The seagrass project, led by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and The Nature Conservancy, was started as an experiment and has now been running for over 20 years. In that time, researchers and volunteers spread more than 70 million eelgrass seeds over the seabed, hoping the seeds would take hold and birth new life into the area.
The project is now widely regarded as the most successful of its kind worldwide, with new seagrass beds having grown to cover 3,612 hectares of seabed. In contrast, the largest such project in Australia aims to restore 10 hectares of seagrass.
“In my first years here, there was no seagrass and there hadn’t been for decades,” Karen McGlathery, coastal ecologist at the University of Virginia, told Science News.
“Today, as far as I can swim, I see lush meadows, rays, the occasional seahorse. It’s beautiful.”
The seagrass in inshore lagoons off the coast of Virginia had been almost completely wiped out by disease and a hurricane in the early 1930s, but the water was still clear enough to transmit the sunlight plants require. The project essentially started with a blank state, but within 10 years the ecosystem improved across every indicator of ecosystem health.
Seagrass meadows are some of the world’s most threatened ecosystems and are home to a number of threatened species. They also offer significant climate change mitigation potential, with seagrass being among the most efficient sequesters of carbon and the biggest stores of blue carbon (carbon stored in ocean and coastal ecosystems).
“The study helps fill some large gaps in our understanding of how blue carbon can contribute to climate restoration. It’s the first to put a number on how much carbon restored meadows take out of the atmosphere and store,” McGlathery said.
Researchers hope the success of the venture will lead to similar projects being investigated around the world.
Positive Environment News has been compiled using publicly available information. Planet Ark does not take responsibility for the accuracy of the original information and encourages readers to check the references before using this information for their own purposes.