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The tragedy of the seagrass commons

Swansea University

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IMAGE: Seagrass fishing in the UK. view more 

Credit: Swansea University

Writing in the Journal Fish & Fisheries, Dr Richard Unsworth of Swansea University (together with colleagues at Cardiff University and Stockholm University) examine the global extent to which these meadows of underwater plants support fishing activity.

"Wherever seagrass exists in proximity to people, our research finds that it's used as a key targeted fishing habitat" said Dr Unsworth, who is based at Swansea University's Biosciences department.

"Our research is for the first time recording how globally extensive the use of seagrass meadows as a fishery habitat is. In developing countries this activity tends to have a major significance for daily food supply and general livelihoods. In developed countries the role of this activity is more for recreation or species specific targeted fisheries (e.g. clams)."

Dr Nordlund from Stockholm University added "The ecological value of seagrass meadows is irrefutable, yet there loss continues at an accelerating rate. Now there is growing evidence globally that many fisheries associated to seagrass are unrecorded, unreported and unmanaged, leading to a tragedy of the seagrass commons".

In their article, the researchers highlight that because of their nearshore, shallow water distribution in sheltered environments seagrass meadows make great places to fish in all conditions. This leads to high intensity of fishing effort often all year round.

The authors have studied seagrass fisheries all around the world from the Philippines, to Zanzibar, Indonesia, the Turks & Caicos Islands and locations in the Mediterranean. They have found many similarities in the types of fishing gear used the major animal families that are fished and the extent of effort focused in these sensitive habitats.

Even in small seagrass meadows in Wales fishers can be seen targeting shrimp at low tide and placing gill nets to catch Bass. By providing a three-dimensional structure in an otherwise barren sea, seagrasses provide the perfect hiding place for fish and invertebrates such as crabs, shrimp and clams. This abundance of animal life is what attracts fishers.

"It is important that more recognition is given to the value of these habitats for supporting fisheries as they're being damaged and degraded globally." said Dr Cullen-Unsworth (Cardiff University), one of the co-authors who is also director of the marine conservation charity Project Seagrass who are working to highlight the importance and plight of these sensitive marine habitats.

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Their paper - Global significance of seagrass fishery activity - is available (Open Access) here http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/faf.12259/full

Notes

Swansea University is a world-class, research-led, dual campus university. The University was established in 1920 and was the first campus university in the UK. It currently offers around 350 undergraduate courses and 350 postgraduate courses to circa 20,000 undergraduate and postgraduate students.

The University's 46-acre Singleton Park Campus is located in beautiful parkland with views across Swansea Bay. The University's 65-acre science and innovation Bay Campus, which opened in September 2015, is located a few miles away on the eastern approach to the city. It has the distinction of having direct access to a beach and its own seafront promenade. Both campuses are close to the Gower Peninsula, the UK's first Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Swansea is ranked the top university in Wales and is currently The Times and The Sunday Times 'Welsh University of the Year' for 2017. It is also ranked within the top 300 best universities in the world in the Times Higher Education World University rankings.

The results of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014 showed the University has achieved its ambition to be a top 30 research University, soaring up the league table to 26th in the UK, with the 'biggest leap among research-intensive institutions' (Times Higher Education, December 2014) in the UK.

The University has ambitious expansion plans as it moves towards its centenary in 2020, as it continues to extend its global reach and realising its domestic and international ambitions.

Swansea University is a registered charity. No.1138342. Visit http://www.swansea.ac.uk

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