Scientists point the way to enhance conservation and restoration of essential marine life

2024-02-08

Seagrasses

Seagrasses, the prairies of the sea, play a vital role in our oceans by storing carbon in the seabed, enhancing biodiversity, filtering water, and preventing  coastal erosion. Despite their ecological significance, seagrasses have faced widespread decline across Europe, prompting the need for intensified conservation and restoration efforts. Renewed initiatives are underway to revive these meadows, contributing to the fight against the climate emergency and biodiversity crisis. However, substantial knowledge gaps hinder progress, emphasizing the necessity to fill these gaps promptly for seagrasses to effectively contribute to rebuilding marine life. The challenge lies in prioritizing urgent research questions  amid limited funds .

To identify the most important questions that need to be answered to enhance  the conservation and restoration of seagrass meadows across the continent of Europe a panel was formed to provide an international perspective on the important areas for seagrass research. This novel project, led by Associate Professor Lina Mtwana Nordlund (Uppsala University) and Associate Professor Richard Unsworth (Swansea University & Project Seagrass) was supported by the Horizon 2020-funded project EuroSea in conjunction with Global Ocean Observing System, IOC-UNESCO. Initially, the researchers gathered together almost 300 questions about seagrass conservation that were submitted by seagrass experts working within Universities, Government bodies, Industry and Environmental Non-Governmental Organisations from across Europe. The panel of 35 scientists from 18 European nations were then assembled to identify the 100 most important questions facing to advance seagrass research, monitoring and conservation.

These 100 questions are to be published on 9th of February in a Viewpoint in a leading journal of the New Phytologist Foundation called ‘Plants, People and Planet’. The study demonstrates how critically important these marine scientists believe the fight against climate change and biodiversity loss is within our oceans, highlights regional disparities in science funding, and demonstrates the need for more collaborative and interdisciplinary seagrass research efforts across the continent.  Lead author Lina Mtwana Nordlund said, “We as a research community believe that answering these 100 priority questions will place European seagrasses on a positive trajectory of recovery and accelerate seagrass conservation”. 

Richard Unsworth of Swansea University and Chief Scientific Officer of the marine conservation charity Project Seagrass highlighted the need to increasingly focus marine research efforts on conservation and restoration so that applied solutions can be developed to reverse the degraded state of our European coastal seas.

The study emphasises how an inclusive, international exercise can be used to identify diverse research questions. As a lead panellist in the project, Dr Sieglind Wallner-Hahn (Uppsala University) said, “One of the most significant steps of this study is the high level of inclusivity of partners from all corners of continental Europe, a challenge is ensuring that such partners can play a part in answering these questions and securing a future for their local seagrass meadows”.

Another panellist, Prof Jim Bull (Swansea University), said, “My work is solution-driven and needs to directly address the challenges marine ecologists and conservationists face across Europe. A strength of these questions is their interdisciplinary content and an acceptance of the need to bring scientists from diverse backgrounds together to find the knowledge to bring our European seas back to life”.

In summary, this paper provides an excellent introduction to how seagrass conservation science is developing and the significance, range and depth of research that needs to be addressed. We anticipate that the production of this set of questions will support future research and help direct funding priorities.

The article is available through open access at: https://nph.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ppp3.10486

For more information contact; Lina Mtwana Nordlund

News from the Department of Earth Sciences

Last modified: 2022-09-30