Jackson Estuarine Laboratory

Twenty years of seagrass networking and advancing seagrass science: The International Seagrass Biology Workshop Series


SEAGRASSES are a group of some 72 species of marine flowering plants found in the world’s shallow coastal oceans (Green and Short 2003, Short et al. 2011). There is now scientific consensus that they create an important marine habitat not only by themselves, but also as a component of more complex ecosystems within marine coastal zones. Seagrasses contribute to the health of coral reefs and mangroves, salt marshes and oyster reefs (Dorenbosch et al. 2004; Duke et al. 2007; Heck et al. 2008; Unsworth et al. 2008). Seagrasses have high primary productivity and are a basis of many marine food webs through direct herbivory and the through a detrital cycle (Hemminga and Duarte, 2000). They have enormous value in providing nutrients (N and P) and organic carbon to other parts of the oceans, including the deep sea, and they contribute significantly to carbon sequestration (Suchanek et al. 1985; Duarte et al. 2005). Armed with this knowledge today it is interesting to remember that it is only just over a hundred years since scientists first began speculating on the roles and values of seagrass in the marine environment, with the first focus occurring in Europe on eelgrass (Zostera marina). Many at the time discounted seagrass as an important primary producer (den Hartog 1980). It was not until after the 1930s, when vast areas of Zostera marina were lost in the northern hemisphere from a wasting disease that scientists and governments started to understand and investigate the value of seagrass to coastal ecosystems (Milne and Milne 1951). The loss of Zostera marina led to obvious declines in migratory waterfowl, crustaceans, finfish and shellfish populations (Thayer et al. 1984) In response to those concerns about ongoing losses of Zostera marina and other seagrass species, a meeting of scientists in Fairbanks, Alaska in early 1973 decided to coordinate seagrass research globally. This led to the first International Seagrass Workshop being organized and held in Leiden, The Netherlands, later that year. The report of that conference (McRoy and Helfferich 1977) makes interesting reading, looking back from the perspective of the 21st century. There is only one contribution from the southern hemisphere (Larkum 1977) with Australia referred to as a “little known region”. What we now know as the centre of seagrass biodiversity, Insular Southeast Asia and the broader Indo Pacific region, receives no mention at all. A significant and long-lasting outcome of the Leiden meeting was the birth of the journal “Aquatic Botany”.

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Pacific Conservation Biology



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