Seagrass meadows play a crucial role in supporting biodiversity, improving water quality, protecting shorelines, and sequestering carbon. But estimates in the UK indicate that compared with historic levels, up to 92 per cent of seagrass has been lost. Man-made factors have contributed significantly to this decline, including coastal development, dredging, poor water quality and run-off.
A new scientific report has highlighted the importance of restoring and protecting seagrass as a way of harnessing nature to mitigate against climate change. The research has been published by Blue Marine Foundation, University of Oxford (Seascape Ecology Lab and the Nature-based Solutions Initiative), Project Seagrass and other partners.
Seagrass restoration projects in the UK were first implemented in 2019 and there are now many initiatives under way. But, while there are globally applicable carbon codes for seagrass, no UK-specific code exists. Examples in other regions indicate that seagrass could absorb carbon up to 10 times faster than forests, but there is no published data for the UK.
Gathering evidence for a UK seagrass carbon code would enable an integrated approach to restoring and recovering ecosystems, in alignment with other codes for specific habitats. The report emphasises a particular need for better data on the spatial extent and condition of seagrass, as well as on net carbon sequestration and restoration outcomes.
‘With so little known about UK seagrass meadows, we have both a challenge and opportunity,’ says Melissa Ward, lead author at the Oxford Seascape Ecology Lab. ‘Collecting essential data on carbon offsets achieved through UK seagrass restoration can pave the way for a carbon code, bringing the UK closer to greenhouse gas reduction and habitat recovery goals.’
The report calls for the establishment of a UK seagrass carbon code to channel the growing interest in carbon credit programmes towards seagrass restoration projects. A UK code would also provide a framework to verify and measure seagrass carbon sequestration, ensuring that any generated carbon credits are of high quality.
In addition, the authors recommend that a code should incorporate key sustainability principles, including those defined by the IUCN Global Nature-based Solutions Standard and the ‘High-Quality Blue Carbon Principles and Guidance’. Collaboration between multiple agencies, organisations, and public bodies is also crucial, to share insights on both a national and global scale.