According to a new study published in Marine Pollution Bulletin, for the first time researchers have discovered extensive deep-water seagrass meadows in the middle of the vast Indian Ocean through satellite tracking the movement of green sea turtles.
The research was led by Swansea University’s Bioscience department with assistance from researchers at Deakin University. Through the monitoring of the turtles, which forage on seagrasses, the researchers tracked the turtles to the Great Chagos Bank, the world’s largest atoll structure in the world.
The area is in the middle of one of the world’s largest Marine Protected Areas and the seagrasses covered over 80 miles of the Great Chagos Bank and was found at depths to 95 feet. Habitats such as these are critically important for storing huge amounts of carbon in their sediments and for supporting fish populations.
The study revealed a high fish abundance as well large predatory sharks were recorded at all sites. The researchers believed that due to the vast size of the Great Chagos Bank, their reports of seagrasses could be underreported and that deep-water seagrasses in general may be far more abundant than previously suspected.
Dr Nicole Esteban, a Research Fellow at Swansea University’s Biosciences department, said: “Our study demonstrates how tracking marine megafauna can play a useful role to help identify previously unknown seagrass habitat.
“We hope to identify further areas of critical seagrass habitat in the Indian Ocean with forthcoming turtle satellite tracking research.”
The find is extremely important in ensuring these areas continue to receive the proper protection and will help lead researchers to identify more deep-water sea grasses in others areas. As more vital habitats are identified, we can work to ensuring their protection in a MPA.