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08 June 2011
As part of Wales Biodiversity Week (4 - 12 June) and World Oceans Day (8 June), Cardiff University Sustainable Places Research Institute is asking what people value most about the natural world around them.One of the Institute’s Research Fellows, Leanne Cullen-Unsworth, has posed that very question in her research on sea grass. Seagrass meadows are found across the globe and are key components of coastal and marine environments. Important fisheries in their own right, they also play a significant role in the productivity of coral reefs and other fisheries.
Seagrass meadows additionally support numerous charismatic faunal species, including turtle, dugong and seahorse, and provide other essential services such as coastal protection, water filtration, and carbon sequestration. They are currently being lost at a rate of up to two football fields per hour; this loss is roughly equal to the current rates of loss of coral reefs or tropical rainforests. Degradation of seagrass meadows has been commonly associated with increased nutrient run-off, sedimentation, damage from boats, and pesticide leaching. However, in many areas of the world seagrass meadows are increasingly threatened by over-exploitation of their productive fish and invertebrate assemblages. Commenting on her research, Leanne said: "Placing a direct economic value upon nature will always be controversial, as people often regard nature as ‘priceless’, but nature provides goods and services just like a limited company does." Leanne’s research has looked at some of the issues around putting a price on seagrass, including that by not valuing natural resources, when economic and resource management decisions are made, the value may be assumed to be zero. An additional and underappreciated role of seagrass is their current and potential future value in global food security.
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