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World’s Largest Seagrass Restoration Project is a Virginia Success, as 600 Acres Grows to 9,000


In what began as an experiment and became the largest success of its kind, a seagrass restoration project in southeastern Virginia is demonstrating the resilience of marine ecosystems when given the opportunity to recover.


A group of marine scientists and volunteers spread more than 70 million seagrass seeds on a 200 hectare plot on the southern tip of the eastern coast of Virginia. Led by the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences and with help from The Nature Conservancy, the project has grown to more than 3,600 hectares (8,896 acres), making it the largest seagrass restoration in the world.

To have perspective this iconic seagrass meadow project off the coast of Wales 750,000 seeds were used to create a five acre meadow.

During the 20 years it took to create Virginia’s 3,600-hectare mega-ecosystem, scientists have been able to see the process from infancy to adulthood. They have been documenting every detail, every step of the way, to lay the foundation of knowledge for widespread seagrass restoration around the world. This is important because seagrasses are not just a good home for fish; it can also help the planet.

While the Amazon rainforest is sometimes affectionately referred to as the ‘lungs of the world’, the combination of masses of decaying plant matter and poor soil conditions means that its carbon storage potential is actually less than that of others. forest ecosystems, like the Taiga in Russia, for example.

In fact, more than any terrestrial forest in their potential to absorb CO2 and nitrogen from the atmosphere are coastal marine ecosystems such as mangroves, kelp forests, salt marshes and seagrass beds.

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According to the WWF article Ten reasons to be hopeful, seagrasses can sequester carbon 35 times faster than even rainforests, but as it currently covers only 0.2% of the seafloor, the potential to use more seagrasses as carbon offsetting is essentially unlimited.

Beauty and resilience

In the coastal lagoons of Virginia, where scientists have been working, there have been no seagrasses since the 1930s, when disease and a hurricane wiped them out.

Since the team has been sowing seagrass seeds, they have noticed surprising resilience in the ecosystem. Although a marine heat wave destroyed several meadows in the course of their research, it only took three years for them to recover in plant life. showing its surprising stamina.

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Resilience is their (and our) greatest strength in a changing climate, as mature seagrass beds have been found to sequester 1.3 times more carbon and 2.2 times more nitrogen in their roots and the surrounding soil. than young seagrass beds.

3,000 metric tons of carbon, the equivalent of the emissions from 653 cars driven in one year, and 600 metric tons of nitrogen were sequestered each year by the project’s grasslands at the 20-year mark.

There was form and function in seagrass beds, as measured by water quality and animal life. “We witnessed a substantial decrease in mean turbidity levels during the summer months since the restoration within the meadow began,” explained the study.

The loss of seagrass beds was followed by the abandonment of the area by the brant goose and commercial fishing for scallops.

“In my early years here, there were no seagrasses and there were none for decades,” said Karen McGlathery, a coastal ecologist at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville to Science news. “Today, as far as I can swim, I see lush meadows, rays, the occasional seahorse. It’s nice.”

In the future, the steps that achieved this spectacular success could be replicated, the researchers say, in other areas of the country where lush seagrass ecosystems once flourished, such as Biscayne Bay in Florida.

“As the world settles into the Anthropocene era and regulatory agencies around the world seek to conserve and restore valuable ecosystem services, our study provides a positive example that successful marine restorations are possible at the scales that contribute directly to human welfare. ” read the study.

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“Addresses key deliverables for the United Nations Decade for Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030) and the Decade of Ocean Sciences for Sustainable Development, including the recovery of threatened marine habitat, the conservation of biodiversity, the habitat provision and carbon sequestration “.

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