Thinking about sea grass may bring up unpleasant memories of brushing up against the slimy sea plants while swimming in the ocean. However, the green meadows extending across the ocean floor are responsible for helping regulate the world’s climate. Seagrass serves an important function for ocean systems and holds a key to restoring and preserving vital ecosystems.
There are many unknowns about the amount of ocean floor that is covered by sea grass. Current data mapping is patchy and science has not been able to keep up with the changes in sea meadow sizes across the globe. However, we know that seagrasses play an integral role in regulating the ocean and land climate.
According to a 2012 study published by Nature Geoscience, seagrass stores “more than twice as much carbon from planet-warming carbon dioxide (CO2) per square mile as forests do on land”. Data gathered in March of 2021 found that seagrass covers about 115,000 square miles in the ocean. Much like deforestation and habitat loss on land, seagrass expanses in the ocean are being destroyed at an alarming rate. According to the U.N. Environment Programme, an equivalent to a soccer field of ocean seagrasses is destroyed every 30 minutes, which is a 7 percent reduction annually.
Seagrass serves as a buffer against ocean acidification and “help(s) clean polluted water, support fisheries, protect coasts from erosion, and trap microplastics”. In the semi-shallow, sun-filled waters of the Indian Ocean, what is believed to be the largest sea meadow in the world serves as a nursery, feeding ground, and place of protection for thousands of marine species. These remote waters have thus far been relatively undisturbed by industrial fishing, shipping, pollution, and dredging, but areas in unprotected international waters are under increasing threat.
With more research going into seagrass’ role in the ocean system, countries are becoming more aware of the obligation they have to protect and preserve these crucial ecosystems. 10 countries have already indicated that seagrasses would be a part of their climate action plans. By using the regulatory tools that nature already provides, like seagrass, countries can start to resolve ocean climate issues such as the trapping of microplastics, reduction of ocean acidification, and fostering the next generation of aquatic life. The more we know about these under-the-sea prairies, the better suited we will be to protect them.
Political leaders, on both federal and state levels, should know about the important benefits of protecting seagrass. Reaching out to your local representatives to alert them about the importance of protecting seagrass is a step that can be taken to help ensure the preservation of this delicate plant responsible for maintaining many delicate ecosystems.