The paper presents the characteristics of surface sediments in a seagrass-dominated environment of the inner shelf of the Pontinian Islands (Tyrrhenian Shelf, Central Mediterranean). The aims of this work are to characterize the carbonate production and sedimentary processes of a representative high-latitude, temperate Posidonia oceanica–dominated area, to discuss the role of seagrass in the siliciclastic–carbonate mixing processes, which provide analogs for interpreting the occurrence and importance of these types of deposits in the rock record.
The majority of sediments are poorly sorted siliciclastic skeletal sand. Based on grain type and abundance and carbonate content, these deposits include six subfacies. The different subfacies reflect environmental changes within the seagrass environment associated with variations in light penetration and hydrodynamic conditions.
Additionally, the seagrass facies range from purely carbonate to mixed carbonate–siliciclastic, depending on the amount of siliciclastic input and on the capacity of seagrasses to trap allochthonous sediments while hosting carbonate-producing biota. The type of substrate and the erosion and transport processes control the siliciclastic input. In these Pontinian seagrass meadows, sedimentary facies contain abundant siliciclastic grains produced by erosion of the volcanic substrate and trapped by seagrass blades and rhizomes. This Pontinian example illustrates that in heterozoan-dominated seagrass settings, mud-producing green algae are not present or are not calcifying, and consequently, seagrass deposits are much more grainy than photozoan counterparts. Ancient heterozoan tropical seagrass deposits likely will be discriminated from their temperate or subtropical counterparts only by careful taxonomic analysis of skeletal grains.