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Updated 11:00am - Nov 26, 2014

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Northcoast seagrass stays stable

By Hilary Corrigan

Triplicate staff writer

Pollution, invasive species, algae blooms, fishing and global warming have helped destroy seagrass, the underwater meadows that provide homes and food to fish, crabs, sea horses and sea turtles, among other marine animals.

A lack of public attention and scientific study of the habitat — a less glamorous one than others, such as coral reefs — hasn't helped.

The local scene, though, is not so bleak, as pockets of seagrass thrive along northern California's coast.

The number of reported cases of seagrass loss has increased nearly 10 times over the past 40 years, according to "A Global Crisis for Seagrass Ecosystems," an article crafted by a group of scientists from across the U.S. for the December issue of the journal BioScience.

The drop in seagrass around the world warrants concern, said John Mello, a marine biologist with the California Department of Fish and Game.

"An exception would be our area," Mello added, noting stable conditions in Humboldt and Del Norte counties.

Small patches of phyllospadix torreyi, known as surf grass, grow about 4-feet-high in thin, green blades off of Del Norte County's coast at Endert's Beach, for instance.

Susan Schlosser, a marine advisor at the Sea Grant Program of the University of California at Davis, points to more than 4,000 acres of eel grass, or zostera marina, in Humboldt Bay.

"We're really quite fortunate," Schlosser said, noting the seagrass die-off around the world that precedes species loss and other problems. "It's quite vital."

Seagrass evolved about 70 million years ago and has sprouted in nearly all seas. The unique land-like plants have adapted to the ocean, able to take root, seed and flower.

They require a lot of light and oxygen, along with clear, fairly calm water.

They are among the first to show signs of harmful impacts to coastal ecosystems. They also serve key roles — stabilizing shorelines, blocking erosion and clearing out nutrients.

"A flowering plant is very rare in a marine environment," Mello said. "It's key habitat, it's very important. It's very much part of a healthy near-shore environment."

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Seagrass

•Flowering plants that have adapted to oceans around the world

•Provide food and habitat for marine animals, stabilize sediment to block erosion, clear nutrients from water

•Suffered a tenfold increase of reported losses around the world during past 40 years

•Scientists seek to boost the hidden habitat's profile and its conservation

SOURCE: BioScience

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