Seychelles ocean plants could help tackle climate change?

Errol Renaud, a Seychelles resident, can see seagrass meadows from his home on Mahe Island.

He is one of many locals who opposed a hotel development that would have been reclaimed the land.

“There are many seagrass meadows in this area, and there are many fishermen who place their fish traps there. They depend on this area,” says Mr Renaud.

Two land reclamations have been made near his house, which has caused seagrasses to be disturbed. These seagrasses act as a barrier against rising ocean levels and other extreme conditions.

“This reclamation was done before the monsoon, it means that a lot more sand is coming onto the one side, and we’re seeing higher waves.

He says that climate change is causing a lot of loss in the area he has been living in for over two decades. His land is becoming more saturated by rising water levels.

Coastal wetlands, such as mangroves and marshes, have many environmental benefits. They are a great way to combat global warming.

According to a study published in Royal Society’s flagship journal of biological research, seagrasses can capture carbon 35 times faster than rainforests. They can store carbon for thousands of year if left unattended, which is a lot longer than terrestrial plants. They play the role as a natural carbon sink.

These plants account for 10% ocean’s total carbon burial, even though they cover less than 0.2% ocean floor, according to a Nature Geoscience report.

Researchers in the US believe that seagrass is decreasing and could lead to the marine plant becoming extinct.

Last month, activists and international organizations called for a stronger drive to use nature-based solutions to combat climate changes at the COP27 climate conference held in Egypt.

Seychelles, a country made up of 115 low lying islands, is very vulnerable to climate change. However, the seagrass around these islands is sufficient to support hundreds of thousands of football pitches.

The government has pledged to protect half its mangroves and seagrasses by 2023 and 100% by 2030.

It was one of the first countries in the world to map all its seagrass ecosystems.

To determine how much carbon they store over time, samples from mangroves and seagrasses are being analysed. This carbon is found in coastal wetlands, and its sediment is called “blue carbon”, as opposed to the “green carbon” that plants on land store.

The mapping and analysis was done by SeyCCAT, an independent trust. The government can use the results. It has raised public awareness about seagrasses, providing education about them to primarily schoolchildren and university students.

Satellite imagery is used by countries to map seagrass. However, it can be unreliable and may confuse them with other algae like seaweeds or kelp. These plants differ from seaweeds in that they do not have roots that anchor them to the seabed. The SeyCCAT project used remote sensing technology to map the meadows and collected sediment samples.

Researchers are analyzing the 2,600 samples at the University of Seychelles to find carbon.

Jerome Harlay is the lead environmental scientist for the project. “We would love to know how much carbon was stored within the seagrass over a few years to inform the government that want to determine the carbon content in those seagrass around Seychelles,” Harlay said.

These numbers could be used to mitigate climate change. They can remove more carbon from the atmosphere than our human activities.

This analysis suggests that Seychelles may be the first country to report its blue-carbon stocks to the UN under its greenhouse gas emission report. It will also be able show how the stocks help Seychelles meet its Paris Agreement contributions to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

After mapping the ecosystems, government can determine its policy strategy, ongoing management and legal protections. This is the next phase in the SeyCATT project. It will collaborate with the government to accomplish this.

Seychelles will have the ability to trade its blue carbon stock with other countries to offset their own emissions once it is known.

According to Denis Matatiken, principal secretary of the Seychelles Ministry of Agriculture, Climate Change and Environment, carbon trading could be one of the many economic benefits of protecting seagrass.

“The Seychelles is heavily dependent on tourism and fisheries. They are the backbone of our economy, Mr Matatiken said.

The environment is the foundation of these pillars. Protecting the environment will ensure that those pillars are strong. This is how we can become a small, isolated nation.

Preethi Sushil Naair, of the United Nations Development Programme (Seychelles), says that countries are continuing to make commitments about how they will mitigate global warming.

“Scaling up is possible because nature has the answers.

She says other countries need to have the tools, in terms of data and analytics, maps, to be able to create their own policies and tackle climate change.

“And as long that there is community engagement and a commitment, it will have a high success rate.”

Renaud, who is a member of the coastal community, believes that protecting the seagrasses and using blue carbon stock as a benefit only. “If we look at our area’s carbon potential, which covers 50 hectares, we could offset what the hotel project would have brought to the economy.”

Although the Seychelles still has some way to go before it can make full use of its blue-carbon stocks, it is providing a solution for global warming that other countries can emulate.

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