Why this remarkable plant’s contribution to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals is worth reevaluating

Experts at the forefront of efforts to restore the UK’s coastal seagrass beds say the remarkable plant’s contribution to the most important to-do list in human history should be reassessed.

Seagrass – the world’s only underwater flowering plant – is not only vital for biodiversity, but also absorbs carbon dioxide, helping to fight climate change.

In a new article, which has just been published in the journal Science, Swansea University researchers make the case for considering the value of seagrass beyond carbon in the context of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals – the common plan to achieve a better and more sustainable future . The conservation and restoration of seagrass beds actually contributes to achieving 16 of the 17 goals.

The authors, including Dr Richard Unsworth and Dr Leanne Cullen-Unsworth, explain that the planetary emergency is driving interest in using seagrass beds as a natural solution to climate change and biodiversity recovery.

However, the sensitivity of seagrass beds to stressors is acute, and in many places the risk of loss and degradation persists.

Dr Unsworth, who leads the university team and is one of the founding directors of Project Seagrass, a marine conservation charity, said: “With growing awareness of the planetary emergency we we face, there is growing interest in using seagrass beds as a natural solution for greenhouse gas mitigation.

“But while the ecological status of seagrasses remains compromised, their ability to contribute to nature-based solutions for the climate emergency and biodiversity crisis remains uncertain.”

The team’s latest research has examined the major ecological role that seagrasses play and how rethinking their conservation is key to understanding their role in addressing our planetary emergency.

Dr Unsworth said: “Seagrass beds are of fundamental importance to the planet, but compared to terrestrial grasses, and even algae, the body of seagrass research is much smaller.

“However, there are significant ecological, social and regulatory barriers and bottlenecks to seagrass restoration and conservation due to the scale of the interventions required.

“Now, advances in marine robotics, molecular ecology, remote sensing and artificial intelligence all offer new opportunities to solve conservation problems in harsh environments on unprecedented global scales.

“Only by looking beyond carbon and recognizing the true value of seagrass beds can we set them on a path to zero net loss and ultimately net gain.”

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Material provided by Swansea University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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