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Save the Seagrass

Save the Seagrass
by Traci O'Dea

In the introduction to BVI Marine Awareness Guide, Shannon Gore states that what originally sparked her to write the Guide was overhearing a charter captain tell his guests that they should “find a reef to drop the anchor on.”

Hopefully, by now, boaters know not to anchor on reefs, but on a recent boat trip, I learned that not everyone knows to avoid dropping anchor in seagrass meadows.

After I frowned at my captain for doing so, we snorkelled around the seagrass bed near Beef Island where we saw dozens of conch, sea cucumbers, enormous red cushion sea stars and a green tur tle. The anchor, fortunately, didn’t land on any creatures, but it did disturb some of the seagrass, so before we left, he dove down and gently dislodged the anchor instead of dragging it up by the chain. Seagrass-Watch.com reports that seagrass is the only flowering plant that can live entirely immersed under water. They are the natural link between wetlands and coral reefs and help with sediment control. Sediments that wash down the hills during a rainfall first filter through the mangroves then the seagrass meadows, keeping it from covering the reefs. Additionally, seagrass meadows are “often dominated by juvenile specimens” because they “play a nursery role” to fish that eventually end up inhabiting the reefs, according to Encyclopedia of Earth. Unfortunately, these juvenile habitats are often destroyed during the process of land reclamation—the creation of new land from seabeds. Shannon told me that the destruction of these habitats leads to a loss of fisheries.

A cushion sea star in the seagrass at Mooney Bay, Virgin Gorda. Photo by Joe Faragher-Kneipp.

Seagrasses also serve an important role as a food source. According to BVI Marine Awareness Guide, “There are over 340 marine species that actually eat seagrass.” When I asked her about the importance of this marine habitat, Shannon Gore stressed the fact that “green tur tles depend on seagrass as a major food source” which is why it’s common to see them in the shallow, green fields. One of the most popular seagrasses in the BVI is Thalassia testudinum, turtle grass.

Due to their dual function as a juvenile habitat and species feeding ground, seagrasses also provide one of the best places to snorkel teeming with sea life. Even the grasses themselves are a pleasure to watch as they undulate with the currents. According to BVI Marine Awareness Guide, the BVI hosts over 10,000 acres of the bustling habitat. The highlight of my weekend at Mooney Bay Villa last year was exploring the seagrass bed—by day with my snorkelling gear when I checked out starfish and cowfish then at night when the pier light attracted minnows and other fish that played among the blades.

The importance of seagrass meadows cannot be stressed enough, especially in the BVI where all habitats are so closely linked. These fish nurseries and natural filters should be as protected as the mangroves and coral reefs.


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