Bright sunlight filters down through the clear Mediterranean waters off the coast of Spain, illuminating a lush meadow just below the surface. Blades of strikingly green grass undulate in the currents. Painted comber fish dart among clumps of leaves, and technicolor nudibranchs crawl over mounds. Porcelain crabs scuttle by tiny starfish clinging to the blades. A four-foot-tall fan mussel has planted itself on a rock outcropping. A sea turtle glides by. Subscribe to Smithsonian magazine now for just $12 This article is a selection from the December issue of Smithsonian magazine Spain: A blade of seagrass serves as refuge, habitat or nourishment for other organisms, from microalgae to crustaceans and worms. Like land grasses, these marine plants flower, and they harness photosynthesis to produce chemical energy, yielding oxygen. Their leaves aren’t held up by rigid stems, though; they float. (Shane Gross) This rich underwater landscape has been shaped by its humble covering, Posidonia oceanica . Commonly known as Neptune grass, it is one of about 70 species of seagrasses that have spread, over millions of years, across the globe’s coastal shallows, embracing and buffering continental shelves from Greenland to New Guinea. Seagrasses provide habitat for fish, sea horses, crustaceans […]

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