Seagrasses are marine angiosperms widely distributed in both tropical and temperate coastal waters creating one of the most productive aquatic ecosystems on earth. In the Western Indian Ocean (WIO) region, with its 13 reported seagrass species, these ecosystems cover wide areas of near-shore soft bottoms through the 12 000 km coastline. Seagrass beds are found intertidally as well as subtidally, sometimes down to about 40 m, and do often occur in close connection to coral reefs and mangroves. Due to the high primary production and a complex habitat structure, seagrass beds support a variety of benthic, demersal and pelagic organisms. Many fish and shellfish species, including those of commercial interest, are attracted to seagrass habitats for foraging and shelter, especially during their juvenile life stages. Examples of abundant and widespread fish species associated to seagrass beds in the WIO belong to the families Apogonidae, Blenniidae, Centriscidae, Gerreidae, Gobiidae, Labridae, Lethrinidae Lutjanidae, Monacanthidae, Scaridae, Scorpaenidae, Siganidae, Syngnathidae and Teraponidae. Consequently, seagrass ecosystems in the WIO are valuable resources for fisheries at both local and regional scales. Still, seagrass research in the WIO is scarce compared to other regions and it is mainly focusing on botanic diversity and ecology. This article reviews the research status of seagrass beds in the WIO with particular emphasis on fish and fisheries. Most research on this topic has been conducted along the East African coast, i.e. in Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and eastern South Africa, while less research was carried out in Somalia and the Island States of the WIO (Seychelles, Comoros, Reunion (France), Mauritius and Madagascar). Published papers on seagrass fish ecology in the region are few and mainly descriptive. Hence, there is a need of more scientific knowledge in the form of describing patterns and processes through both field and experimental work. Quantitative seagrass fish community studies in the WIO such as the case study presented in this paper are negligible, but necessitated for the perspective of fisheries management. It is also highlighted that the pressure on seagrass beds in the region is increasing due to growing coastal populations and human disturbance from e.g. pollution, eutrophication, sedimentation, fishing activities and collection of invertebrates, and its effect are little understood. Thus, there is a demand for more research that will generate information useful for sustainable management of seagrass ecosystems in the WIO.
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