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Report: Vital Seagrass Restoration Needs Real Estate to Thrive

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Tuesday, June 29, 2021   

EVERETT, Wash. -- Eelgrass plays a vital role in marine habitats, but along the West Coast, it's disappearing at alarming rates.

A new study found to restore seagrasses, it's more important to think about 'where' rather than 'how.' The report, commissioned by The Pew Charitable Trusts, analyzed 51 eelgrass restoration projects, including 14 in Washington state.

Kathryn Beheshti, California SeaGrant State Fellow for the California Ocean Protection Council and co-author of the report, said there are multiple restoration methods, and she expected that to be the most significant factor.

"What we found was that actually, restoration method, while important, is not the most important factor in predicting whether a restoration project will succeed; and that it's much more dependent on the environmental conditions and the site-specific conditions of a particular project," Beheshti outlined.

Researchers found about 30% of the world's eelgrass has disappeared since the 1870s, including a troubling case in California's Morro Bay, which has seen a 90% decrease in the last 15 years.

Beheshti said major causes of eelgrass decline are development and runoff pollution.

Eelgrass is found near shore and is considered a foundation species for ecosystems; other species, from sea otters to halibut, use it as habitat.

Melissa Ward, a post-doctoral researcher at San Diego State University and the report's other co-author, studies eelgrass's ability to combat climate change.

She said there's promising research that the plant is good at storing carbon. It also removes carbon dioxide from seawater, which is increasing in the ocean as more greenhouse gases are pumped into the atmosphere.

"It's becoming more and more important to keep eelgrass in the water, because it can elevate the pH and make the water less acidic," Ward explained. "So, the refuge that seagrasses provide may become more critical as we move forward, but at the same time, they're also threatened by climate change."

Ward added restoration is crucial work, but conservation is as well.

"While we do need to restore to try to get close to historic levels of eelgrass coverage, we also need to make sure that we don't lose what we already have," Ward urged.

Support for this reporting was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.


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