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Saya de Malha bank’s seagrass meadow arouses scientists’ interest |13 April 2021

The Saya de Malha bank, located between Seychelles and Mauritius, which has joint jurisdiction of the area, has garnered the interest of the international press and scientists over the recent months.

The main subject of such interest in this stretch of the Western Indian Ocean is what scientists are considering as the world’s largest seagrass meadow.

Earlier in March this year, 24-year-old Mauritian climate activist, Shaama Sandooyea, held an underwater protest above the Saya de Malha bank, to protect its seabed and seagrass meadow.

This is because scientists have identified the seagrass meadow at Saya de Malha bank as one of the largest absorber of climate-warming carbon dioxide.

Seagrasses play a large role in regulating ocean environments, storing more than twice as much carbon from planet-warming carbon dioxide (CO2) per square mile as forests do on land, according to a 2012 study in the journal Nature Geoscience.

However seagrasses has been among some of the most overlooked organisms in the ocean; to such an extent that no one deemed it important to come up with a Creole name for them.

Only recently, the Seychelles Conservation and Climate Adaptation Trust (SeyCCAT) launched an exercise to identify Seychellois Creole words for seagrass and, no, according to the trust it is not ‘gomon’.

Data on seagrass meadows are patchy, but research so far estimates the grasses cover over 300,000 square km (115,000 square miles), distributed across all continents apart from Antarctica.

It is not yet known how much carbon is locked into Saya de Malha, but globally the tangled roots of seagrasses are estimated to trap over 10 percent of the carbon buried in ocean sediment per year.

“This has massive implications for the (world’s) climate change mitigation efforts,” said Dimos Traganos, lead scientist on a German Aerospace Centre project developing software to improve seagrass tracking using satellite imagery and other data. That effort has been helped by recent advances in cloud computing and data storage, he said. “We are in such an exciting period.”

Seagrass meadows are believed to be retreating around 7 percent per year globally.

Greenpeace International undertook a recent study of the Saya de Malha bank’s ecosystem and seagrass meadow with its research vessel Arctic Sunrise.

Seychelles is now awaiting to find out the blue carbon value of the largest seagrass meadow, which is just on its doorstep. Many are hoping that Seychelles follows in the steps of Cabo Verde to include seagrass meadows as one of its nationally determined contributions (NDC).

Former President James Michel has stressed on the importance of both Seychelles and Mauritius protecting the wealth of the seagrass at the Saya de Malha bank.

“Then we’ll be in a better position to know how to not only preserve it, but also to manage it to ensure that it is protected for the future,” stated Mr Michel.

The former president is set to appear in an economic forum in June to speak on blue economy related subjects.


Compiled by Elsie Pointe

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