‘World’s Largest’ Seagrass Forest Discovered After Scientists Strap Cameras to Tiger Sharks

by Taylor Cunningham
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With the help of some Tiger Sharks, researchers have discovered the largest known seagrass ecosystem in the world.

In an attempt to better map the ocean’s seagrass meadows, scientists in the Bahamas attached cameras and trackers to the sharks’ dorsal fins. And what they collected was hours of footage that revealed an ecosystem that stretches up to 35,000 sq miles.

Nature Communications published a study on the research on Nov. 1. In it, the writers noted that the discovery widens the total known seagrass coverage by more than 40%.

“This finding shows how far are we from having explored the oceans, not just in the depths, but even in shallow areas,” wrote co-author Prof Carlos Duarte of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah University of Science and Technology.

Seagrass meadows are extremely important feedings for thousands of marine species. They also offer a buffer against coast erosion for commercial fishing industries, and they also give the oceans blue carbon. They’re also threatened by severe weather, boaters, and coastal development. Nonetheless, they’re incredibly under-researched.

Mapping the ecosystems requires a lot of resources and even more money. Usually, people will have to spot them by planes or through satellites. And smaller meadows often get lost and overlooked in other marine plans.

Researchers Hope to Continue Using Marine Animals While Mapping Seagrass Meadows

To confirm a meadow, divers must go down and photograph the area, which offers many challenges. But sharks already spend most of their days perusing seagrass for food. So between 2016 and 2020, a team went out and recruited various sharks.

Researchers caught the fish using circle hook drumlines, which causes no long-term damage. Then, they outfitted them with a package of equipment and released them. After about six hours, seawater caused corrosion that sent the entire pack to the surface for scientists to collect.

Oliver Shipley, another co-author of the report, who works as a senior research scientist at a non-profit called Beneath the Waves hopes that this project will lead to more that utilize marine animals. And he knows that continuing to use the method to explore seagrass will answer many questions and possibly stop further losses.

As Shipley stresses, along with other coastal ecosystems, seagrasses are “probably one of the best allies and assets that we have in terms of naturally trying to mitigate the effects of climate change.”

He believes there will be more projects that use marine animals to map ocean habitats in the near future.

“They are going take us to new places that we didn’t know existed,” he added.