A new project has been initiated to map seagrass meadows in the Indian Ocean, as it is one of the world’s most powerful natural carbon sinks.
The study will allow participating countries to enforce measures designed to protect seagrass populations, as they have been found to store roughly 10% of the organic carbon found in the ocean and are a significantly more powerful carbon sink than land forests.
Seagrass is also crucial for the surrounding environment, as it acts as a nursery for fish and is a source of food for various animal species, ranging from dugongs to sea turtles.
The project is set to continue until 2025, by which time it will aim to have located and mapped all seagrass habitats in the Indian Ocean.
Estimates say that we have only mapped roughly 20% of seagrass meadows globally, but in areas such as the Indian Ocean that figure is noticeably lower.
Seagrass habitats have been shrinking at an alarming rate of about 7% per year, with the main threats coming from farming and industrial run-off, dredging, unregulated fishing, climate change and coastal development, according to data from the United Nations Environment Program.
The study co-led by the Pew Charitable Trusts is also receiving support from other organizations like Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Vibrant Oceans Initiative, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the Minderoo Foundation.
But the mapping initiative is not the only program launched recently to study seagrass habitats and their potential as carbon sinks.
Alphabet X’s project Tidal that is dedicated to providing a better understanding of underwater ecosystems has been particularly focused on seagrass due to its rapid growth and ability to store vast amounts of CO2.
As reported by James Temple in MIT Technology Review, with the help of advanced models and algorithms, Tidal is hoping to transform seagrass maps into reliable estimates of the carbon held beneath them.