Seagrass: An Unlikely, Powerful, but Threatened Ecological Resource

Nithin Coca IMPACT MILL CONTRIBUTOR
Seagrass

Did you know that underwater seagrass meadows are the rainforests of the seas? In fact, they play a similar role to the Amazon by forming major carbon sinks and homes for countless creatures under water. Unfortunately, seagrass meadows, like our rainforests, are also becoming increasingly threatened.

Approximately 2-7% of seagrass meadows and coastal wetlands are being lost annually. That’s a huge percentage, and if this continues, it could devastate not only the ocean but coastal economies as well.

But there’s also good news. If we take action now, we can help save seagrass and ensure its massive benefits remain intact.

Seagrass Matters

According to the Ocean Foundation, an acre of seagrass can support up to 40,000 fish and 50 million small animals like crabs, oysters, and mussels. Those are, of course, popular seafood items, which is why they also estimate that $1 invested in seagrass restoration can have an ROI of $15.

And the climate impact? Even more dramatic. Seagrass sucks up huge amounts of carbon, about 35 times more than tropical forests do. They are a crucial part of the carbon cycle, underscoring the role of oceans – which make up nearly 70% of the Earth’s surface – in climate systems.

In fact, the main reason we haven’t seen runaway planetary destruction from greenhouse gasses is because of oceans. The ocean has worked overtime to suck up a large chunk of the excess carbon we’re spouting into the atmosphere, and seagrass plays a major role.

What exactly is damaging seagrass?

Humans are seagrass’s main enemy, due to rampant coastal development and shipping routes in sensitive areas. Propellers and other mechanical equipment can literally rip seagrass from the ocean floor, permanently damaging ecosystems.

Coral Bleaching

Coral bleaching is one of the most visual effects of ocean acidification | image: Oregon State University/Flickr

Unfortunately, there are signs that the impacts of this devastation are already affecting the climate. Remember how the oceans were sucking up more carbon from the air? That may not be happening anymore, which is a problem in a world where ice caps are melting more rapidly every day.

Moreover, there is the growing problem of ocean acidification, where ocean water becomes more acidic from absorbing greenhouse gasses like CO2. Seagrass helps fight acidification by taking CO2 out of the water and storing it underground, helping restore the balance.

What Can We Do?

We need seagrass to put more carbon underground, instead of in the air or water. That’s why the Ocean Foundation launched its #onebladeofgrass campaign to raise awareness for the crucial importance of seagrass and educate people on how to protect it. Simple steps like boating away from seagrass, keeping chemicals out of the ocean, and planting seagrass are great ways you can help protect this vital resource.

Together, we can protect seagrass and improve the ocean’s ability to combat climate change. By creating healthier coastlines and a cleaner environment, it’s obvious that protecting seagrass is a win for everyone.

Nithin is an eecosphere Impact Mill and freelance writer who focuses on cultural, economic, and environmental issues in developing countries with an aim at building channels of communication and collaboration around common challenges. He alternates between a home in California and working on social projects in Africa and Asia.