- Indonesia has published a road map for seagrass protection and rehabilitation, as part of its efforts to mitigate the impacts of the climate crisis.
- Seagrass meadows are estimated to sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere at a much greater rate, hectare for hectare, than even tropical rainforests.
- Indonesia has long been recognized as a crucial country for protecting the underwater flowering plants, as it’s estimated to host at least a tenth of the world’s seagrass meadows.
JAKARTA — Indonesia has launched a climate mitigation plan focusing on the country’s seagrass meadows, an overlooked ecosystem that ranks among the most efficient carbon sinks on the planet.
The country is home to 11.5% of the world’s seagrass meadows, a position the government wants to leverage to increase its carbon storage options. Experts have calculated seagrass sequestration of carbon per given area at 35 times greater than that of tropical rainforests.
“Addressing the complex issues of climate change requires commitment and diverse solutions,” Sakti Wahyu Trenggono, the Indonesian minister of marine affairs and fisheries, said in a statement announcing the Seagrass Blue Carbon Mitigation Action Profile.
He added the plan is expected to be part of Indonesia’s greenhouse gas reduction goals that it committed to as part of the Paris climate agreement. The plan will also “serve as a roadmap to set the pace towards a more sustainable and resilient future,” Sakti said.
In Indonesia’s updated commitment to cut emissions under the Paris Agreement, known as its nationally determined contribution, or NDC, the government has targeted a 31.8% reduction from the business-as-usual scenario, and 43.2% with the aid of the international community. Sectors where it sees the most potential for emissions cuts include land use and forestry.
The country’s maritime sector also holds untapped potential as a vast carbon sink. Seagrasses, not to be confused with seaweed, grow in shallow coastal waters, providing a crucial nursery habitat for young fish of many species. Around the world, they’re vanishing at a rate of about 7% annuallu, according to the IUCN, the global nature conservation authority, which is comparable to the decline seen in coral reefs and tropical rainforests.
Various factors contribute to this decline, including climate change, pollution, coastal development, and invasive species. There are more than 70 types of seagrass globally, covering an estimated 600,000 square kilometers (232,000 square miles) — an area larger than the island of Madagascar.
Indonesia has long been recognized as a crucial country for protecting seagrasses. In 1994, researchers estimated that the country had about 30,000 km2 (11,600 mi2) of seagrass, possibly the largest extent of any country. By June 2017, however, the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), a government-funded research agency, reported a drastically lower total of just 1,507 km2 (582 mi2) of seagrass cover across the country’s waters.
Restoring seagrasses is seen as essential for supporting coastal environments and communities, especially given the increasing occurrence of extreme temperatures and storms, which are expected to worsen seagrass decline.
Sakti said the government’s Seagrass Blue Carbon Mitigation Action Profile would focus on regulatory interventions for marine zoning and seagrass restoration. He called for increased public participation in seagrass protection measures, and actively community involvement in seagrass data collection efforts.
At present, there’s a notable lack of coordination between various government agencies and stakeholders responsible for collecting and publishing data on the country’s seagrass, according to a recently released study. The authors collected the data between August and September 2022 through interviews and questionnaires with participants from central and local governments, universities and NGOs, all working in areas connected to the coastal ecosystem.
The study, published in the November issue of the journal Marine Policy, said the available seagrass data were limited in quantity, quality and accuracy, as government agencies struggled with field data acquisition and mapping methods.
“It should be noted that the current status of the regulatory authority responsible for managing seagrass data in Indonesia is unclear, as no specific agency has been assigned this mandate. Hence, it is crucial to identify the authorized agency to undertake this task,” the authors wrote.
They called for all stakeholders to strengthen seagrass data governance as a fundamental step toward developing approaches to map seagrass extent and share knowledge.
The Indonesian government has a strategic five-year plan for marine policies, involving cooperation among various government institutions, both at the central and local levels, to execute comprehensive and sustainable programs. The aim is to significantly enhance the development of coastal environments, including the monitoring and restoration of vital ecosystems such as mangroves, seagrass meadows and coral reefs.
Experts suggest that a healthy coastal ecosystem with a mix of these ecosystems can store large quantities of carbon, filter sediment and debris washing into the sea from the land, and protect against coastal abrasion and storm surges.
Scientists around the world are also increasingly acknowledging the crucial role of natural systems in fighting climate change. Using nature-based solutions, like forests, is considered one of the most affordable ways to achieve nearly 37% of the emission reductions required by 2030 to meet the Paris Agreement goals.
Basten Gokkon is a senior staff writer for Indonesia at Mongabay. Find him on 𝕏 @bgokkon.
Sjafrie, N. D. M., Wicaksono, P., Hernawan, U. E., Triyono, Yuwono, D. M., Hafizt, M., … Roelfsema, C. (2023). Network analysis reveals overlapping roles of stakeholders related to seagrass-data provisioning in Indonesia. Marine Policy, 157, 105837. doi:10.1016/j.marpol.2023.105837
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