WASHINGTON, February 12, 2014—In March 2007 former Florida Governor Charlie Christ designated the month as Seagrass Awareness month in the state. One may ask why this measure was taken, what seagrass is and why we are writing about it now.
In Florida seagrasses are vital to the ecology of waters for which the state’s multimillion-dollar recreational and commercial fishing industry depends. Seagrasses, however, are not only important to Florida but globally as well. Seagrasses can be found on the coasts of every continent except Antarctica and they are being destroyed at about four times the rate of rainforests. Damage by vessel groundings, propeller scars, anchors dragging, dredging and runoff are wiping out seagrasses at an alarming rate.
Seagrass meadows are one of the world’s most productive and overlooked ecosystems. They are like a renaissance man in the ocean, providing food, habitat and nurseries for many different species such as fish, shellfish, and invertebrates. In fact, a single acre of seagrass can support as many as 40,000 fish. Without the seagrass meadows these species wouldn’t grow and thrive to support commercial and recreational fishing. In fact, its estimated that before Europeans settled America in the 1400s, the number of green turtles supported by seagrass meadows was 15 to 20 times the number and biomass of large hoofed animals in the Serengeti Desert alive today! Seagrass meadows also help prevent shoreline erosion, offer protection from destructive storms, support tourism and food security.
We know that deforestation is a huge threat and greenhouse gas emissions from our cars and factories are on the rise. With that in mind we have to look for alternatives and solutions to fight climate change. One such alternative solution is seagrass. Seagrass meadows are a great carbon sink in the ocean. They can store up to 83,000 metric tons of carbon per square kilometer compared to forests, which store about 30,000 metric tons per square kilometer. They also store carbon for hundreds of thousands of years. The percentage of carbon released due to the loss of seagrass meadows is serious and comparable to that of terrestrial forests. It is estimated that the present rates of seagrass loss now accounts for 8-20% of anthropogenic greenhouse-gas emissions.
The threats to seagrass and the potential it has to help us mitigate climate change and ocean acidification are too vast to ignore.
A solution found in seagrass that most people have already heard of but haven’t applied to the ocean is encouraging payments to support the take up and storage of carbon by conserving seagrass meadows. Such carbon sequestration in the ocean, otherwise known as blue carbon, offsets a carbon footprint through the protection and restoration of seagrass meadows, and is a natural and effective way to combat global climate change. A truly global measure because, as mentioned earlier, seagrasses are found all over the world.
The Ocean Foundation has created a blue carbon calculator that lets you voluntarily and naturally offset your footprint by restoring and protecting seagrass meadows that have been damaged by propeller scars and vessel groundings. Unlike many carbon-offset credits, individuals can actually see what their money is going towards and learn what the results are.
In just a few steps, the blue carbon offset calculator allows you to calculate your annual individual/family carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, or the CO2 emissions from your company/organization. It then calculates the amount of blue carbon necessary to fully offset those emissions (acres of seagrass to be restored or equivalent). Visit www.seagrassgrow.org for more information.
In December 2013 Restore America’s Estuaries submitted “Greenhouse Gas Accounting Methods for Tidal Wetland and Seagrass Restoration” to the Verified Carbon Standard to begin the approval process. With approval this innovative technology will meet the eligibility conditions to calculate net greenhouse gas benefits and receive carbon credits. And the U.S. has established an interagency Federal team to support blue carbon efforts. This is a major step forward in finding solutions to combat climate change and protect our natural resources.
By bringing awareness to the problems facing this vital resource we can help create an understanding out the ways in which seagrass supports us ecologically and economically and inspire change.