Seagrass has received a significant boost thanks to a $500,000 research grant (H.R. 1105, the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009) co-sponsored by Congressman Timothy Bishop (NY-01) and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (CT-03). These overlooked, but essential underwater flowering plants, form dense stands in shallow salt-water bays and harbors, and provide critical habitat for local fish and other marine life.
“Not only are seagrass beds essential nursery habitat for important recreational and commercial finfish, but they also help to buffer impacts from storms to our coastal communities,” said Lise Hanners, PhD, executive director of The Nature Conservancy in Connecticut. “Protecting and restoring these beds is an important part of making our coastlines more resilient to climate change.”
From 1930 to present day, regional seagrass populations have suffered massive losses due to a myriad of factors, including: disease, brown tides, impacts from multiple uses of the waterways, and other causes not yet understood.
“Efforts to rebuild populations of fish and shellfish such as Peconic Bay scallops are unlikely to achieve long-term success without adequate protection and restoration of seagrass,” said Congressman Tim Bishop. “This research is an important part in a suite of strategies to properly manage our precious marine environments for future generations. We have an opportunity to act now to get to the bottom of the problem, before it’s too late.”
The intent of the proposed seagrass work is to identify gaps in baseline information as well as necessary primary and restoration research that will piece together regional solutions for protecting and restoring known and potential seagrass communities. In particular, the work will produce a master plan that identifies locations that represent the best opportunities for success in Southern New England and New York waters.
“The proposed science-based approach to finding solutions for protecting and enhancing this regional natural resource shows innovation that also will likely create job opportunities to researchers and practitioners engaged in the effort,” said Congresswoman DeLauro.
“We applaud Representatives Bishop and DeLauro for recognizing the value of seagrass to our marine environment. Thanks to their efforts, we now have the necessary steps in place to protect this vital resource,” said Nancy Kelley, executive director of The Nature Conservancy on Long Island.
“Our region is experiencing an ongoing decline in seagrass abundance, with some areas having lost over 50 percent of their historic acreage,” Kelley stated.
Loss of seagrass is linked to major declines in both finfish and shellfish populations and, consequently, the economic decline of local fisheries and recreational industries. Properly restoring seagrass through sound research and management will create numerous benefits, such as increasing the capacity of the fishing industry and providing a blueprint for improving local water quality.
“Seagrass meadows are essential habitat for many of the species that we fish for in the waters throughout southern New England and the Mid Atlantic,” said Chris Clapp, estuary specialist for The Nature Conservancy on Long Island “Understanding and prioritizing threats to seagrass are essential steps toward successful management and large-scale restoration of this critical habitat. This initiative is part of a long-term, comprehensive, multi-governmental effort to protect and restore our regional bays and estuaries.”
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.
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