Water management promoted by local, national and European administrations could be giving its first results in underwater grasslands in Europe, according to a study involving CSIC, published in the journal Nature Communications.
The study attributes the recovery to management actions to improve water quality, but also highlights that a third of these ecosystems have disappeared due to the deterioration of water quality, a disease that affected the species Zostera marina and the coastal development, with the most important loss peaks in the seventies and eighties.
Scientists have used records for research since 1869 that included time series on the extent and density of underwater grasslands at 737 points along the coast of 25 European countries. These ecosystems consist of flowering plants (they are not algae) that occupy large areas in coastal areas. Its importance is decisive: they keep the fisheries, they play an important role in the sequestration of carbon from the atmosphere, they provide protection to the coast and they inhabit threatened species such as seahorses.
“Our study shows that Europe has lost in the last 150 years a third of the underwater grasslands, which means that we no longer have the benefits they provided,” explains the first author of the work, researcher Carmen B. de Santos, of Center of Sciences of Mar(Portugal). According to Rui Santos, researcher of the same center (speaking of recent results)“They are very encouraging, unlike the global trend. In Europe, loss rates began to slow down at the end of the 20th century. In some regions underwater prairies of fast-growing species have been recovered. All this gives hope to prairie conservation efforts and brings positive results to conservation actions such as the improvement of marine protected areas and the decrease in nutrient intake.”
The deceleration of grassland loss trends began after management policies and initiatives were adopted to reduce eutrophication or contamination by excess nutrients, increase marine protected areas and improve the health of coastal waters at national and subnational levels and, later, of the European Union, explains CSIC researcher Teresa Alcoverro, of the Center for Advanced Studies in Blanes.