UNC-TV Seagrass Science

A group sits in the corner of a lab at the University of North Carolina Institute of Marine Sciences. Giant screens with rims of PVC pipes and netting spread from side to side sit before the group, leaning on counters. One by one, group members thread strips of green, plastic ribbon through the net and then tie them. Some strips are long, some short; some of the ribbons are thick, some are thin. 

The creation almost looks like an abstract piece of wall art. Wall art it is not, but it is a window into a vital ocean habitat that scientists don’t know much about: seagrass. 

Seagrass forms some of the most important coastal habitats in the watery world. Without it, many juvenile fish, including several commercially important species such as grouper and red drum, likely wouldn’t survive.

“You find a lot of juvenile fish and crabs and even oysters so it’s a great habitat,” says Danielle Keller, a Ph.D. candidate in ecology who leads the net making group in the lab. “Seagrass is so important because organisms can hide from predators; they have a safe haven from getting eaten up and survive to adulthood so they can sustain their population.” 

Actually seagrass provides more than just a nursery habitat in the ocean. It also provides a buffer zone for wave energy, so it helps to protect the coastline. Seagrass also helps with water quality: if there are sediments in the water, seagrass provides a filter to clear out some of the sediments. 

“It’s just a great place for fish to grow up, but in addition, it also gives a lot of benefits to humans that you can’t replace,” adds Keller. 

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