Mapping and carbon assessment project will provide the first-ever field validated map and estimate the amount of carbon held within the country’s seagrass meadows.
Seagrass is one of the most important ecosystems on our planet. Occupying less than 0.1 percent of the ocean floor, these marine plants provide essential benefits to both nature and people.
Scientists estimate that one in five of the world’s largest fisheries depend on seagrass for habitat, supporting livelihoods and food security of millions worldwide. In addition, the matted roots of seagrass plants stabilize shorelines during storms, and meadows can help draw down carbon into the underlying sediment, locking it away in place. As a result of these climate benefits, countries are considering the protection and restoration of this ecosystem a nature-based solution to climate change.
The island nation of Seychelles in the Indian Ocean took an ambitious step in its nationally determine contribution (NDC) to the Paris Agreement to protect all its seagrass meadows by 2030. With less than 20% of the world’s seagrass meadows being mapped, the country also made the commitment to map all its seagrass meadows and determine the carbon stored in this ecosystem. To help advance this bold objective, Pew supported a research project led by the University of Oxford in partnership with Seychelles Conservation and Climate Adaption Trust (SeyCCAT), the University of Seychelles, Island Conservation Society, the German Aerospace Agency and others.
The seagrass mapping and carbon assessment project will provide the first-ever field validated map of seagrass and estimate the amount of carbon held within seagrass meadows in Seychelles. This research directly supports the country’s NDC, and importantly, helps strengthen local expertise. While the project faced many challenges due to the ongoing global pandemic, researchers were able to convene a weeklong seagrass workshop under all necessary precautions in October of 2021.
This workshop brought together partners from the community including local researchers, conservation organizations, students from the university, and international institutions. Participants received training in Seychelles’ seagrass species identification, methods to take a soil core, and basic mapping techniques. With this training complete, research partners and members of the community began field work.
To fully map all seagrass meadows, researchers collected satellite imagery of the country’s waters. Since seagrass, algae and coral can all occur in the same area, local field teams also photographed the ocean floor in several locations across the country. These photographs help researchers to distinguish seagrasses from other ocean ecosystems in the satellite images, thereby creating a high accuracy seagrass map. To understand the amount of carbon stored in seagrass sediments, researchers also collected 1m sediment samples across the Seychelles archipelago.
This research project advances the science on seagrass and supports Seychelles in its commitment to protect seagrass as part its NDC. On this Seagrass Awareness Day, we recognize the many researchers, policy makers, communities, and advocates worldwide who are helping to raise awareness of the benefits of seagrass and working to protect this ecosystem within climate response policies such the NDC.