A remote-powered camera glides through the sunlit, turquoise waters of this corner of the western Indian Ocean, capturing rare footage of what scientists believe is the world’s largest seagrass meadow.
Human activity is helping destroy the equivalent of a soccer field of these seagrasses every 30 minutes around the world, according to the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP). And scientists are now racing to take stock of what remains.
“There are a lot of unknowns — even things as simple as how much seagrass we have,” said Oxford University earth observation scientist Gwilym Rowlands, who is helping the Seychelles government map the island nation’s seagrass and estimate how much carbon it stores.
“If you look at the map data for seagrass, there are huge holes” in what we know.
Seagrasses play a large role in regulating ocean environments, storing more than twice as much carbon from planet-warming carbon dioxide (CO2) per square mile as forests do on land, according to a 2012 study in the journal Nature Geoscience.