Project Seagrass

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“The downward trajectory of the world’s seagrass meadows must be reversed if we are to fight the planetary crisis” say leading seagrass scientists.

School of fish in the seagrass, Komodo, Indonesia. (Credit: Matt Curnock / Ocean Image Bank)

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals have recently been described as “the most important to-do list in the history of humankind”. Scientists from Project Seagrass and Swansea University have this week published a unique review that demonstrates how this “To-Do List” of Sustainable Development Goals provides a blueprint for achieving the net recovery of seagrass ecosystems. Conserving and restoring seagrass meadows contributes to achieving 16 out of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Recognising this wide role of seagrass meadows in helping achieve humanity’s ‘to-do list’ and thinking beyond their value in carbon sequestration and storage is critical to achieving the recovery of these degraded ecosystems.

The call for urgent action comes after a review into the status of seagrass ecosystems and the major ecological role that they play in the coastal environment published in the leading academic journal Science and written by experts at the marine conservation charity Project Seagrass and Swansea University. Seagrass meadows are being increasingly looked to as a climate solution. However, seagrass ecosystems are sensitive to stressors and remain threatened across the globe. These degraded seagrass ecosystems are less effective at supporting biodiversity and tackling climate change.

The authors state “Society needs to create meaningful pathways to net gain at local to global scales. Bold steps are needed through improved legal instruments to halt damaging factors such as bottom trawling, prevent use of damaging boating activities and to apportion responsibility for poor water quality that is causing the slow death of seagrass globally”.

Seagrass ecosystems are well recognised for the carbon stored in their sediments, such as in this Posidonia oceanica meadow in the Mediterranean but they should be recognised for a range of things beyond carbon storage (Credit: Dimitris Poursanidis / Ocean Image Bank)

By recognising that seagrass meadows contribute to finding solutions to global problems such as food insecurity, water quality, wellbeing and gender equality, as well as the more well known issue such as biodiversity loss and climate change there becomes a more holistic view as to the benefits of taking large cumulative levels of action at local, regional and global scales. We need local and regional authorities to create a baseline of where seagrasses are now, where they used to be and where in the future they could be allowed to recover and be restored to get seagrass on the path to recovery. This needs to occur within the next decade if we are to fight climate change, to fight the biodiversity crisis, protect our coastlines and maintain global food security.

Richard Unsworth (lead author) said “The world needs to rethink the management of our coastal environment that includes realistic compensation and mitigation schemes that not only prevent damage, but also drive the restoration, enhancement and creation of seagrass habitat. We also need a major shift in how we perceive the status of our marine environment by examining historical information, not just recent ecological baselines”.

Ben Jones, a fellow author of the study added, “It is vital to work collaboratively as it is only through utilising scientific environmental studies and working as cogs in a global partnership for seagrass that meaningful change can happen”.

Seagrass conservation faces substantial ecological, social and regulatory barriers and requires strong cross-sectoral partnerships to be put on the path to recovery. Identifying the solutions to seagrass conservation and restoration has never been more urgent and is critical to fight the planetary emergency. This can be achieved by using the Sustainable Development Goals as a blueprint towards recovery.

Read the paper here.