Protecting Seagrass in Wakatobi

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Seagrass, the “ugly duckling” of the conservation world, is a vital lifeline for thousands of communities around the globe and an efficient absorber of “blue carbon.” It is also quickly disappearing. In Indonesia’s Wakatobi National Park, a community-focused tree-planting initiative is helping protect seagrass meadows and foster a new generation of environmentally aware children.

Benjamin Jones, a founding director of Project Seagrass, describes seagrass beds as “Secret Gardens of Life.” (photo – Project Seagrass)
Benjamin Jones, a founding director of Project Seagrass, describes seagrass beds as “Secret Gardens of Life.” (photo – Project Seagrass)

Seagrass has always received scant notice when discussing marine egosystems but no more. We now realize that seagrass serves multiple beneficial rolls:

  • in stabilizing coastlines from erosion
  • providing a sheltering nursery for juvenile fish and marine life
  • recent research indicates that seagrass roots are an effective absorber of carbon dioxide and aid in combating climate change.
Healthy seagrass on the ocean floor. Seagrass provides an important source of income and food for
communities around the world, but its importance often goes unnoticed. Photo courtesy of Benjamin Jones/Project
Seagrass.
Healthy seagrass on the ocean floor. Seagrass provides an important source of income and food for communities around the world, but its importance often goes unnoticed. Photo courtesy of Benjamin Jones/Project Seagrass.

Seagrass Stores Carbon Dioxide

It is thought that up to 10% of the world’s seagrass is found in Indonesia and the country’s seagrass beds and mangroves may hold 17% of the world’s blue carbon (carbon dioxide sequestered in the world’s oceans and coastal ecosystems).

Plus, Indonesia’s seagrass supports as much as half of all fish caught in the marine protected areas of the Coral Triangle, consequently the impact on seagrass from coastal development, oil pollution, agricultural runoff, coral and sand mining and over-fishing needs to be given serious consideration.

Without seagrass we probably wouldn’t have coral reefs as we know them and they’d be much less beautiful for it, said Benjamin Jones, a founding director of environmental charity Project Seagrass. Around 400 species of fish in Indonesia rely on seagrass for their growth and development.

So what may seem like endless ranges of underwater grass, typically overlooked by divers on their way to colorful reefs, are actually vibrant and diverse “secret gardens of life,” according to Jones.

Nusi, a member of FORKANI, plants trees. Over time the trees will help stop sedimentation
and protect seagrass. Photo courtesy of Benjamin Jones/Project Seagrass.
Nusi, a member of FORKANI, plants trees. Over time the trees will help stop sedimentation and protect seagrass. Photo courtesy of Benjamin Jones/Project Seagrass.

Seagrass Conservation in Wakatobi National Park

A conservation program in Wakatobi National Park, in Sulawesi, Indonesia aims at preserving seagrass by safeguarding the surrounding watersheds and monitoring land use. This includes controlling nutrient runoff from the land that contributes to the growth of algae harmful to seagrass. Controlling the overfishing of key fish species that would otherwise feed off the algae is also a necessary part of the program.

eenagers and school groups also took part in tree planting. Seagrass education has been
included in local school curriculums so all children grow up knowing its importance. Photo courtesy of Benjamin Jones/Project Seagrass.
eenagers and school groups also took part in tree planting. Seagrass education has been included in local school curriculums so all children grow up knowing its importance. Photo courtesy of Benjamin Jones/Project Seagrass.

Engaging the Local Communities to protect and restore seagrass beds

Years of clearing forests for farmland that has increased agricultural runoff, combined with the loss of coastal mangrove forests has diminished the health of the surrounding seagrass beds. To rectify this condition residents engaged with Project Seagrass and FORKANI a local NGO to determine the best locations in which to plant trees. 4,500 trees have been planted along river banks to date.

“The island as a whole, every community on that island has kind of gotten behind it,” Jones said. “Although they aren’t likely to see the benefits for a number of years, they are really keen to protect their seagrass meadows.”

Discussions regarding over-fishing are another aspect of the program but a very sensitive topic. Village women have become allies because they fish in the seagrass areas. “When we say it has an impact on their food, their income, their children and their future, it’s easy to make them care.”

Source: Ocean Network and Project Seagrass program

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March 9, 2018 |

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