(Bloomberg) -- A project to map the Indian Ocean’s seagrass, a carbon sink more powerful than terrestrial forest, will enable participating countries to protect the habitat, according to the groups initiating the study.
Seagrass beds hold about 10% of the organic carbon stored in the ocean. They’re also used by fish as nursery areas and provide food for animals ranging from turtles to dugongs, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts, one of the organizations involved in the effort to produce an accurate map of the marine meadow.
The project aims to locate seagrass habitats throughout the Indian Ocean by 2025, the group said in a statement Wednesday. Globally only about 20% of seagrass has been mapped, though in areas including the Indian Ocean the figure is far lower, it said.
“The map is the first step of bringing this ecosystem into management,” said Stacy Baez, who leads the scientific work for Pew’s Coastal Wetlands campaign. Such environments that include seagrass and mangroves “are able to store disproportionately more of the same unit area of carbon in the underlying soil than other forests,” she said.
The resulting map will enable countries to include seagrass in their Nationally Determined Contributions -- plans presented to the United Nations charting national responses to global warming.
Seagrass habitat that typically grows in shallower water, which is exposed to more light, has been shrinking by an average of about 7% annually, threatened by industrial and farming run-off, coastal development, dredging, unregulated fishing activity and climate change, according to the United Nations Environment Program.
The initiative builds on work done by the Seychelles, which was the first country to map seagrass throughout its exclusive economic zone of 1.3 million square kilometers (500,000 square miles), according to Baez. As a result of the project, the Indian Ocean archipelago committed to protect seagrasses as part of its NDCs.
Along with Pew, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the Minderoo Foundation, Oceankind and Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Vibrant Oceans Initiative are providing technical and financial support for the mapping initiative. Bloomberg Philanthropies founder Michael Bloomberg is the majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News.
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