Continuing from our theme of last week on the Mangroves, this week’s topic is all about Seagrass!
What is Seagrass exactly?
Well, unlike seaweed, which they are often mistaken for, seagrass are actually flowering plants, like those found on land, with distinct roots, stem and leaves and that grow in shallow, sheltered areas of the coast. There are about 72 known species of Seagrass across the globe. Seaweeds, on the other hand, are much simpler organisms, comprising only of multi-cellular algae, of which there are approximately 11,000 known species.
Seagrass beds are incredibly valuable eco-systems, both for the ecosystem, and for humans alike! In fact, 1 hectare of seagrass is worth about $40,000 per year!
What makes Seagrass so important?
The diversity of seagrass beds is huge. For those who are fascinated by the elusive seahorse, you probably have the best chance to spy this rare creature in the seagrass beds, as the leaves of the seagrass are home to many different animals; 1 hectare of seagrass can support as many as 80,000 fish and 100 million invertebrates!
Seagrass is also primary source of food for the beloved Green Turtle (listed as Endangered under the IUCN) – the average adult eats 2kg of this per day! These beds are also a habitat for Hawksbill Turtles (listed as Critically Endangered under the IUCN). Echinoderms, small fish, crustaceans, and sea cucumbers also use this habitat as a food source, which are then grazed on by other commercially important fish e.g. whiting, prawns and other fish which humans then eat, and a nursery ground for fish species (vital for some life cycles). Seagrass beds have been found to be even more productive when adjacent to mangroves and coral reefs.
But for us humans, seagrass beds go beyond just providing us with a source of food, by also protecting our infrastructure against storm and wave damage. This is because the leaves of seagrass meadows slow down currents and wave energy. On top of this, seagrass roots stablise the sediments, holding the sand ‘together’, and preventing it from being ‘kicked up’ by storms.
Another surprising fact about seagrass, is that if you love the beautiful blue waters of the lagoon, you may be surprised to learn that as the water flows over seagrass, it will slow, and the sediment (sand) in the water will sink, leading to increased water quality, which makes the lagoon waters clear! This will also increase sand levels in the lagoon, meaning that the seabed can keep up with sea level rise over time.
One of the most important qualities of seagrass however, is its role in the fight against climate change. Like all other plants, sea grass provides a continuous supply of oxygen, and therefore acts as a sink for carbon dioxide. In fact, just 1 hectare of sea grass can produce 100,000 litres of oxygen per day… This is 35 times more CO2 absorbed per hectare than a pristine hectare of amazon rainforest!
So there you have it! Seagrass meadows have a long list of benefits for the environment, the resort and the human population. We are incredibly lucky that Soneva Jani is home to this unique ecosystem!
Be sure to check in next week for the last (but not least!) installment, which will discuss the importance of Coral Reefs.
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