By Student Delegate Mariah Harrod
This past summer, the Government of Seychelles amended its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to set stronger safeguards for its coastal wetlands. The updated NDC sought protection and restoration for seagrass and mangroves, in particular, committing the archipelago to conserve 50% of these ecosystems by 2025 and 100% by 2030. To measure progress, the country will create a monitoring program and begin mapping seagrass reserves using satellites and field data. Notably, fulfilling these goals depends upon the small island nation’s ability to secure funding from other nations.
Seagrass is currently gaining increasing recognition for its carbon-sequestering ability. These nondescript, submerged plants grow along the coasts of nearly every continent and store carbon through their remarkably long roots. Though these plants compose of under 0.2% of ocean area, they account for 10% of the carbon drawn into the ocean floor and have twice the sequestering potential per hectare as a forest.
Seagrass provides additional ecosystem services beyond climate mitigation. Its extensive root network helps prevent coastal erosion—a constant threat for island nations already losing ground to sea level rise—and filters the water by trapping sediment. Its aboveground vegetation prevents flooding and buffers against waves from weather events worsened by climate change. Seagrass also furnishes habitat for sea turtles, fish, crabs, scallops, and dugongs. Several species that depend upon seagrass are endangered, further highlighting the critical role these plants play globally.
Importantly, the Seychellois people also rely on these ecosystems for economic opportunities. The wildlife inhabiting seagrass patches provide food security and financial support for local communities that may have few—or less desirable—economic opportunities. Compared to charismatic blue carbon plants like mangroves, underwater seagrass has limited ecotourism potential.
Despite the growing acclaim of seagrass in the climate context, these ecosystems continue to be extremely threatened. Some sources estimate that 35% of all seagrass meadows have been destroyed at a rate of about 1.5% per year. These impacts are largely attributed to water pollution from deforestation and dredging. Destruction of seagrass meadows not only removes valuable carbon sequestration—it triggers the release of large stores of buried carbon as the plants decompose. Recent studies indicate that the degradation of seagrass, mangrove, and salt marsh ecosystems produces emissions roughly equivalent to the emissions of the United Kingdom.
The wealth of its benefits—and dangers threatened by its loss—necessitate collective global action to protect seagrass meadows. The Seychelles has become a pioneer on this front, boldly setting ambitious standards for conserving these ecosystems. The nation’s mapping efforts and carbon assessment will lead to new technologies and strategies for combatting climate change globally. Accordingly, developed nations must financially support these projects: not just to extend an olive branch for our negative climate impacts to island nations, but as a blue-green investment for our own futures.