Echinoderm and seagrass studies

Biodiversity and conservation of echinoderms and seagrass in the nearshore habitats of Watamu Marine National Park

Subject: Abundance and diversity of Echinoderms and seagrass habitats
Location: Watamu Marine National Park
Leader: Eric Thuranira

Sea grass beds support a large variety of associated flora and fauna with several ecological characteristics. A vital part of the marine ecosystem due to their productivity levels, seagrass provide various ecological roles and ecosystem services such as carbon storage, feeding grounds for coral reef organisms, habitat and nursery areas for numerous vertebrate and invertebrate species.All of these work towards many targets found in UN Sustainable Goal 14 and make contributions towards conserving biodiversity important in many international conventions.

 

Out of the 12 species of seagrass listed in Kenya, 11 have been found in Watamu Marine National Park. One of the seagrass species, Zostera capensis is listed Vulnerable in the IUCN Red List with its population decreasing. This shows how the park is important in the conservation of these species. The seagrass are also the most dominant component of the park covering nearly 40% of the benthos found in calm sheltered waters <3m deep (Cowburn et al .,2018)

 

An important group of the macrobenthic marine organisms that live in these seagrass habitats are the echinoderms. They comprise of sea stars, sea lilies (crinoids), sea urchins, sea cucumbers and brittle stars. They play diverse ecological roles as primary consumers, sand cleaners and indicator species. Thus, disturbance in their habitats may upset the health of the whole ecosystem.A Rocha Kenya’s marine team is carrying out  a study in WMNP to get a better understanding of the roles of seagrass habitats as spawning, recruitment and sheltering sites for echinoderms. The study will be imperative for understanding how IUCN Red listed species can be conserved.

Astropyga radiata

This is a sea urchin common in the seagrass habitats of Watamu Marine National Park