Fernández, E. et al. (including Villasante, S.) (2022). Ocean and Coastal Management
The social recognition of the services delivered by ecosystems takes advantage from knowledge on the historical narratives of their uses and benefits and may facilitate the societal transition towards a more conservation-based perception of natural systems. Historical analysis of ecosystem services have been barely addressed, possibly because of the lack of available information, especially in the case of uncharismatic habitats such as seagrass meadows. In this investigation, we used the written press to reconstruct the historical narrative of seagrass ecosystems in Galicia (NW Spain), a region where this type of information is not stored in scientific publications or public archives. We assessed the social perception of the ecosystem services provided by marine angiosperms and inferred the main conflicts between seagrasses and users of the Galician estuaries over the last 160 years. The NW Spanish population perceived four provision and regulation ecosystem services from seagrasses throughout this period. A distinct temporal succession of the ecosystem services supplied by seagrasses and perceived by the Galician society was identified. Provisioning services, such as seagrass harvesting for fertilizer use or textile fiber, prevailed until the first quarter of the 1900s, whereas the perception of the nursery effect of Zostera meadows became dominant since the second half of the 1900s. The conflict between shellfishing and seagrasses was recurrent all through the past 160 years. New conflicts related to dredging, filling and navigation emerged in the present century. A positive perception of seagrasses is progressively growing mainly associated with an increasing importance of news referring to research, dissemination and conservation of seagrass ecosystems. Our results show that the information retrieved from the written press helps building the social-ecological memory of ecosystem services provided by seagrass meadows. The public outreach of local traditions associated with these habitats, dissemination of the services they delivered to previous generations and the diffusion of the interactions between Zostera and contemporary human populations may contribute to modify social perceptions on this ecosystem, providing valuable information for the design and implementation of social awareness programs encouraging seagrass conservation needed for ecosystem-based coastal management.