Today’s factismal: Sea grass responds to grazing by forming new runners.
(Note: I am back from vacation and ready to post! Please accept my apologies for any citizen science withdrawal pangs you suffered in my absence.)
As we discovered last week, seagrass is wonderful stuff. It provides a nursery for young sea life, it stabilizes the shoreline, and it helps clarify the water. But seagrass does have one bad habit; if it isn’t challenged, it stays put and vegetates. (Call it the nerd of the plant world.) In order for seagrass to spread quickly, it needs to be challenged; it needs animals to graze on it. When that happens, the seagrass responds by sending out new runners to avoid the grazing animals. This makes the seagrass patch spread over a larger area, making everyone happy.
And though seagrass is the preferred diet of dugongs and manatees, it is the sea turtles that really make it grow. Every species of sea turtle feeds on seagrass as part of its diet, but it is the green sea turtle that acts as the lawnmower of the seas. This little turtle (they are only 5 ft long and 200 lbs in weight) grazes on seagrass beds the world over. They’ll swim up to 1,600 miles for a tasty mouthful of seagrass (and back again to lay their eggs). They eat more seagrass than dugongs and manatees simplely because there are more of them.
But that doesn’t mean that they are safe. Indeed, all sea turtles are endangered and face threats from poachers and changes in land use. The biggest threat to sea turtles today is poachers who steal their eggs (considered a delicacy in some places). That’s why the turtles need folks to tell the scientists and rangers where the turtles are so that they can be protected. If you see a sea turtle, please report it at the International Sea Turtle Observation Registry: