Dr Benjamin Jones, Chief Conservation Officer at Project Seagrass has started his two-year term as President of the World Seagrass Association (WSA). He steps up to the role having been elected at the WSA Annual General Meeting (AGM) in December 2022. Prior to this he’s served on the WSA Steering Committee for a number of years.
“I’m so thrilled to take on this challenge alongside the management committee consisting of Vice President Emma Jackson, Treasurer Yi Mei Tan and Secretary Len McKenzie, as well as the Steering Committee who will share collective responsibilities in determining and delivering the strategic direction of the association and providing oversight,” says Ben.
Four years of achievement
Outgoing president, Dr Jessie Jarvis of the University of North Carolina Wilmington, brought her term to a close with the Associations AGM in December.
“I have had the privilege of serving as the WSA president during a time of unprecedented change and uncertainty,” said Jessie. “The challenges we faced as a global community during the pandemic were only eclipsed by the overwhelmingly creative ways that our membership worked together to continue the WSA mission. Some highlights of our achievements over the last four years include supporting Sri Lanka and their global partners to have World Seagrass Day officially recognized by the UN, introducing a seminar series while also providing a new way for members to connect, and working with the ISBW Organizing Committee to ensure that not only ISBW 14 but future ISBW meetings, continue to bring us together.”
During Jessie’s presidency the Association has:
- Endorsed and contributed to the report, Out of the Blue: The Value of Seagrasses to the Environment and to People, released by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) together with GRID-Arendal and UNEP’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC).
- Launched the WSA Seagrass Seminar Series in response to the COVID-19 Pandemic, assembling eight researchers from across the globe to deliver 5 different talks and panel discussions from seagrass communication to ocean acidification.
- Welcomed and supported the decision of the UN General Assembly to adopt a resolution from the government of Sri Lanka to recognise March 1st as World Seagrass Day.
- Supported the 14th International Seagrass Biology Workshop & 2022 World Seagrass Conference in Annapolis, MD, USA, the theme of which was “Signs of Success: Reversing the Course of Degradation.”
- Provided financial support to 10 students in order to attend ISBW14.
- Achieved a 12% growth in membership numbers.
A presidential vision
Ben is looking to start his presidency on the front foot. “As part of the steering committee for many years, I’ve seen what a well-run ship the WSA is and how much it can achieve. Just look at the last four years,” he says. “I’ve also realised how quickly the years pass, so if I’m to have a contribution, it’s vital that I have a vision early on.”
Ben is determined that the seagrass community steps up and plays a full role in efforts to combat the biodiversity and climate crisis.
“The current decade will be transformative, it needs to be,” he says. “There is now broad awareness across society of the desperate need to halt the decline in nature, and seagrass in particular. We have political will and businesses wishing to participate. For probably the first time, seagrass is now up there with coral reefs and forests in public perception. We currently sit within the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration and the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, and as a membership we need to build on the momentum achieved in the past four years and do our part to support these global movements.”
However, while there is now more will to protect nature and more resources available, experience of achieving seagrass conservation and restoration at scale is limited. Ben believes that this is where the members of the WSA must play their part. “We need ambitious plans, and they must be socially- and ecology-informed and evidence-rich. They need to be science backed” he says.
Amplifying voices and providing a platform for new growth
Ben wants to work to amplify underrepresented voices within the seagrass science, conservation, restoration, and management community, as well as continue with efforts to develop the WSA as the expert voice for seagrass.
“We need work to make WSA more inclusive and relevant for its membership, particularly students, to foster a stronger community and continue to raise the profile of seagrass science to meet ever increasing societal and environmental challenges,” he says. “I’d also like to explore opportunities for supporting global seagrass science, conservation and restoration through a small grants scheme for students and young professionals,” he says. “We must endeavour to give individuals from under-represented groups opportunities. In that sense, I see the WSA like a gym, the more effort we put in as a community, the more rewards we’ll see and a community.”