In a seven-year study, University of Virginia researchers caught six times the number of fish in restored seagrass meadows off the state’s coast as compared to unrestored shallows. Seagrass meadows provide habitat for a large variety of animals, but the level and consistency of fish recovery surprised the UVA scientists.
The study also showed seagrass renewal efforts doubled fish diversity. These findings continue to point to restoration as a valuable solution to reversing species declines due to the loss of seagrass and other habitats worldwide.
The research was part of UVA’s decades-long partnership with The Nature Conservancy (TNC), which since 1970 has preserved a massive biosphere across 14 of the Virginia Barrier Islands situated between the Atlantic Ocean and the Delmarva Peninsula. Following a devastating outbreak of seagrass disease and a destructive hurricane in the 1930s, the region’s shallow bays sat barren for over 60 years. But starting in 1999, over 70 million seagrass seeds have been spread by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and TNC with the guidance and support of scientists from UVA, resulting in the world’s largest successful restoration of these imperiled underwater plants.
The new study shows that restored undersea meadows, even after decades of absence, can quickly act as a nursery for young fish life, supporting the return of many species.
Such regeneration is not only a positive event for the ecosystem, but also for the local economy.