Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Seagrass Could Play a Major Role in Slowing Climate Change

Climate
Seagrass Could Play a Major Role in Slowing Climate Change
Seagrass is seen here in South Pigeon Creek estuary on San Salvador Island in the Bahamas. James St. John / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 2.0

By Douglas Broom

Its waving fronds carpet the seafloor and shelter thousands of sea creatures. But seagrass is more than a haven for marine wildlife – researchers say it could play a major role in slowing climate change.


Seagrass – also known as eelgrass – covers just 0.2% of the seabed, yet it accounts for 10% of the ocean's capacity to store carbon, according to the United Nations Environment Program. It can capture carbon from the atmosphere 35 times faster than rainforests.

But around the globe, seagrass meadows have declined, and projects like Seagrass Ocean Rescue are working to reverse the trend. The scheme, which is backed by wildlife conservation organization WWF, is seeding coastal waters around the UK to create new seagrass beds.

Underwater Gardening

The UK has lost up to 92% of the seagrass in its coastal waters and estuaries, according to the project. Its work to help restore these meadows involves an "experimental" 20,000 square meter area in Pembrokeshire, South Wales.

There, seagrass seeds are planted on the seafloor in hessian bags, held together on lines of rope. As the hessian degrades, the seeds, collected by divers from underwater meadows in waters off the southern coasts of England and Wales, germinate and establish on the ocean bed.

The goal is to plant 1 million seeds, as well as inspire projects in other areas around the UK.

Volunteers load seagrass seeds ready for planting. Project Seagrass

Planting Pioneers

Seagrass restoration projects have been successful in other parts of the world. In the United States, a team from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science pioneered mechanical planting.

Using a specially adapted boat, the scientists planted seagrass seedlings directly into the seabed in inlets around Chesapeake Bay. They successfully restored seagrass meadows that were destroyed by plant disease and hurricanes in the 1930s.

And restoring the underwater meadows has had another benefit – Bay scallops have been successfully reintroduced to an area where they have been functionally extinct since the 1930s. The Virginia team of underwater farmers are now working with projects in Europe and Australia.

Under Threat

Seagrass meadows are among the world's most threatened ecosystems, and they're rapidly disappearing in many places.

Globally, over a third have been lost in the past 40 years, according to Project Seagrass, the charity behind Seagrass Ocean Rescue. Destructive fishing, pollution and climate change are contributing to this decline, it says.

Scientists say that seagrass has been regarded as the "ugly duckling" of marine conservation, but the growing climate emergency and the need to find new ways to capture and store carbon make its restoration vital. The UN has called it a "secret weapon in the fight against global heating."

Vital Food Source

As well as storing up to 400 kilograms (882 pounds) of carbon per hectare every year, seagrass also helps support sustainable fisheries by providing a home for young fish. One-fifth of the world's biggest fisheries depend on seagrass meadows to act as fish nurseries, Project Seagrass says.

In the UK alone, 50 different species of fish live in or visit seagrass, which is 30 times more sea creatures than nearby habitats. Seagrass also plays a role in stopping coastal erosion.

The World Economic Forum's Ocean Action Agenda calls for urgent action to reverse the decline in ocean health, pointing out that over 100 million households worldwide depend on fishing for their livelihoods and seafood is the primary source of protein for 3 billion people.

Reposted with permission from World Economic Forum.

A couple react as they go through their destroyed mobile home following Hurricane Laura in Lake Charles, Louisiana, on August 27, 2020. ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP / Getty Images

By Mark Hertsgaard and Kyle Pope

In this autumn of horrific fires and deadly floods, it's easy to overlook one bit of promising news on the climate front: Some major U.S. media coverage of the crisis is finally getting better.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Since April 2020, farmer support for Trump has fallen from 89 percent to 71 percent, according to an August 2020 survey by DTN/The Progressive Farmer. Steve Smith / Getty Imagess

By Leanna First-Arai

In a push to capture the rural vote, 62 percent of which went to Trump in 2016, both the Trump and Biden campaigns are ramping up efforts to appeal to farmers and ranchers.

Read More Show Less

Trending

An electric car at an eVgo charging station in a parking lot in Dublin, California on June 20, 2018. Smith Collection / Gado / Getty Images

California Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order Wednesday that would ban the sale of new cars in California that run only on gasoline by the year 2035. The bid to reduce emissions and combat the climate crisis would make California the first state to ban the sale of new cars with internal combustion engines, according to POLITICO.

Read More Show Less

A "trash tsunami" has washed ashore on the beaches of Honduras, endangering both wildlife and the local economy.

Read More Show Less
Long-finned pilot whales are seen during a 1998 stranding in Marion Bay in Tasmania, Australia. Auscape / Universal Images Group / Getty Images

More long-finned pilot whales were found stranded today on beaches in Tasmania, Australia. About 500 whales have become stranded, including at least 380 that have died, the AP reported. It is the largest mass stranding in Australia's recorded history.

Read More Show Less

Support Ecowatch