Seagrass, a key to restore the oceans

A research team from University of Virginia is running the largest seagrass restoration project in the world, in the coastal bays of Virginia. The two-decade-long project is a “blueprint for restoring and maintaining healthy ecosystems,” according to a 2020 research paper, and proof that marine habitats can be brought back to life in a way that is self-sustaining. 

In the 1930s, a wasting disease swept along the United States east coast, wiping out huge swaths of eelgrass. Where Virginia’s coastal bays used to be carpeted in this species of seagrass, suddenly they were barren. But that changed in the late 1990s with the discovery of some small patches of seagrass in the bay, the existence of which proved that conditions could once again support the plants, and in 2001, the research team started an effort to physically rebuild the ocean ecosystem, seed by seed.

Over the last 20 years, supported by an army of volunteers, the project team has sown more than 70 million seeds. Around 36 mil km² of coastal bays are now blanketed with eelgrass, which has improved water quality, increased marine biodiversity, and helped mitigate climate change by capturing and storing carbon.

Despite covering less than 0.2 percent of the ocean, seagrass is responsible for about 10 percent of the ocean’s ability to store carbon. It provides a vital habitat for marine life, boosts commercial fishing, helps purify water, protects coastlines and even traps and stores microplastics

The next phase of the project is to see if they can convert the carbon stored in the seagrass meadows into carbon credits to raise money for further restoration. The project is in the process of registering with Verra, a leading certifier of carbon credits. If successful, it will be the world’s first verified seagrass carbon offset program.

Source: Reasons to be Cheerful