updated 6/30/2009 12:26:40 PM ET 2009-06-30T16:26:40

Coastal development and declining water quality are threatening seagrasses worldwide, researchers report.

A study of coastal grasses around the world shows that 58 percent of the seagrass meadows are in decline, according to a report in Tuesday's edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Seagrass provides habitat for coastal life and helps reduce the impact of sediment and nutrient pollution.

"The combination of growing urban centers, artificially hardened shorelines and declining natural resources has pushed coastal ecosystems out of balance. Globally, we lose a seagrass meadow the size of a soccer field every thirty minutes," co-author William Dennison of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science said in a statement.

"With the loss of each meadow, we also lose the ecosystem services they provide to the fish and shellfish relying on these areas for nursery habitat. The consequences of continuing losses also extend far beyond the areas where seagrasses grow, as they export energy in the form of biomass and animals to other ecosystems including marshes and coral reefs," Robert Orth of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science of the College of William and Mary added.

The researchers said that since 1990 the annual loss of seagrass has been about 7 percent, with the major impacts coming from coastal development and dredging and reductions in water quality.

The research was supported by the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis in Santa Barbara, Calif., through the National Science Foundation.

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