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Seagrass meadows: the marine powerhouses

Seagrass meadows are among the world’s least known ecosystems. Yet these underwater gardens are crucial to our survival — they are among the most important blue carbon reservoirs on the planet.

Along with rainforests, mangroves, and coral reefs, seagrass meadows have also managed to catch the scientific community’s attention as the effects of extreme climatic events, human activities and invasive species (among others) take their toll on these little-known ecosystems.

While covering approximately 0.1% of the Earth's seafloor, seagrass meadows support a wide range of biodiversity (including endemic and endangered species), stabilize sediment, filter water, provide coastal protection, produce more oxygen than rainforests, and form the basis of the world’s primary fishing grounds. Seagrass beds supply 50% of the world’s fisheries, an essential income, and nutrition source for millions of people around the world. They are also one of the largest blue carbon stocks on Earth; being capable of capturing up to 83 million metric tons of carbon each year (the equivalent to the carbon emitted by approximately 61 million passenger cars in a year). Seagrass meadows play a vital role in mitigating climate change and stabilizing the carbon cycle. In recognition of this, the historic United Nations Paris  Agreement of 2015 emphasizes the critical importance of conserving seagrasses and other Blue Carbon ecosystems.

Despite all this, seagrass coverage is being lost globally at a rate of 1.5 % per year. It's estimated that 35% of the world’s seagrass has already been lost. Seagrasses are capable of quickly adapting to naturally changing environmental conditions such as storms and animal disturbance (i.e grazing), but are vulnerable to the direct and indirect effects of human activities which account for most losses in recent decades. When seagrass meadows are damaged stored carbon dioxide re-enters the atmosphere. Seagrasses are now considered flagship species due to their quick response to anthropogenic changes, which provide insights into overfishing, destructive fishing practices, pollution, and other threats.

Conserving and rehabilitating seagrasses is key, and the correct ecosystem management and protection can easily go hand in hand with development. There are, in fact, a growing number of initiatives around the globe with goals aiming towards providing knowledge and mapping support, ensuring seagrass bed restoration, and seeking policy-based solutions to better protect them. Moreover, several options for the sustainable use of seagrass meadow zones exist, such as ecotourism or the sustainable production of food (fish and other natural sea products).

Recognizing these underwater ecosystems for their uniqueness, as well as for the many benefits they deliver is paramount. Saving them requires that we learn to appreciate them, no more should they ever be thought of as ´just a patch of grass´

To know more about seagrass beds, learn what’s been done to save them or get involved, follow events such as the World Seagrass Conference or visit the World Seagrass Association and the Project Seagrass websites.

 

 

Written by: Clara Gómez

Style and format: Lila García y Clara Gómez

Provita Aug 29, 2018

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