Citizen Scientists Needed to Help Protect Global Seagrass Habitats
Seagrass is one of the most important global marine habitats. It is also one of the most endangered, but scientists from Project Seagrass are hoping that the introduction of the Seagrass Spotter app will help in the preservation of seagrass meadows around the world.
Often overlooked and sometimes disregarded in favour of more dramatic reefs and vibrantly coloured coral, seagrass meadows are incredibly complex and biodiverse habitats. Worldwide, seagrass meadows act as nurseries for juvenile fish and crustaceans, and studies in the UK have recorded more than 50 different species of fish and hundreds of species of invertebrates in just a single meadow.
With an estimated global seagrass area of 160,387km2 – but possibly as much as 266,562km2 – seagrass meadows have been recorded on every continent except Antarctica – and almost 30 per cent of all global seagrass has been lost in the last hundred years. Around the UK, that figure is raised to a staggering 92 per cent seagrass loss over the last century, with estimates suggesting that globally, two football pitches worth of seagrass meadows are lost every hour.
Beyond its significance as a marine habitat, seagrass also provides important benefits to the wider environment: a complex web of rhizomes and roots helps to stabilise marine sediment and reduce coastal erosion; their ability to dissipate wave energy makes them an effective coastal storm defence; water quality and clarity are improved as particulate matter – including microplastics – is trapped by the leaves.
Seagrasses are also highly efficient carbon sinks; capable of capturing atmospheric carbon dioxide up to 35 times faster than tropical rainforests, sequestering up to 18 per cent of the world’s oceanic carbon, despite covering just 0.1 per cent of the ocean floor.
To help combat the ever-increasing threat to the world's seagrass meadows, the UK's Project Seagrass collaborated with Swansea University, Cardiff University and Seagrass Watch to produce Seagrass Spotter, an app which encourages people from all around the world to become citizen scientists and contribute to marine conservation through their smartphones.
Project Seagrass has recently spearheaded Seagrass Ocean Rescue, an ambitious collaboration with Swansea and Cardiff Universities, Sky Ocean Rescue and the WWF to restore a two-hectare area of seagrass in Dale, West Wales – more than one million seeds have been planted as of November 2020.
Users of the Seagrass Spotter app can upload photographs of any seagrass they encounter from anywhere in the world, whether that be a patch stumbled across during a beach walk or something in the background of a diving holiday photo. Pictures are uploaded with regional location data, and the app includes an identification tool to help determine which species of seagrass has been spotted.
The sightings will contribute to the creation of a create a global seagrass monitoring network, through which scientists will be able to build a more comprehensive understanding of global seagrass populations. The app can be downloaded free of charge from the Apple Store or Google Play, or can be accessed via a browser at www.seagrassspotter.org