What do DNR, National Geographic, seagrasses, and Mesoamerica, have in common?

Global Distribution of Seagrasses-Polygons Dataset (2005)
Global Distribution of Seagrasses – focused on Central America

The October 2012 issue of National Geographic magazine features a fascinating story about Central America’s Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. If you have the magazine hanging around, check the map on page 101. In the very tiny print on the lower right-hand side of the page, you’ll see Washington [State] Department of Natural Resources listed in the credits.

What does a state agency from the Pacific Northwest have to do with mapping this tropical reef?

Two members of DNR’s Nearshore Habitat Program played instrumental roles in developing the map. Dr. Fred Short, world-renowned expert on seagrasses, and Lisa Ferrier, nearshore habitat scientist and GIS expert , provided data, edited the map*, and contributed additional information about seagrass habitat for the article.

Still can’t get your mind around the connection? Dr. Short is DNR’s eelgrass monitoring lead, and the founder of SeagrassNet, a global monitoring program that looks at the condition of seagrass ecosystems at 124 sites in 34 countries—from Antigua to Viet Nam. The organization established protocols for consistent sampling methods across all sites. With help from trained volunteers and non-government and government agencies, SeagrassNet conducts quarterly, simultaneous sampling worldwide.

So, if you’re National Geographic magazine, and you’re looking for data on seagrass, who are you going to call?  Naturally, Dr. Fred Short.

“The simultaneous monitoring of seagrasses around the world is unparalleled and provides a powerful dataset,” Dr. Short said.

In Puget Sound, the predominant seagrass is Zostera marina (aka ‘common eelgrass’), which provides an important, protected habitat for invertebrates, juvenile fish, and migrating salmon along nearshore areas. The marine plant’s roots also help stabilize sediments.

Because of the importance of the eelgrass ecosystem for so many species, DNR recommended in 2010 that the Puget Sound Partnership consider eelgrass abundance as an indicator of the overall environmental health of Puget Sound. In early 2011, the Partnership’s Leadership Council formally adopted DNR’s recommendations for eelgrass restoration targets for the 2020 Puget Sound Action Agenda.

Puget Sound may be a long way from the warm, tropical waters of Central America, but Dr. Short’s work with seagrasses illustrates the interconnectedness of habitats and ecosystems throughout the world.

In describing the connections in the Mesoamerican Reef, the National Geographic article includes this fitting quote from John Muir: “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”

See amazing photos from the National Geographic article:  “Meso Amazing.”

*NOTE: A link to the actual map as it appears in National Geographic is not available. This link takes you a map of worldwide distribution of seagrasses through ArcGIS.

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