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NITROGEN POLLUTION A MAJOR THREAT TO SEAGRASS

Seagrass is critically important habitat for fish and shellfish and is important for water quality; a new report highlights its susceptibility to nitrogen pollution and warmer water temperatures.


BOSTON | June 09, 2014

A federally funded scientific study on regional seagrass health released today by The Nature Conservancy points to nitrogen pollution – from sewage and fertilizers – and warmer water temperatures as the killer threats to seagrass populations throughout the coastal waters of southern New England and New York.

The study, one component of The Nature Conservancy’s Regional Seagrass Initiative, highlights the need to control nitrogen pollution and protect seagrass populations throughout the region, specifically citing the importance of understanding and reducing nitrogen pollution from such sources as septic systems, cesspools, and the application of fertilizers for landscaping and agriculture.

These “non-point” nitrogen sources can vary significantly from one embayment – a bay, estuary or cove, for example – to another. Because of this, the study offers detailed assessments of conditions and nitrogen sources in selected embayments within its four-state focus area, which includes parts of coastal New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

Underwater seagrass meadows provide critical habitat for numerous species, including recreationally and commercially important fish and shellfish. They also play an important role in maintaining the overall health of southern New England and New York’s coastlines improving water quality and stabilizing sediments. From 1930 to present day, however, regional seagrass populations have suffered massive losses due to many factors, including disease, brown tides, impacts from multiple uses of the waterways, and excess nitrogen from human sources.

“As evolving science continues to confirm, excess nitrogen in our coastal waters is having a profound negative impact on our salt marshes, shellfish populations and seagrass meadows,” said Jon Kachmar, coastal director for The Nature Conservancy in Massachusetts. “This study provides the foundation for developing regional solutions to restoring water quality conditions to produce thriving and robust seagrass meadows as well as other coastal habitats, which provide ecological, social and economic benefits not only to Massachusetts but to the Southern New England region.”

The study can be found here: http://goo.gl/yQyTHM

Globally, the 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.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) 2006 report, Fisheries Economics of the U.S., species that rely on seagrass produced over $1.9 billion dollars in sales, $41 million in employment impacts, and $1 billion dollars of earned income nationwide. The bay scallop fishery in New York – which was decimated by the loss of seagrass beds – at one time averaged over 300,000 pounds annually, an amount that would have been worth nearly $4.5 million to local fishermen in 2010. The numbers and narrative are similar throughout the four-state study area.

Properly protecting seagrass, based on sound research and management principles, will create benefits, such as increasing the capacity of the fishing industry and providing a blueprint for improving water quality.

Investments in the protection and management of this essential resource are investments in the health of the people and economies of coastal communities in New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. The Nature Conservancy’s report illustrates how towns, counties and states throughout the region can ensure their efforts to reduce nitrogen are accurately directed at the sources of the problem.

“We must do everything we can to protect the health of our waterways,” said Congressman Tim Bishop, who represents New York’s First District. “I commend The Nature Conservancy for its work on the Seagrass Initiative and its continued efforts to find ways to reduce nitrogen pollution.”

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, who represents Connecticut’s Third District, said, “Seagrass meadows are a critical underwater habitat that has suffered significant losses.”

“I am proud to have helped ensure this study could occur,” DeLauro, co-chair of the Long Island Sound caucus, said. “It will play a role in our decisions on how to protect the sustainability of seagrass throughout the Long Island Sound, raise awareness of the danger nitrogen pollution presents, and help turn the tide on this important environmental health issue.”

The research was funded through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Community-based Restoration Program.

“We are pleased to help support The Nature Conservancy with this study,” said Buck Sutter, director of the NOAA Fisheries Office of Habitat Conservation. "Seagrass is a vital habitat to many species. By better understanding threats to seagrass, we can better manage this important resource.”
 


The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. 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

Contact information

James Miller
Senior Media Relations Manager
The Nature Conservancy in Massachusetts
Office: 617-532-8339
Cell: 857-600-6603
james_miller@tnc.org

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