Dani Marston: Why is seagrass an unsung superhero?

By Becky

This week we interview seagrass enthusiast Dani Marston! After returning from a six-week marine research expedition along the coast of the Riviera Maya, she realised how important the unsung hero of our oceans – Seagrass – really is, and is determined to raise public awareness of this vital species!

Here she is in her own words…

Hi Dani! Tell us a little bit about yourself!

I am a final year BSc Geography student from the University of Birmingham (UK) with a passion for all things conservation. After working with Wildlife Sense (a Loggerhead turtle rescue charity in Kefalonia, Greece) in summer 2017, my love for marine life flourished. I am now committed to the Girls in Ocean Science ethos: spreading awareness about the importance of our oceans, and promoting women in science!

All ready for data collection!

All ready for data collection!

Sounds great! What were you doing on your research expedition?

I spent this summer in the beautiful Caribbean Sea, diving and snorkelling with inspiring scientists and students from across the world, all committed to protecting our oceans. Spending every day in Akumal (‘Home of the Turtles’) swimming with eagle rays, barracuda, cowfish, and green sea turtles was a dream, however the need for management strategies was clear to see. There have been efforts to protect the seagrass, turtles, and coral, from the impact of tourism, with the introduction of two designated protected areas. However, the local marine life (seagrass in particular), cannot escape the deteriorating water quality. Some days we would spend hours shovelling influxes of sargassum (a brown macroalgae), out of the water. Sargassum levels are rising due to eutrophication from sewage input into the Caribbean, this reduces water quality by raising shoreline temperatures (some days we recorded 40°C when temperatures should be around 28°C!), and decreasing the benthic light levels.

Cleaning up all that Sargassum.

Cleaning up all that Sargassum.

So why is seagrass so important?

When the world thinks about marine conservation, ‘seagrass’ is highly unlikely to be at the top of many people’s thoughts, and this vital habitat is declining at one hectare an hour. However, this marine flowering plant is an ecosystem service provider that carries out a plethora of functions! Most importantly:

  1. BIODIVERSITY: Seagrass meadows provide habitats and grazing grounds for thousands of species, from our beloved green sea turtles, to manatees, and seahorses.

  2. CARBON: Seagrass is a vital ‘blue carbon’ store, so the more we lose, the more carbon is released into the atmosphere.

  3. SEDIMENT TRAPPING: Seagrass is key in trapping sediment and maintaining a stable bay, in Akumal and elsewhere. No seagrass would soon lead to no turtles, no beach, no tourists and no income. It’s not just an environmental problem, but a socio-economic one too!

Can’t collect all that information without a bit of data entry!

Can’t collect all that information without a bit of data entry!

So what is your research about?

My research, along with others from Operation Wallacea (a conservation research programme for academics), is focusing on mapping the 3 seagrass species (Thalassia testudinum, Halodule wrightii, and Syringodium filiforme), in the bay over the past ten years. We can then start to see what management needs to be done, and feed this back to the Mexican authorities.

All set for our scientific diving!

All set for our scientific diving!

Is there anything you would like to add?

It is exciting to be part of such vital research, and I would actively encourage all of you to do your bit, whether you are a university student, or just a girl who has an interest in ocean science – go and explore the world and make a positive change! If I hadn’t visited Mexico, I would have had very limited knowledge of seagrass and its importance.

Thanks very much Dani! If you would like to find out more about seagrass, and simple things you can do to help, visit Project Seagrass at: https://www.projectseagrass.org/

Thumbnail image @johnmarkarnold