Underwater meadows appear to fight ocean germs


seagrass port
seagrass port

BOSTON, Mass. — Want a lawn that needs no mowing and helps the environment? Look no further than the coastal ocean. Meadows of underwater seagrasses lower the amounts of harmful bacteria that can be found in coastal waters. That’s the finding of a new study reported here, February 16, at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The findings suggest that nurturing healthy seagrass beds throughout coastal waters could make the whole ecosystem healthier — from corals and fish to people.

Seagrasses are not truly grasses. They are flowering plants with long, narrow leaves. Found in shallow ocean waters, they can spread to form vast underwater lawns. These plants are “a marine powerhouse, almost equal to the rainforest,” says says Joleah Lamb, an author of the study. “They’re one of the largest stores of carbon in the ocean,” the ecologist says. “But they don’t get a lot of attention,” she adds. Lamb works at Cornell University, in Ithaca, N.Y.

It’s no secret that seagrasses improve water quality, says James Fourqurean. He’s a biologist at Florida International University in Miami and wasn’t involved in the research.

Scientists had known these plants are great at removing excess nitrogen and phosphorus from coastal waters. Those are nutrients that often run off of the land, polluting coastal waters. Now, it seems, seagrasses might take away harmful germs, too. Lamb’s team describes its findings in the February 17 Science.

What pointed them to the value of these plants

A few years ago, Lamb’s colleagues became ill while studying coral reefs in Indonesia. This archipelago nation straddles the Indian and Pacific oceans. When a city or village on one of the country’s thousands of…

Sasha Harriet

Sasha Harriet

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Sasha Harriet

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