SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt—The Pew Charitable Trusts today committed to a broad, multilateral effort to map seagrass in the Indian Ocean with field verification in specific countries.
In addition to Pew, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, Minderoo Foundation, Oceankind, and Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Vibrant Oceans Initiative are providing technical and financial support for the initiative.
“Seagrass is a critical ecosystem for biodiversity, people, and climate,” said Simon Reddy, director of Pew’s protecting coastal wetlands and coral reefs project. “Mapping seagrass is a fundamental step in recognizing the benefits that can be included within climate strategies such as nationally determined contributions to the Paris Agreement.”
Seagrasses are one of the most important, yet undervalued, ecosystems on the planet. These essential habitats support global marine biodiversity, including commercially and recreationally important fish species—1 in 5 of the world’s largest fisheries depend on seagrass habitat—and deliver benefits central to the daily lives of coastal communities, such as water filtration and shoreline defense. Seagrass meadows are also highly efficient at storing carbon, which makes them one of only three “blue carbon” ecosystems (along with mangroves and salt marshes) recognized by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for the measurable contribution they can make to countries’ emission reduction goals.
The array of climate adaptation, mitigation, and resilience benefits that seagrass provides means that countries may include commitments to protect, conserve, and restore seagrass in their national climate strategies.
But the addition of seagrass to climate response policies has been hindered by a lack of standardized data regarding seagrass coverage. Only about 20% of global seagrass has been mapped, according to scientific estimates, and, in many areas, such as the Indian Ocean, the figure is far lower. This absence of a standardized map also significantly limits protection and sustainable management of seagrass habitats—a fact reflected in global estimates indicating that a third of the world’s seagrass may have already been lost since the 19th century.
Fortunately, opportunities to map seagrasses with greater accuracy have been increasing, thanks to cloud computing technology and higher resolution images from satellites deployed alongside in-country field verification and capacity building. Seychelles, an island nation in East Africa with extensive seagrass meadows, was one of the first countries to apply this approach—mapping seagrasses throughout its entire 1.3 million-square-kilometer exclusive economic zone. The resulting data will help Seychelles implement its ambitious plans to protect seagrass as a nature-based solution laid out in its updated nationally determined contribution (NDC) to the Paris Agreement, the landmark international treaty that came out of the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference.
The new mapping initiative will seek to scale this approach throughout the entire Indian Ocean to support stronger protection and management of seagrass ecosystems. The project aims to develop a standardized map of seagrass habitats throughout the Indian Ocean by 2025 and will support regional capacity building and locally led in-country field verification in several nations across the western Indian Ocean.
The project’s eventual high-accuracy map will help enable countries to include seagrass in their NDCs and raise the profile of seagrass regionally as a tool in helping communities adapt to a changing climate.
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