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Fionne Kiggen / Wageningen Universiteit

Seagrass meadows are widely recognized as key ecosystems in coastal zones but unfortunately these meadows are one of the most threatened marine habitats worldwide. Anthropogenic disturbances have already led to the disapperance of 30% of the global seagrass cover. Recently seagrass ecosystems are also affected from within. In the Eastern Caribbean a fast growing invasive seagrass species Halophila stipulacea became reported for the first time in 2002 but now this species is already found across at least 19 islands. This continuous expansion forms a threat to the native seagrass (Thalassia testudinum) meadows, an essential food source for green turtles (Chelonia mydas).  It is expected that H. stipulacea will become a greater part of the turtle’s diet because of their rapid expansion. It is, however, unknown how this new food resource will affect the health and behaviour of green turtles and the carrying capacity of seagrass meadows for green turtle populations. Also little is known about H. stipulacea and its effects on the native seagrass species and how this interacts with green turtle grazing. With this study we aim to unravel the effects of invasive seagrass expansion on foraging grounds of green turtle in St. Eustatius, the Dutch Caribbean.