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Seagrass meadows are our biggest allies in tackling the climate crisis

Healthy West African seagrass ecosystems can help sustain coastal livelihoods and slow down climate change globally

New groundbreaking work by GRID-Arendal and its partners shows why seagrass is vital for conserving West African biodiversity and protecting its coastline.

After four years of scientific research, data collection, monitoring, capacity building, raising awareness, informing, sensitizing, and advocacy work, the ResilienSEA project team is publishing the first seagrass Atlas in West Africa. This work was only made possible through the contribution and collaboration of the MAVA Foundation, Wetlands International, the Network of Marine Protected Areas in West Africa (RAMPAO), and the national implementation teams in all seven countries (Mauritania, Cape Verde, Senegal, The Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, and Sierra Leone). 

“We have managed to develop strong local capacity among managers, students, and researchers in the region, and they are now ready to scale up the work and ensure policy changes are enforced to better conserve these underwater treasures,” says Iderlindo Santos, ResilienSEA regional coordinator. 

Through strong engagement with local communities, the project has sensitized them to the value of protecting this crucial ecosystem for their livelihood, both in terms of food security and protection against climate-induced sea level rise and storm surges.

“When we started this project in 2018, Mauritania, Cape Verde, and Senegal were the only countries in the region to have documented some of their seagrass meadows´ distribution. Four years on, all seven countries have discovered, identified, mapped, and monitored seagrass ecosystems in their pilot sites, adds Marco Vinaccia, Climate Change Expert at GRID-Arendal.

Marco Vinaccia during a visit to the women´s mariculture association in Joal Fadiouth, Senegal, in March 2019. Credit: Robert Barnes.

A new global framework for managing nature sustainably, the Global Biodiversity framework, is under process, but the UN calls for all countries to protect at least 30 percent of land and sea by 2030. Ecologically or Biologically Significant Areas (EBSAs) like the seagrass meadows identified in the seven pilot sites need a strong political and financial commitment for their protection.

Putting West Africa on the global seagrass map 

“Now the hope is that decision-makers in the region will act on the policy briefs and recommendations the project has developed, by creating new MPAs, including seagrass conservation into existing MPAs´ management plans, and agreeing to a regional seagrass protocol to protect seagrass meadows across West Africa”, explains Marie-Suzanne Traoré, RAMPAO Secretary General.

This Atlas tells the ResilienSEA story and shows how much progress has been made since 2018 in each country; the new meadows discovered, the successes and challenges that the project had along the way, and how local capacity has been developed to a point where local experts can work autonomously.

“We are putting West Africa on the global seagrass map, showing the world´s researchers the potential for further work in the region in the coming months and years. This product is a starting point, and with more data and information, we can better protect these vulnerable ecosystems”, concludes Marco Vinaccia, who is presenting the Atlas on behalf of the project at the exclusive pre-launch during the World Seagrass Conference in Annapolis, Maryland, from 7-12 August 2022.

The Atlas´ editor-in-chief, Olivia Polkinghorne, led the process from start to finish over the past months. The Atlas will be available for download in September 2022.

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