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Seagrass is of "fundamental importance" to Earth's future

Scientists have long known that seagrass – the only underwater flowering plant on Earth – is not only vital for biodiversity, but also absorbs carbon dioxide, making it a valuable ally in the fight against climate change. However, by considering the value of seagrass beyond carbon removal in the context of the UN Sustainable Development goals, a team of researchers led by Swansea University has found that, in fact, conserving and restoring seagrass meadows could actually contribute to achieving 16 out of the 17 goals. 

“With the increasing realization of the planetary emergency that we face, there is growing interest in using seagrasses as a nature-based solution for greenhouse gas mitigation,” said study lead author Richard Unsworth, an associate professor of Biosciences at the Swansea University and the founding director of the marine conservation charity Project Seagrass. “But if the ecological state of seagrasses remains compromised, then their ability to contribute to nature-based solutions for the climate emergency and biodiversity crisis remains in doubt.”

Since seagrass sensitivity to environmental stressors is acute, the risk of seagrass degradation and loss persists in many regions around the globe. Thus, fundamentally rethinking the conservation of this valuable natural resource is critical to understanding and safeguarding their part in fighting our planetary emergencies.

“Seagrasses are of fundamental importance to the planet but compared with terrestrial grasses, and even seaweeds, the body of research within seagrass is magnitudes smaller,” said Professor Unsworth. “However, there are substantial ecological, social, and regulatory barriers and bottlenecks to seagrass restoration and conservation because of the scale of the interventions required.”

“Now advances in marine robotics, molecular ecology, remote sensing, and artificial intelligence all offer new opportunities to solve conservation problems in difficult environments at unprecedented global scales. It is only by looking beyond carbon and recognizing the true value of seagrass meadows can we place it on a pathway to net zero loss and ultimately net gain,” he concluded.

The study is published in the journal Science.

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer  

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