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Shrinking Sea Meadows Store More Carbon Than Forests, Scientists Are Racing To Track What’s Left

The seagrasses curb the acidity of surrounding waters which is an important function as the ocean absorbs more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and becomes more acidic

Shrinking Sea Meadows Store More Carbon Than Forests. Scientists Are Racing To Track What's Left
Highlights
  • Human activity is destroying seagrasses exponentially
  • How much seagrass we have is unknown: Expert
  • Seagrasses play a large role in regulating ocean environments: Experts

Indian Ocean: Hundreds of miles from the nearest shore, ribbon-like fronds flutter in the ocean currents sweeping across an underwater mountain plateau the size of Switzerland. A remote-powered camera glides through the sunlit, turquoise waters of this corner of the western Indian Ocean, capturing rare footage of what scientists believe is the world’s largest seagrass meadow. Human activity is helping destroy the equivalent of a soccer field of these seagrasses every 30 minutes around the world, according to the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP).

Also Read: Study Links Disease Outbreaks To Deforestation, Forest Conversion And Commercial Palm Plantations

Scientists are now racing to take stock of what remains. Oxford University earth observation scientist Gwilym Rowlands, who is helping the Seychelles government map the island nation’s seagrass and estimate how much carbon it stores said,

There are a lot of unknowns — even things as simple as how much seagrass we have. If you look at the map data for seagrass, there are huge holes.

Seagrasses play a large role in regulating ocean environments, storing more than twice as much carbon from planet-warming carbon dioxide (CO2) per square mile as forests do on land, according to a 2012 study in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Countries that hope to earn credit toward bringing down their CO2 emissions could tally their seagrasses and the carbon they store, a first step toward accrediting carbon offsets for eventual trading on an open market.

The grasses also curb the acidity of surrounding waters — an especially important function as the ocean absorbs more CO2 from the atmosphere and becomes more acidic.

But seagrasses provide some buffer from acidification, which can damage animals’ shells and disrupt fish behaviours. In one study published March 31 in the journal Global Change Biology, scientists at the University of California, Davis, found that seagrasses dotted along the California coast could reduce local acidity by up to 30 per cent for extended periods.

The plants also help clean polluted water, support fisheries, protect coasts from erosion, and trap micro-plastics, said the study’s lead author Aurora Ricart.

What is even cooler is that these habitats are present everywhere, she said.

Also Read: Asia-Pacific Region May Meet Only 9 Of The 104 Targets Of Sustainable Development Goals By 2030: UN Report

Seagrass As Climate Ally

While most seagrasses fringe coastlines around the world, the shallowness of Saya de Malha allows sunlight to filter to the seabed, creating an aquatic prairie in the Indian Ocean that provides shelter, nurseries and feeding grounds for thousands of marine species.

The bank’s isolation has helped protect it from coastal threats, including pollution and dredging. But even such remote stretches of international waters face increasing incursions from shipping and industrial fishing.

In March, scientists from institutions including Britain’s Exeter University travelled with Greenpeace on an expedition to collect some of the first field data on the area’s wildlife, including its little-studied beds of seagrass.

With the boat bobbing for days above the plateau, the researchers gathered bits of grass floating in the water, tweezering them into bottles for analysis back on shore.

Data on seagrass meadows are patchy, but research so far estimates the grasses cover over 300,000 square km (115,000 square miles), distributed across all continents apart from Antarctica, according to UNEP. That would be an area the size of Italy.

It is not yet known how much carbon is locked into Saya de Malha, but globally the tangled roots of seagrasses are estimated to trap over 10 per cent of the carbon buried in ocean sediment per year.

“This has massive implications for the (world’s) climate change mitigation efforts,” said Dimos Traganos, lead scientist on a German Aerospace Center project developing software to improve seagrass tracking using satellite imagery and other data. That effort has been helped by recent advances in cloud computing and data storage, he said. “We are in such an exciting period.”

Also Read: State Of India’s Environment: Our Air, Water, Land Have Become More Polluted Between 2009 And 2018, Says Centre For Science And Environment Study

Seagrass meadows are believed to be retreating around 7 per cent per year globally, according to the most recent seagrass census published in a 2009 study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It notes the estimate was based on incomplete data available at the time.

The more closely studied areas illustrate the harm human activity can cause. Pollution from mining and damage by fisheries may have helped to eliminate 92 per cent of mainland Britain’s seagrasses in over a century, according to a March 4 study in the journal Frontiers in Plant Science.

