Seagrass in the Canary Islands is in serious decline

Sebadal is the name given in the Canary Islands to the underwater meadows formed by the plant species Cymodocea nodosa, a key element in mitigating climate change. Over the last 20 years, around 50% of these sebadales have been lost, although despite the dramatic decline, 11% of the total carbon stored by this species in Spain is found in the Canary Islands.

These meadows are of great ecological and economic importance for the archipelago due to the various services they offer, such as CO2 sequestration, water purification and support for marine biodiversity. In addition, they are the habitat of commercial fish species of great gastronomic interest in the Canary Islands, such as “la vieja”, whose survival and reproduction depend on these marine plants.

The work, published in the scientific journal Science of the Total Environment, demonstrates the decline of the Canary Islands and their ability to store carbon and regulate the climate, in addition to estimating the economic impacts that their disappearance could cause.

The study demonstrates the decline of Canarian sebadales and their capacity for carbon storage and climate regulation

If current trends continue, losses could reach €126 million in future damage (0.32% of the current GDP of the Canary Islands) in 2050 due to a possible emission of 1.43 megatons of CO2, which are currently contained in these prairies and that “it would be equivalent to what 572,000 cars emit in a year, 32% of the car fleet in the Canaries”, explains Miriam Montero, from Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, institution that leads the study together with the University of Las Palmas. from Gran Canaria.

On the contrary, if the extent of the sebadales remains stable, 0.75 megatons could be sequestered in the coming years until 2050, which would mean savings of 73 million euros in future damage.

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If the extent of the sebadales remains stable, 0.75 megatons of CO2 could be sequestered in the coming years by 2050

blue carbon maps

“This study identifies the areas and environmental pressures on which action is needed and studies future management scenarios, providing a scientific and economic foundation for the conservation of seagrass beds”, says Montero.

The creation of a “mapping” of blue carbon stored by Cymodocea nodosa is a novelty, since blue carbon maps are currently scarce and generally focused on other “seagrass” species, such as those of the genus Posidonia, or on those herbs intertidal shallow seas, which are those that are less than 10 meters from the surface.

Past, present and future trends of sebadales in the Canary Islands. /URJ

However, Cymodocea nodosa in the Canary Islands is an opportunistic meadow type and has deeper waters, so it has been less studied. This work opens the door to an underexplored field, assessing the CO2 storage of Cymodocea nodosa using real local data from all Canary Islands, as well as high spatial resolution distribution maps of these seagrass beds.

“Our methodology generates scientific evidence to value the ecosystem created by Cymodocea nodosa and be able to consider it in decision-making and management”, concludes the scientist.

This study is part of the efforts being carried out from Spain within the scope of the European MOVE-ON Project for the mapping and assessment of ecosystem services in the ultraperipheral regions and overseas territories of the EU.

Reference:

Miriam Montero-Hidalgo et al. Map and assess changes in seagrass meadows and blue carbon in past, current and future scenarios, Total Environmental Science (2023)

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