, equivalent to a soccer field of seagrass every 30 minutes since 1980.
So when we began to observe net increases over the past few years in the abundance of multiple types of seagrasses (collectively known as submerged aquatic vegetation) in our beloved Chesapeake Bay, we knew this event was globally unique.
To discern what...
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