By ecoRI News staff
A federally funded scientific study on regional seagrass health recently released by The Nature Conservancy points to nitrogen pollution — from sewage and fertilizers — and warmer water temperatures as the killer threats to seagrasses throughout the coastal waters of southern New England.
Seagrass is vital habitat for fish and shellfish and is important for water quality.
The study, one component of The Nature Conservancy’s Regional Seagrass Initiative, highlights the need to control nitrogen pollution and protect seagrass throughout the region, specifically citing the importance of understanding and reducing nitrogen pollution from such sources as cesspools, septic systems, and the application of fertilizers for landscaping and agriculture.
These “non-point” nitrogen sources can vary significantly from one embayment — a bay, estuary or cove — to another. The study offers detailed assessments of conditions and nitrogen sources in selected embayments within its four-state focus area, which includes parts of coastal New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
Underwater seagrass meadows provide critical habitat for numerous species, including recreationally and commercially important fish and shellfish. They also play an important role in maintaining the overall health of southern New England’s coastlines.
Since 1930, however, regional seagrass populations have suffered massive losses due to many factors, including disease, brown tides, impacts from multiple uses of the waterways, and excess nitrogen from human sources.
“Seagrass protection is a critical component of sustaining the ecosystem services that people rely upon for food, jobs and recreation, and are meaningful for our culture and economic future,” said John Torgan, director of ocean and coastal conservation for The Nature Conservancy in Rhode Island. “This study shows us where nitrogen pollution is coming from at each of the study sites and how much needs to be reduced to restore the conditions — clean and clear water — that seagrass meadows and other marine species need to thrive.”