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Background

Seagrasses are a group of >70 species of flowering plants that spend their lives submerged in seawater. Most seagrasses root in shallow sediment bottoms, where sufficient light penetrates to support growth. Seagrasses form the foundation of submerged grassland ecosystems in shallow coastal waters from the equator to high latitudes on all continents except Antarctica. Seagrass meadows are highly productive, provide important habitat for animals, including commercially important fisheries and species of concern, and are important sites of blue carbon storage. Seagrass ecosystems and the services they provide are threatened by a range of interacting human activities, notably coastal development, declining water quality, invasive species, and climate warming. Thus, tracking status and trends in seagrass cover and quality is an emerging priority for ocean and coastal management.

Turtlegrass, *Thalassia testudinum*, Bocas del Toro, Panama

Methods

MarineGEO protocols, listed below, provide a standardized set of measurements for characterizing the changing structure and health of seagrass communities, including cover and physical structure, fouling, and community composition of epifaunal animals and fishes. The data collected are meant to be inter-comparable with those of other major seagrass monitoring programs, including Seagrass Watch and SeagrassNet.

Seagrass community sampling has two main components: (1) non-destructive measurements of plant species composition (seagrass and macroalgae), percent cover, and shoot density; and (2) collection and processing of samples for seagrass structure, fouling load, and associated epifauna. The assessment is structured around three replicate 50-m transects, permanently marked where possible, at each site. Detailed protocols are provided in the linked modules below.

Core Modules

Module Essential Ocean Variable (GOOS)
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Seagrass Density

Community composition; ecosystem structure
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Seagrass Macroalgae

Ecosystem structure; ecosystem function
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Seagrass Shoots

Ecosystem structure; ecosystem function
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Predation Assay

Ecosystem function
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Water Quality

Environment

Recommended Modules

Module Essential Ocean Variable (GOOS)
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Fish Seines

Species populations; species traits; community composition
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Fish Trawls

Species populations; species traits; community composition
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Visual Census

Species populations; species traits; community composition
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Sediment Organic Matter

Ecosystem structure
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Seagrass Biomass

Ecosystem structure; ecosystem function
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Seagrass Epifauna

Species populations; community composition; Ecosystem structure; ecosystem function