Seagrasses are marine flowering plants found in shallow waters from the tropics to the Arctic Circle, occupying more than 300,000 square miles of the ocean floor.
While not as colorful as coral reefs, or as mysterious as mangrove forests, they offer a wealth of benefits to humans and marine life.
‘Blue forest’ benefits
Seagrass meadows – often referred to as a kind of “blue forest” – provide food and shelter for thousands of fish speciesseahorses, turtles and other marine life, supporting some of the world’s largest fisheries.
Non-marine species, including some geese and ducks, also depend on them, as they graze on eelgrass during their fall migration.
Seagrasses improve water quality by filtering, cycling and storing nutrients and pollutants, reducing contamination in seafood. As part of the marine ecosystem, they store up to 18 percent of the world’s oceanic carbon.
Nature in harmony
They also reduce wave energy and serve as the first line of defense along the coastsprotecting communities from the increasing risk of floods and storms.
“The seagrass ecosystem is a perfect example of nature in actionwhere habitats and the delicate web of life are intertwined in perfect harmony,” said Leticia Carvalho, head of the Marine and Freshwater Branch of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).
Despite their importance, including in climate mitigation, seagrass beds are at risk.
a football field of seagrass disappears every 30 minutes, with an estimated seven percent of pastures lost worldwide each year, according to UNEP. The main drivers are ocean acidification, coastal development and rising ocean temperatures due to climate change.
SDGs and climate connection
World Seagrass Day aims to raise awareness about the threats to these ecosystems and promote their conservation, which is critical to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
It was established by the UN General Assembly in a resolution passed in May 2022.
Ms Carvalho said the world needs to set priorities timely, ambitious and coordinated actions that preserve, restore and sustainably manage seagrass.
When that happens, countries will have to ensure that local communities, who have lived in harmony with nature for thousands of years, also benefit, she added.