Sharks Reveal World’s Largest Seagrass Meadow

Appreciating the power of underwater meadows.

Dec 4, 2022
Sharks Reveal World’s Largest Seagrass Meadow | Appreciating the power of underwater meadows.

Seagrass meadows are wonder plants growing beneath the sea. They feed and shelter marine life and are masterful at sequestering carbon, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WFF). Thanks to the assistance of tiger sharks, a huge seagrass meadow in the Bahamas Banks was recently discovered, offering the world a tool to combat climate change.

Seagrass has usually been detected by Earth-orbiting satellites that identify darker patches in the blue water, according to ABC News. Many areas in the ocean were unexplored until scientists used camera tags to uncover inaccessible places in the sea. Until now.

"The sharks led us to the seagrass ecosystem in the Bahamas, which we now know is likely the most significant blue carbon sink on the planet," Dr. Austin Gallagher, a marine biologist and the head of the study which was published in the November, 2022 issue of Nature Communications, told ABC News.

Tiger sharks as research tools
Tiger sharks were selected as research tools because they swim far distances and spend time in seagrass meadows, according to the study. The team equipped eight tiger sharks with satellite tags, seven sharks with camera tags, and used a 360-degree camera on a shark for the first time ever.

The sharks swam into deep areas that were impossible for people to access, spending 70 percent of their time in seagrass ecosystems. The data they collected was astounding; thanks to the sharks, the world’s largest seagrass ecosystem, measuring at least 66,900 square kilometers, has been discovered.

This reflects a 41 percent increase from previous estimates of global seagrass, according to the study. In terms of climate change, this is excellent news; seagrass is 35 times faster in removing carbon than tropical rainforests, according to the WWF.

World’s largest carbon sink
“When referred to global seagrass carbon stock estimates, our results indicate that seagrass in The Bahamas may contain 19.2 to 26.3 percent of all the carbon sequestered in seagrass meadows on Earth,” Wells Howe, co-author of the study, told Popular Science.

Seagrass captures huge quantities of carbon via photosynthesis and stores it in the seafloor, according to the SeaLegacy YouTube video. As this particular seagrass meadow is so huge, it is a carbon sink that contains 25 percent of the carbon that is captured by all seagrass across the globe.

Yet seagrass meadows are rapidly disappearing, with over 92 percent of meadows in the UK gone, according to the WWF. Scientists are collecting seeds and are trying to cultivate new seagrass meadows through restoration projects. This new discovery The Bahamas offers optimism and substantiates the importance of the ocean for healing.

“What this discovery shows us is that ocean exploration and research are essential for a healthy future. The untapped potential of the ocean is limitless,” Gallagher reported on the video. These meadows can be protected and can be replicated, offering hope for climate change around the globe.

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Nicole is an editor, blogger and author who has recently left her urban life in order to be more connected with nature. In her spare time, she’s outdoors hiking in the forest, mountain biking or tending to her new permaculture garden.