An ocean plant in Seychelles, a small island country in the Indian Ocean, offers something that could help mitigate climate change.
Seychelles’ shallow beaches hold vast seagrass meadows or seagrass beds. These seagrasses can rapidly capture atmospheric carbon- 35 times more quickly than rainforests. And if protected and left alone, the carbon they have captured can stay under the seafloor for thousands of years.
According to the UNEP, seagrass also accounts for 10% of the ocean’s capacity to store carbon, knowns as “blue carbon”, while only consisting of 0.2% of the ocean’s floor, revealing its great potential in fighting climate change.
However, developments and reclamation of coastal areas threaten to wipe out seagrass beds.
Besides a seabed’s ability to act as an effective carbon sink, it offers multiple environmental benefits. It acts as a barrier to rising ocean levels and harsh weather due to climate change and promotes biodiversity. It also acts as a nursery and food source for a wide variety of marine life, provides a home for fish and marine animals, and filters the ocean waters by soaking up pollution from land.
But according to the BBC article, US researchers find that the total amount of seagrass is declining, which makes them at risk for extinction (Buyoya, 2022).
At COP27 in Egypt last year, there were calls from activists and international bodies for a greater push to protect and use these nature-based solutions to tackle climate change.
As a small island country comprising 115 low-lying islands, Seychelles is highly vulnerable to climate change. But a solution to tackle climate change is also abundant in this place. The article notes that the Seychelles government has committed to protecting half of its seagrasses and mangroves by 2023 and 100% by 2023.
The country is also conducting a study to know the amount of carbon their seagrass meadows are capturing.
Jerome Harlay, a lead environmental scientist on the project, says, “We would like to understand how much carbon was stored in the seagrass over the last few years in order to inform the government who want to determine how much carbon content is in those seagrass around the Seychelles”.
“We would like to use these numbers as mitigation to climate change. How much carbon they can remove from the atmosphere, compared to what our human activity is adding”, Harlay adds.
The article notes that knowing their carbon stocks will allow Seychelles to trade this with other counties that want to offset their carbon emissions.
Aware of the seagrass’s ability to combat climate change, the government is raising public awareness about these ocean plants’ many benefits.
Long life but slow growing
Client Earth says that the seagrass’s long life is partly due to its ability to clone itself (How does seagrass, 2021).
A study by the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia found a clone of seagrass that was produced from a seed that sprouted 200,000 years ago.
But its long life comes with slow growth, and in many parts of the world, its slow growth means that it is not fast enough to address the damage caused by human activities and climate change. For example, the article says that a single boat’s damage to a seagrass meadow when its anchor tears through it will take nearly a thousand years to restore.
Fortunately, according to UNEP, seagrass restoration efforts are happening in some countries like the United States, Sweden, and the United Kingdom (Seagrass—secret weapon, 2019).
Although restoration is quite expensive and tricky, evidence shows that the bigger the project is, the greater chances for success.
Watch a video about the seagrass ocean rescue from Swansea University:
Buyoya, D. (2022, December 9). How Seychelles ocean plants could help tackle climate change. BBC. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-63901644
How does seagrass help fight climate change. (2021, July 2). Client Earth. Retrieved from https://www.clientearth.org/latest/latest-updates/news/how-does-seagrass-help-fight-climate-change/
Seagrass—secret weapon in the fight against global heating. (2019, November 1). UNEP. Retrieved from https://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/story/seagrass-secret-weapon-fight-against-global-heating
Seagrass Ocean Rescue. (2019, September 4). Swansea University. [videofile]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=saVjUKW45T4