If still intact, these could have supported around 400 million fish and stored up to 11.5 million tonnes of carbon — equivalent to 3 per cent of Britain’s CO2 emissions in 2017, the study said.

This year, Seychelles began assessing its coastal seagrass carbon stock for the first time, and at least 10 countries have said seagrasses would play a part in their climate action plans, according to UNEP.

Seychelles and Mauritius, which have joint jurisdiction over the Saya de Malha’s seabed, should count up and care for the wealth of seagrass on their shared doorstep, said James Michel, who served 12 years as president of the Seychelles until 2016.

Then we’ll be in a better position to know how to not only preserve it, but also to manage it to ensure that it is protected for the future.

Also Read: World Carbon Dioxide Emissions Drop 7 Per Cent In Pandemic-Hit 2020

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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World

26,78,24,983Cases
22,84,48,447Active
3,40,97,388Recovered
52,79,148Deaths
Coronavirus has spread to 196 countries. The total confirmed cases worldwide are 26,78,24,983 and 52,79,148 have died; 22,84,48,447 are active cases and 3,40,97,388 have recovered as on December 9, 2021 at 3:47 am.

India

3,46,66,241 9,419Cases
94,742 1,009Active
3,40,97,388 8,251Recovered
4,74,111 159Deaths
In India, there are 3,46,66,241 confirmed cases including 4,74,111 deaths. The number of active cases is 94,742 and 3,40,97,388 have recovered as on December 9, 2021 at 2:30 am.

State Details

State Cases Active Recovered Deaths
Maharashtra

66,40,888 893

9,964 157

64,89,720 1,040

1,41,204 10

Kerala

51,78,892 5,038

41,615 887

50,95,263 4,039

42,014 112

Karnataka

29,99,098 399

7,284 155

29,53,565 238

38,249 6

Tamil Nadu

27,32,648 703

7,946 36

26,88,142 728

36,560 11

Andhra Pradesh

20,74,217 181

2,011 3

20,57,749 176

14,457 2

Uttar Pradesh

17,10,502 10

139 7

16,87,452 3

22,911

West Bengal

16,20,803 574

7,576 0

15,93,659 568

19,568 6

Delhi

14,41,514 65

404 28

14,16,010 36

25,100 1

Odisha

10,50,760 255

1,931 11

10,40,403 264

8,426 2

Chhattisgarh

10,07,075 37

341 9

9,93,140 27

13,594 1

Rajasthan

9,54,984 40

236 16

9,45,792 24

8,956

Gujarat

8,27,873 67

417 45

8,17,361 22

10,095

Madhya Pradesh

7,93,288 14

140 1

7,82,619 13

10,529

Haryana

7,71,904 29

223 15

7,61,626 14

10,055

Bihar

7,26,259 9

36 6

7,14,133 3

12,090

Telangana

6,77,546 205

3,871 19

6,69,673 185

4,002 1

Assam

6,18,042 134

2,541 24

6,09,374 158

6,127

Punjab

6,03,578 22

350 0

5,86,614 20

16,614 2

Jharkhand

3,49,383 16

129 7

3,44,113 23

5,141

Uttarakhand

3,44,402 17

192 3

3,36,799 14

7,411

Jammu And Kashmir

3,38,198 151

1,639 38

3,32,070 111

4,489 2

Himachal Pradesh

2,27,753 69

722 14

2,23,174 81

3,857 2

Goa

1,79,307 65

441 37

1,75,478 28

3,388

Mizoram

1,37,377 320

3,049 10

1,33,819 309

509 1

Puducherry

1,29,128 23

230 1

1,27,022 22

1,876

Manipur

1,25,429 23

325 5

1,23,119 28

1,985

Tripura

84,888 14

94 11

83,968 3

826

Meghalaya

84,631 12

240 11

82,916 23

1,475

Chandigarh

65,515 7

67 2

64,628 5

820

Arunachal Pradesh

55,298 3

29 2

54,989 5

280

Sikkim

32,390 8

200 2

31,785 6

405

Nagaland

32,143 1

116 2

31,328 3

699

Ladakh

21,749 14

230 17

21,304 31

215

Dadra And Nagar Haveli

10,683

0 0

10,679

4

Lakshadweep

10,405

11 0

10,343

51

Andaman And Nicobar Islands

7,691 1

3 0

7,559 1

129

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