Huffington Post: Seagrass Is A Vital Weapon Against Climate Change, But We’re Killing It. Seagrasses don’t get as much attention as coral reefs, but these “hidden forests” store carbon, keep the water clear and are a vital habitat for marine life.
Above: Seagrass beds and scarring in the Florida Keys off Islamorada. Credit: Ian Segebarth for HuffPost
BISCAYNE BAY, ISLAMADORA AND SARASOTA BAY, Florida — It’s winter in Miami. Many New Englanders come here to escape the snow, although none opt for snorkeling on this windy January morning. We pull off the side of the highway with specific instructions about where to find a particular species of seagrass from Laura Eldredge, manager of the Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserves.
After slipping into wetsuits, we jump in a kayak and paddle into Tuttle Basin, which is lined by highways and high-rise buildings. More than 6 million people live here in the Miami metropolitan area, the most densely populated part of Florida.
We’re searching for a tiny patch of Johnson’s seagrass (Halophila johnsonii) in the shallow, tea-colored water. Despite Eldredge’s precise directions, we can’t find it. The leaves only grow to one inch long and boat traffic is stirring up the bay’s fine sediments. We can barely see our own hands under the surface — the turbid water makes it both difficult to snorkel and hard for the seagrass to photosynthesize and grow.
This elusive, tiny marine plant is at risk, threatened by human activities such as dredging, scarring from boat propellers and pollution from coastal development. It is the first and only marine plant to be listed under the Endangered Species Act, where it’s classified as “threatened.” It may have the most limited distribution of any seagrass on Earth, found only in lagoons along 125 miles of Florida’s southeast coast.