A global bright spot: Seagrass ecosystems in the Pacific

A new study investigating the status of seagrass meadows throughout the Pacific Island Countries and Territories (PICTs) discovers a global “bright spot”.

The study by McKenzie et al. seeks to address the lack of scientific information available on seagrass meadows in the region by providing an up-to-date review of seagrass distribution, abundance, condition and long-term trends in the PICTs.

The region covers approximately 8% of the global ocean and seagrass meadows are present throughout, providing numerous ecosystem contributions to the Pacific Islanders. To examine the seagrass ecosystems across the area, the 22 countries and territories were grouped into Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia.

The research addresses regional knowledge gaps by reviewing the spatial and temporal data sources and existing seagrass information. The team then validated the existence of seagrass species by conducting field surveys and literature and herbarium reviews. The results show that 16 species of seagrass occur across 17 of the 22 PICTs, with the greatest diversity and extent occurring in Melanesia, and particularly Papua New Guinea (13 species).

The study also considers the anthropogenic pressures threatening seagrass, citing overexploitation, physical modification, nutrient and sediment pollution, introduction of non-native species, and global climate change as the predominant stressors. Despite these threats, the seagrass ecosystems of the PICTs show signs of high resilience and may be considered a “bright spot”, with seagrass conditions increasing or maintaining in 65% of the PICTs.

The study concludes that, despite the region’s overwhelming focus of policy and legislation on coral reef conservation, seagrass meadows in PICTs are a bright spot due to local ownership rights and customary practices that protect and sustainably manage marine resources. It suggests that empowering local communities to steward their nearshore resources and reduce destructive practices is a possible solution for seagrass conservation globally.

The full article is available here.

McKenzie, L. et al. (2021). Seagrass ecosystems of the Pacific Island Countries and Territories: A global bright spot. Marine Pollution Bulletin 167.