Red List Species of the Day: A Seagrass! Gasp!

The IUCN’s Red List database has a (somewhat gruesome) chosen species of the day highlighted throughout the month and year. Today’s highlight: a seagrass species!  I’m sure this should not delight me so much, but it does.  Too often the plants, and particularly the invisible ones underwater or in infrequently traveled areas, don’t get the respect and attention they deserve in our outreach programs and in fieldwork towards conservation.  Which is rather baffling if you consider it, since in many cases they form the very foundation of a habitat type (like seagrass beds).

Zostera caespitosa is a cousin of the well known eelgrass (Zostera marina, common along the Atlantic coastline of the United States) that hails instead from a patchy distribution in Japanese, Korean, and Chinese waters.  Our “American” eelgrass loses out to other species of seagrass once the water warms towards the southern Atlantic areas and is relatively unknown from Floridas waters where big species like turtle grass (Thalassia testudinum) predominates in established beds, including the lower end of my beloved Indian River Lagoon.

For caespitosa, its “Vulnerable” status derives from the same sort of conservation problems faced by many coastal habitat species around the world including:

  • Land reclamation projects
  • Trawling that disrupts the seabed and destroys seagrass root structures
  • Coastal pollution leading to eutrophication and overwhelming and smothering of seagrasses by microalgaes and macroalgaes (ie, seaweeds)
  • And outright destruction of the plants in favor of kelp farming

Unfortunately this species is not the only seagrass featured in the IUCN and all seagrass species worldwide equally face these same conservation challenges imposed by coastal development, harmful fishing technology, and local agricultural practices.