Fun fact: when you search the Internet for general information on seagrass beds, one of the first things to pop up is shopping for “seagrass” beds. No, I’m not spending this time talking to you about beds you can sleep on—I think that would put us both to sleep.
Instead, I’m going to drone talk to you about seagrass bed the habitat.
Seagrass beds are very similar to kelp forests, which I’ve already talked about. They are both habitats that are dominated by a specific plant, and their roles are crucial to the health of the ocean and coastal communities. Seagrass beds are habitats made up of, you guessed it, seagrass.
Seagrass is the only flowering plant that lives its entire life in the sea. I’ll share more cool seagrass facts at another time!
The habitat flourishes in tropical waters, and the beds are most commonly found in shallow, sandy lagoons or enclosed bays. Basically, wherever the water is really clear and calm, that’s where seagrass beds do the best! They can even be found in polar waters too, though they’re more far common in the tropics.
Like kelp forests, seagrass beds function as nurseries and refuges for many fish that will spend their adult lives elsewhere. They also act as nurseries for some commercial invertebrates like shrimp and cuttlefish—and let me tell you, cuttlefish are one of the coolest groups of creatures you will ever see, so if they live in the seagrass, then those habitats are cool places too!
The seagrass itself is really important to green sea turtles, manatees, and dugongs. For green sea turtles it’s one of their primary food sources, but for the other two it’s their only food source. In fact, seagrass is so important that there is a correlation between the decline in seagrass communities and the decline the population numbers of the creatures that eat seagrass.
Green sea turtles and dugongs are endangered, while manatees have just barely—like since 2016—made it off the endangered species list.
Unfortunately, seagrass beds are highly vulnerable to pollution from the mainland. Large amounts of nutrients and sediments that are part of the land runoff oversaturate the water, making the water too murky for the seagrasses to do well. Suffice it to say, these environments are very important to fish, invertebrates, and larger animals and these habitats need to be protected if we want the communities they support to survive.
I’ve yet to dive at a seagrass bed. I’ve seen small patches of seagrass near some of the coral reefs sites that I swam around in Jamaica, but I don’t think they were quite large enough to support much. I think it would be really cool to scuba dive or snorkel in massive seagrass bed areas because of all the life you can see. I would love to play “Where’s Waldo?” with a bunch of the juvenile fish that will be camouflaged to blend in with the seagrass, and if I saw a manatee or a cuttlefish I’d probably squeal!
Sources and cool links with more information:
Ocean: The Definitive Visual Guide made by the American Museum of Natural History