Richard Lilley: Seagrass meadows as Natural Capital

Seagrass crab

Richard Lilley is a marine ecologist, and director of the marine conservation charity Project Seagrass. In this guest blog for Green Economy Coalition, he gives his personal perspective on the conservation challenges facing the vital yet oft-overlooked seagrasses that support many ocean ecologies. 

new paper has recently argued that fishing may well be the ‘best argument for seagrass conservation’. It was a striking paper for me, not because it was stating anything particularly new to me, but because it was a paper angled to articulate clearly the social and economic argument for seagrass meadow conservation – productive fisheries – and not the intrinsic ecological value of the habitat itself.

In our world today, it often feels like unless a decision can be justified economically (and specifically in the short term) then in most cases it won’t be taken. This regardless of the ecological implications that decision may have over longer time scales.

Indeed, it often feels like common practice today to simply not ‘factor into the equation’ how reliant we all are on the very ecological systems that sustain us, and provide for us the basic conditions for human life on earth.

A recent Green Economy Coalition (GEC) article referenced how ‘politicians love to talk about “economic foundations”, the importance of “strong fundamentals”, and how we must avoid “structural weaknesses” that may hurt economic growth.

Yet by eroding the very foundations of a coastal fishery, it’s nursery habitat, that is exactly what we are doing to our fishing industry –  a tragedy of the seagrass commons. By destroying our coastal seagrass meadows –  we are destroying our Natural Capital.

Important Coastal Habitats

Let me take an example that I hope everyone can relate to.

First, let’s take the latest data for seafood landings in the UK.  In 2015, UK vessels landed 708,000 tonnes of seafood with a value of £775 million. This supports a sizable seafood industry worth an estimated £6.24bn.

So, seafood supports numerous jobs and communities (even if we don’t take into account the food security element).

Second, let’s relate it to a species of fish that I hope everyone has heard of, ‘the fish that changed the world’, the Atlantic Cod (Gadus morhua). This fish has for a long time been the poster boy turned trouble child of the North Atlantic fishing community.

Seagrass is one of the most important coastal habitats where young ocean-going fish, such as Atlantic cod, can grow and develop before setting out on the journey of life. But these critically important habitats, are being damaged the world over, and it’s not just threatening biodiversity, but our capacity to actually have a fishery.

Simply put, if there are no good habitats for baby fish to live in, that means less baby fish, and that means less adult fish in the future.

If this is not eroding the ‘fundamentals’ of the fishing industry then what is?

Read the full article at Green Economy Coalition.

Visit Project Seagrass online and on Twitter.

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