In a new study, published in the journal Fish and Fisheries, researchers have shown the important role of seagrasses in global fishing. Some figures how that environmental pressure on seagrasses may be leading to losses of as much as 7 percent annually. Seagrasses provide shelter and food for sea life, including fish that represent essential food sources for humans.

“Our study is really the first to show just how important seagrass meadows are to fishing,” according to researcher Richard Unsworth, of Swansea University. Unsworth and colleagues found that seagrasses provide essential support for fisheries.

“Wherever you get seagrasses, you get fishing, basically,” he said, speaking to BBC News.

Seagrass helps to cycle nutrients, stabilize sediment, and as with all plants that use photosynthesis, absorbs carbon dioxide. Beds of seagrass also shelter young fish, allowing them to hide from predators. But until now, the importance of these plants to fish populations has necessitated some guesswork among scientists, given a lack of hard data, says Unsworth.

The researchers interviewed experts, such as fisheries managers and other scientists, as well as case studies from all over the world. Rounding up data and observations from so many different sources produced a consistent pattern showing that fishers seek out seagrass beds, knowing their high levels of fish production.

The researchers found this close relationship is present in small-scale recreational and subsistence fishing, all the way up to larger commercial operations.

The study points out that hundreds of millions of people depend specifically on seafood gathered from seagrass meadows for their daily protein. This reinforces the need for robust conservation efforts.

One of the researchers, Lina Nordlund, from Stockholm University, explained:

“The ecological value of seagrass meadows is irrefutable, yet their loss continues at an accelerating rate. Now there is growing evidence globally that many fisheries associated to seagrass are unrecorded, unreported and unmanaged, leading to a tragedy of the seagrass commons.”

Another of the researchers, Leanne Cullen-Unsworth, from Cardiff University explained that previous arguments in favor of seagrass conservation has focused on less substantive topics, such as the conservation of seahorses for the sake of conservation alone.

“I don’t want to dismiss seahorses’ importance, but the reality is that seagrasses have much higher value in supporting fisheries. And I’ve come across numerous occasions where fishermen have been against conservation of seagrasses because they can’t moor their boats in these locations, when it’s those seagrasses that support their activity in the first place.”

Cullen-Unsworth notes that support for conservation will increase when the public has a better understanding of the interdependence of these habitats with human life.

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