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According to a 2020 U.N. environmental report, seagrass “prairies” play a massive role in the health of the world’s oceans and if nothing is done to stop their decline, the world will face serious consequences.
Seagrasses support rich biodiversity that sustains a whopping 20% of the world’s fisheries, and protects shallow-water sea beds from erosion, protecting coastlines from storm damage. Experts say this long-overlooked ecological powerhouse can help us solve our biggest environmental challenges.
Why This Matters: Oceans serve as the world’s largest carbon sinks, but due to rising temperatures, they are losing their ability to remove carbon from the atmosphere. We rely on oceans to absorb over 30% of the carbon in the atmosphere each year. Other major carbon sinks around the world are also at risk, most notably perhaps the Amazon rainforest, which has suffered unprecedented forest fires and unceasing development in recent years. Without these crucial carbon sinks, atmospheric CO2 levels will accelerate further.
Seagrass plays a massive role in the carbon lifecycle of oceans, and it is declining due to a variety of ecological stressors, primarily caused by human activity. The report cites “urban, industrial and agricultural run-off, coastal development, dredging, unregulated fishing and boating activities, and climate change” as primary threats to the world’s 72 seagrass species, 22 of which are in decline. Almost 30% of global seagrass area has been lost in the last since the late 1800s. Experts estimate that the loss of seagrass releases 299 Tg (over 659 billion pounds) of carbon to the atmosphere per year.
Deep-Sea Frontiers: Seagrass is one of the most widespread coastal habitats on the planet, existing in 159 countries and 6 continents, ranging from subarctic to tropical latitudes.
Around 300,000 square kilometers of seagrass has been mapped worldwide and experts expect there is much more to be discovered.
The U.N. Environmental Programme reports that seagrass plays a crucial role in “supporting food security, mitigating climate change, enriching biodiversity, purifying water, protecting coastlines and controlling diseases.”
Experts worry that seagrass has been overshadowed by other marine ecosystems, which are also in severe decline, despite how connected they are to seagrass. Seagrasses are among the least protected coastal ecosystems in the world. Ronald Jumeau, a United Nations representative from the Republic of Seychelles calls them “the forgotten ecosystem.” “Swaying gently beneath the surface of the ocean, seagrasses are too often out of sight and out of mind, overshadowed by colorful coral reefs and mighty mangroves,” he said.
The report calls for urgent action to preserve and manage seagrass. Conservationists call for a top-down approach, asserting international programs like the Paris Agreement as well as local, collaborative community programs are essential to the future of seagrass. The report asks that countries invest in scientific and policy research into seagrasses, make concrete plans for the protection of seagrasses, and boost public awareness of these at-risk ecosystems.
A new paper released by the World Resources Institute (WRI) in collaboration with seven other environmental organizations outlines the ways that the ocean, often thought of as a victim of climate change, can be utilized to best combat global rising temperatures.
Why This Matters: We’ve written a lot about how the sea level is rising, and the ocean is warming, fueling stronger storm systems, and declines in biodiversity.
One of our nation’s best-kept secrets is that we have national parks in the ocean — not right offshore — but out in the blue. And yesterday, one of them was tripled in size after years of work by non-profits, the Texas and Tennessee Aquariums, and the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, that supports these blue […]
New York state selected Norwegian energy giant Equinor to build and supply clean energy from two offshore wind facilities in one of the largest renewable energy deals ever in the United States, according to Reuters.
Why This Matters: Offshore wind projects are a highly anticipated source of clean, renewable energy — but have been hard to get off the ground so far.
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