Meeting Fred Short & The Lab Tour at UNH
July 5th, 2016
What do you ask a seagrass guru when you meet him for the first time? Probably more intelligent things than “can you eat seagrass?”. Fred Short the author of “World Atlas of Seagrass” was terrific at keeping a straight face while answering my funny question. “No not really..the rhizomes are eaten in some countries, the kids in Thailand like the sweet taste of the roots. In some places in Mexico they make bread from the seeds, but we don’t really eat them here.” Fred Short is the director of seagrass.net a global seagrass monitoring program as well as a research professor of natural resources at UNH.
Fred explained to me that there are now 72 different types of seagrass globally, that they are flowering plants and need sunlight in clear water to survive. However due to high levels of nitrates and phosphate from fertilizers and sewage run-offs, algae blooms occur. These algae blooms block light and seagrass needs light to photosynthesize. When the seagrass dies, all the marine life surrounding and feeding off of it also disappear. “We need to be thinking of our nitrogen footprint as well as our carbon footprint.” The seagrass ecosystem is a threatened costal resource.
Fred short took me on a tour of his work space. The Jackson Estuarine Lab is a part of UNH located on the Great Bay Area. From most of the rooms in the building you can see the ocean, how cool! Then we visited Fred’s office which was long and narrow but a little bit difficult to get into with the paddle board, snorkeling gear and other equipment. I was impressed with how organized his bookshelves were, and how he could pull out books or files to show things.
Next, we visited the lab where Fred presented me with a jar of water- where inside a little Jellyfish was swimming around. He was sampling the Jellyfish for a scientist friend in Florida, his friend wanted to compare it with the Jellyfish they found in Florida. We walked towards another workbench with something that looked like a large cookie jar. It was a contraption that helped dry the eelgrass so when they weighed and took measurements the moisture level would not be variable. The seagrass was labeled and put in to brown paper bags. They compared how healthy the Eelgrass was by measuring the weight from previous years. Who would of thought simple brown paper bags and a system for documenting them, how fascinating!
We walked downstairs and checked the outside lab, more contraptions, Kayaks and experiments happening. One of his colleges was growing dune grass, another was studying oysters, there were cages with green crabs. We walked out to the pier where Fred pulled out some seagrass and showed me the seeds. He explained that the seagrass has both male and female components on one plant. The water helps pollinate the female seeds with other seagrass plants. He also showed me the rhizome root structure, apparently seagrasses can connect to one another from these nodes.
What a great way to spend a Tuesday afternoon touring the facilities at Jackson Estuaries Lab. with Fred Short! Thank you for the wonderful work you are doing with seagrass restoration, seagrass mapping, and helping us better understand how climate change and nitrogen loading impacts the world we live in.