Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

The importance of conserving of Kenya’s seagrass meadows

  • Written by  Ella Taibel
  • Published in Climate
The importance of conserving of Kenya’s seagrass meadows
20 Jun
2017
Compared to other types of carbon sink, seagrass in Kenya can absorb 35 times more carbon – a fact that is helping to kick-start poverty alleviation schemes in the region

In order to control the climate and mitigate climate change, carbon sinks are a vital part and process of the planet. This is due to their ability to absorb carbon dioxide and, after some time, slowly release it back into the atmosphere.

Now, a team of scientists from Edinburgh Napier University and East Africa, led by Professor Mark Huxham, has uncovered that underwater seagrass meadows, in southern Kenya’s Gazi Bay, absorb more carbon than other land-based carbon sinks, such as rainforests. Huxham and his team scientists discovered that ‘seagrass in Kenya locks in 50 per cent more carbon than is typical for seagrass meadows elsewhere.’ This indicates the important role that seagrass sites could play in the fight against climate change.

shutterstock 617812652Exposed seagrass meadow in Kenya (Image: Shutterstock)

The seagrass meadows and mangroves found in Gazi Bay are ‘blue carbon sinks’ as they are living coastal and marine organisms. Seagrasses are easily mistaken for seaweed but are actually closer in relation to flowering plants found on land. They are known as being one of the most productive ecosystems on the planet due to the shelter they provide the animals that live within it and the services they provide to humans such as carbon storing.

shutterstock 448581697Seagrass underwater, an example of blue carbon sinks (Image: Shutterstock)

The outcome of Huxham’s project, funded by Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation is that the seagrass meadows have the ability to absorb 35 times more atmospheric carbon than any land-based sinks such as tropical-rainforests. Furthermore, the meadows in Gazi Bay re-release the carbon at a much slower rate.

With great powers, though, comes great responsibility. Conserving the seagrass must become a priority locally and also globally. Huxham stresses this point: ‘conserving the seagrass bed is not only for nature’s sake. It is also about conserving that ecosystem to ensure sustainability of the fisheries and to improve people’s livelihoods in the long-term.’

3872An example of how the conservation projects can help to alleviate poverty (Image: The Guardian)

Despite the fact that seagrasses are located in the Diani-Chale Marine Reserve and have a protected status, they are still under a degree of threat. The research indicates how human actions such as dragnet fishing, pollution, dredging and, specifically, the use of seine nets – fishing nets used to haul large quantities of marine life – have put the ecosystems under severe pressure. The buzzing tourism scene, which is encouraged due to the Marine Reserve, potentially exacerbates this degradation. This reveals some interesting yet relevant dichotomies in that the ‘eco-tourism’ industry is harming the environment the tourists are attracted to and the marginalised locals are having to protect this land from the richer visitors.

Huxham’s study highlights the importance of conserving the seagrasses and the other ecosystems in the Kwale District, in regards to the local population as well. Having a thriving ecosystem ensures that the marginalised and poverty-stricken locals have resources such as fish to buy and sell, thereby granting the community long-term food and economic security. With the new research released, Huxham has been talking to the local people about creating another Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) scheme, similar to the one that’s successfully maintaining and protecting mangroves nearby.

Benefits of carbon funds 1Some of the benefits that arise from the PES schemes, include children having books for school (Image: planvivo.org)

The existing PES scheme is called Mikoko Pamja meaning ‘Mangroves Together’ and was created as a joint initiative in 2013 between Gazi Bay villagers, volunteers, and institutions from the UK and Kenya. It relied on the villagers monitoring the growth and biodiversity in the mangroves and planting seeds four times a year. This kind of scheme appears wildly popular among the locals because they reap the benefits of better and bountiful fish stocks. For example, one villager, in an article for the Guardian, exclaims, ‘Since we started caring for the mangroves, we harvest more and more fish... Now, fishermen from as far off as Pemba [an island of the Zanzibar archipelago] come to fish here.’

The scheme also gives agency to the marginalised population because they choose how to spend the revenue, often investing in their children’s education. The prospect of having two projects within the Gazi Bay area that can help fend against climate change, as well as helping to develop the community, is therefore seen as an exciting one for bringing further benefits to the region.

Related items

Subscribe to Geographical!

Geographical Week

Sign up for our weekly newsletter today and get a FREE eBook collection!

University of Winchester

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Derby

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • The Human Game – Tackling football’s ‘slave trade’
    Few would argue with football’s position as the world’s number one sport. But as Mark Rowe discovers, this global popularity is masking a sinister...
    Essential oil?
    Palm oil is omnipresent in global consumption. But in many circles it is considered the scourge of the natural world, for the deforestation and habita...
    The Nuclear Power Struggle
    The UK appears to be embracing nuclear, a huge U-turn on government policy from just two years ago. Yet this seems to be going against the grain globa...
    National Clean Air Day
    For National Clean Air Day, Geographical brings together stories about air pollution and the kind of solutions needed to tackle it ...
    The Air That We Breathe
    Cities the world over are struggling to improve air quality as scandals surrounding diesel car emissions come to light and the huge health costs of po...

MORE DOSSIERS

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...

Energy

The Treasury has announced that it is considering imposing a…

Tectonics

Major earthquakes are triggering seismic activity half the world away

Climate

Marco Magrini finds that a warming world also means a…

Wildlife

Unchecked tourism is potentially reducing the number of cheetah cubs that…

Oceans

A relocated military base in Okinawa, Japan will cause ‘irreversible’…

Climate

The ongoing recovery of the planet’s ozone layer is being…

Oceans

The Ocean Cleanup has launched System 001, a floating barrier…

Nature

New videos reveal how plants respond to wounds, sending forth…

Geophoto

The recent heatwave had everyone longing for a drop of…

Wildlife

The demand for horseshoe crab blood – vital for testing…

Climate

One of the problems in getting accurate climate science out…

Wildlife

Italy is divided over the future of its wolves and…

Energy

A Scottish tidal power project in the Pentland Firth has…

Oceans

The world’s first full global analysis of beaches reveals the…

Geophoto

With the recent Saddleworth Moor fire, it can be easy…

Wildlife

Whale sharks have been found to not travel far from…

Wildlife

The Lone Star tick is spreading across North America, carrying…

Tectonics

Earlier this week, Indonesia was struck by a series of…

Energy

Efforts to reduce the energy drain of the internet are…

Energy

Coal’s rising popularity among climate-apathetic leaders is a worrying trend,…