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The wonders of nature’s most powerful air purifier4 min read

March 29, 2021 3 min read


The wonders of nature’s most powerful air purifier4 min read

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Did you know that nature has ways of not only cleaning itself but also combatting climate change? Can you identify this plant that is also one of nature’s most effective weapon against global warming?

Unscramble this picture to see if you can recognise it:

That’s seagrass. Seagrass is a flowering plant, that you guessed it, grows in meadows under the sea. It generally grows in large patches in shallow water. This stunning grass is a treasure and marvel of the oceans for several reasons, but its most admirable feature is, perhaps, its ability to trap carbon. Seagrass traps the carbon that pollutes the sea and stores it away in its roots for thousands of years. This not only cleans the ocean but also enriches the soil of the seabed. It also purifies the sea as it releases oxygen during the process of photosynthesis. 

Posidonia Seagrass

The Posidonia seagrass meadow. Image: BBC

You can find seagrass meadows everywhere from England’s shores to Madagascar, but one particular seagrass meadow is an exceptional weapon in our fight against climate change: The Posidonia seagrass that you can find around the beautiful Balearic Islands in Spain. This seagrass spans about 55 hectares (a large cricket field is about 1 and a half hectares, and plays a globally significant role in soaking up carbon. 

Owliver’s Obscure Observation: There are many species of seagrass, and each of them has different abilities when it comes to absorbing carbon. The Posidonia Seagrass that is found in this particular sea meadow in the Mediterranean Sea is the most efficient carbon annihilator. Posidonia Seagrass can soak up 15 times more carbon dioxide than the same sized patch of the Amazonian rainforest! 

Unesco site

The role of this underwater meadow in the mediterranean sea is so spectacularly neat that it has been termed a heritage site by the scientific and cultural branch of the United Nations (UNESCO). That means it is legally protected from destruction under international law! Yet several threats plague this beautiful bubbling meadow. 

Super Super Seagrass

Before we get into what’s going wrong, let’s take a look at how awesome seagrass really is. Even though seagrass occupies only about 0.1 to 0.2% of the coastal oceans, it’s a pretty crucial figure around those areas:

Oxygen bubbles on blades of seagrass. Image: BBC
  1. Seagrass meadows supply food to the seas’ herbivores, such as dugongs, sea turtles and sea urchins.
  2. They are safe breeding and feeding grounds for smaller fish and tiny creatures that quite literally “have no backbone.”
  3. If all that wasn’t enough, seagrass meadows are also pretty efficient engineers. They engineer the environment around them by blocking strong currents and waves to create a still, safe hangout for the creatures of the sea. 
  4. Lastly, of course, they soak up carbon to reduce the temperature of the sea. Also, this makes the sea less acidic, and thereby more conducive to life.

What’s going wrong?

Seagrass Continues To Be Contentious - The Islander
Boats hover over the seagrass in the Balearic Islands. Image: The Conversation

Well, the seagrass is being destroyed, and it has one surprising enemy. It’s a no brainer that higher temperatures caused by global warming have made it difficult for this plant to survive. But while higher temperatures have made it harder for seagrass to grow and reproduce, the anchors from boats are destroying these plants entirely. Scientists believe that every time an anchor dropped from a boat lands on the seagrass it causes damage worth a thousand years! However, tanks to the work of scientists and activists, the government is finally investing more and more money to prevent boats from anchoring over the seagrass and replant this precious resource.

With Excerpts From: BBC, The Conversation and Smithsonian Magazine

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