Seagrass, a hidden treasure

I remember as a kid I never really liked seagrass. It often felt slimy, looked dirty, got entangled in my hair. I preferred the sand, burying my feet in it, making sand castles with it. The fact that I got sand in my hair didn’t seem to bother me as much as the seagrass for some reason.  How amazed I was roughly two decades later when I learned about seagrass and how to distinguish it. HU, HM, HT, EA, TH, SI, CS, HO what? I never expected that seagrass could be that interesting. Seagrass is a valuable coastal resource capable of indicating change, providing a food source, and creating a safe habitat for sea life.

You discover a whole new world as the seagrass becomes alive beneath you, revealing its hidden treasures. Hovering over it you can detect the small oxygen bubbles it produces, you can distinguish waspfishes, filefishes, collector urchins, seastars, pipefishes and seahorses, all searching shelter and feeding grounds.  Seagrass beds account for 0.2% of  Seagrass and pipefishocean floor but absorb 10% of global carbon buried in the sea.  Knowing that almost an area of an entire football field gets destroyed every 30 minutes, I can’t even begin to imagine the impact further up the ecosystem. Threats – human influences such as nutrient loading (N in particular), algal blooms causing a shift in species composition, algae directly competing with the seagrass for light reducing their photosynthetic efficiency, over fishing, destructive fishing techniques, push nets and land reclamation – are all major factors contributing to their decline. With a quadrat we had to identify and estimate the coverage level of the seagrass. After our eyes adjusted we looked for veins, serrated ridges, rounded leaf tips or even bat(man) shaped edges. Looking for clues and subtle changes, you feel like a true explorer.  That is exactly what Zoox is about. It lets you explore new interest areas and shows you the relationship and interconnectivity of marine ecosystems and how they all influence each other. Apparently, it doesn’t take longer than a couple of hours to get rid of a childhood misconception.

The first two weeks of the Zoox Experience Program we stay at the training center of Marine Conservation Philippines (MCP) on the island of Negros Oriental. We are being taught about the science of marine conservation, global laws and policies, marine monitoring of coral and seagrass, blue carbon, shark conservation, professional development and responsible diving in separate modules.  An interesting mix of lectures no university offers with such a hand-on approach. Moreover, we share the premises with the staff, interns and volunteers of MCP. Coming from different backgrounds, we all share the same passion: the ocean. Some help to protect it while scuba diving, conducting reef surveys to identify substrate, invertebrates and fish. Other organise community outreach programs, educating and raising awareness among children, fishermen and government officials. Still others conduct research on alternative livelihoods, Marine Protected Areas, solid waste management, mangrove nurseries and blue carbon offsets.

Thanks to Zoox, new worlds unfold before your eyes the more you learn about it, and with knowledge comes caring, and caring brings about the necessary change to protect the Earth and its oceans. A learning school for true changemakers, everyone to find its own way!

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