Excess nutrients lead to dramatic ecosystem changes in Cape Cod’s Waquoit Bay, is a harbinger for estuaries worldwide, say researchers

Read the full story from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit in 2020 with associated travel restrictions, a research group shifted their overseas research projects to instead study the seagrass meadow ecosystem in Waquoit Bay, USA. It’s a shallow, micro-tidal estuary on the south side of Cape Cod in Massachusetts.

However, when Long and his students looked for seagrass meadows where he had seen them in previous years, there were only a few shoots of dying Zostera marina eelgrass, a type of seagrass.

That prompted Long and Jordan Mora, a restoration ecologist with the Association to Preserve Cape Cod, to analyze decades’ worth of local environmental monitoring data to find out what has happened to the estuary. What they determined is that Waquoit Bay has shifted from a benthic to a pelagically-dominated ecosystem due to human causes, including an excess influx of nutrient pollution along with climate change.

That disruption to Waquoit Bay’s ecosystem presents broad concerns about the fate of coastal estuaries worldwide, according to the researchers.

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