Science

The True Value of Seagrass

Seagrass – the world’s only underwater flowering plant – is not only vital for biodiversity, but also absorbs carbon dioxide, which helps to tackle climate change.

Image credit: Sofia Sadogurska, CC BY 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

There are four species of seagrass in the UK: two species of tasselweeds and two zostera species, commonly known as eelgrass.

The Wildlife Trust

Seagrass is a sensitive plant and in many places is at risk of loss and of degradation.

Researchers at Swansea University in a newly published paper argue for considering the value of seagrasses beyond carbon in the context of the UN Sustainable Development goals

Team lead Dr Richard Unsworth explained:

“With the increasing realisation of the planetary emergency that we face, there is growing interest in using seagrasses as a nature-based solution for greenhouse gas mitigation.

“But if the ecological state of seagrasses remains compromised, then their ability to contribute to nature-based solutions for the climate emergency and biodiversity crisis remains in doubt.

“Seagrasses are of fundamental importance to the planet but compared with terrestrial grasses, and even seaweeds, the body of research within seagrass is magnitudes smaller.

“However, there are substantial ecological, social, and regulatory barriers and bottlenecks to seagrass restoration and conservation because of the scale of the interventions required.

“Now advances in marine robotics, molecular ecology, remote sensing, and artificial intelligence all offer new opportunities to solve conservation problems in difficult environments at unprecedented global scales.

“It is only by looking beyond carbon and recognising the true value of seagrass meadows can we place it on a pathway to net zero loss and ultimately net gain.”

Seagrass meadows in our marine environment can be damaged in many ways including: dredging, coastal developments, sewage discharge, pollution, and non-native species like Spartina anglica and Sargassum muticom

The Wildlife Trust reports that “The UK has lost approximately 90% of its seagrass meadows, half of which has been lost in the past 3 decades.”

Dr Unsworth is a founding director of marine conservation charity Project Seagrass. The charity has been mapping seagrass meadows around Orkney in collaboration with a local scallop diver and researchers at Heriot Watt’s ICIT campus in Stromness.

Click on this link to access the paper: The planetary role of seagrass conservation

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