Environmental Conservation


The future of seagrass meadows

Carlos M. Duarte a1c1
a1 IMEDEA (CSIC – UiB), C/ Miquel Marqués 21, 07190 Esporles, (Islas Baleares), Spain


Seagrasses cover about 0.1–0.2% of the global ocean, and develop highly productive ecosystems which fulfil a key role in the coastal ecosystem. Widespread seagrass loss results from direct human impacts, including mechanical damage (by dredging, fishing, and anchoring), eutrophication, aquaculture, siltation, effects of coastal constructions, and food web alterations; and indirect human impacts, including negative effects of climate change (erosion by rising sea level, increased storms, increased ultraviolet irradiance), as well as from natural causes, such as cyclones and floods. The present review summarizes such threats and trends and considers likely changes to the 2025 time horizon. Present losses are expected to accelerate, particularly in South-east Asia and the Caribbean, as human pressure on the coastal zone grows. Positive human effects include increased legislation to protect seagrass, increased protection of coastal ecosystems, and enhanced efforts to monitor and restore the marine ecosystem. However, these positive effects are unlikely to balance the negative impacts, which are expected to be particularly prominent in developing tropical regions, where the capacity to implement conservation policies is limited. Uncertainties as to the present loss rate, derived from the paucity of coherent monitoring programmes, and the present inability to formulate reliable predictions as to the future rate of loss, represent a major barrier to the formulation of global conservation policies. Three key actions are needed to ensure the effective conservation of seagrass ecosystems: (1) the development of a coherent worldwide monitoring network, (2) the development of quantitative models predicting the responses of seagrasses to disturbance, and (3) the education of the public on the functions of seagrass meadows and the impacts of human activity.

(Received May 29 2001)
(Accepted February 15 2002)

Key Words: seagrass; conservation; status; perspectives; global change.

c1 Correspondence: Professor Carlos M. Duarte Fax: +34 971 611761 e-mail: cduarte@uib.es