The Importance of Seagrass in Combating the Climate Crisis
Regarding the fossils found, it can be said that seagrasses evolved approximately 100 million years ago. Thanks to the evolutionary process, today, there are 72 different seagrass species in the world. Furthermore, as one of the world's most productive ecosystems, seagrasses are able to form dense ‘’underwater meadows (beds)’’, and some of these meadows are very large to be seen from space.
According to the report published by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), ‘’seagrass meadows’’ have a vital role in the continuity of ecosystems as they stabilise the sea floor, provide food and habitats for living things, purify the oceanic waters and increase water quality. Although seagrasses cover less than one per cent of the sea and ocean floors combined, they retain about 10% of the carbon stored there. Therefore, their existence is critical for underwater ecosystems. Unfortunately, seagrass meadows are decreasing due to pollution and habitat destruction due to climate change.
Restoration of the seagrass habitats can count as both national and international climate-change plans. Accordingly, each signatory to the Paris Agreement must submit its strategy, or nationally determined contribution concerning this preservation, to the United Nations, with consecutive goals and schedules becoming more ambitious.
Is Zostera Marina the solution?
Spanish Chef Ángel León (El Chef del Mar; the Chef of the Sea) and his collaborating research team believe that a seagrass variety called ‘’Zostera Marina (commonly called eelgrass)’’, with its multiple uses in the ‘’kitchen’’, can help solve the adverse effects of the climate crisis and improve food security.
‘’When I started Aponiente 12 years ago, my goal was to open a restaurant that served everything that had no value in the sea. The first years were awful because nobody understood why I was serving customers produce that nobody wanted. But, in the end, it’s like everything. If you respect the areas in the sea where this grain is being grown, it will ensure humans take care of it. It means humans would defend it. We have opened a window; I believe it’s a new way to feed ourselves.’’ Chef Ángel León
The starting point of Chef León’s research on ‘’Zostera Marina’’ is that he came across this seagrass in the Gulf of Cádiz in Southern Spain in 2017. Today, a team affiliated with León’s restaurant Aponiente continues their research, focusing on the potential of this seagrass as a culinary ingredient. In line with the ongoing work, León and his team are planting the ‘’Zostera Marina’’ seed in a field near Aponiente in the Bay of Cádiz to take advantage of this seagrass. This plantation area (approximately 3,000 square metres) also serves as a ‘’seed bank’’ for restoration projects on planting and sustainable agriculture that are expected to be implemented in the future.
Compared to the other grains, Zostera Marina seeds have a great potential for use in kitchens: Flour can be made from these seeds, or the seeds can be fermented and used to produce alcohol. The usage possibilities that Zostera Marina brings with it are almost endless. Currently working for Aponiente, Chef León and his team are undergoing a process to certify Zostera Marina as a new food (with numerous usage possibilities, as stated) through the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
It should be noted that León’s team was not the first to use ‘’Zostera Marina’’. We see this seagrass in the past used for a variety of purposes, including animal feed, fertiliser, and wall insulation. In addition, the Mesoamerican Indians ‘’Seri People’’ regularly consume the Zostera Marina seagrass. Their approach to harvesting this seagrass has been made for centuries in a holistic and inclusive way with mother nature (unlike industrial production). In this way, they offer an alternative to prevent the climate crisis.
Needless to say, artificially growing seagrass in ponds brings exceptional water quality, temperature controls and light adjustments in general (and with the damaging outcomes of climate change and heatwaves, it is difficult more than ever). Moreover, the production process, especially harvesting seeds, is complicated to replicate for large-scale industrial use. Therefore, just like in the agroecology approach, we need to blend the information obtained by sustainably applying the ancient knowledge of the indigenous peoples with modern science.
Undoubtedly, the sustainable harvesting of this seagrass, which has the potential to provide benefits in many areas, is of great importance in combating the climate crisis and protecting the marine ecosystem. In this regard, it is essential to prevent plastic pollution with regulations with strict sanctions. Otherwise, humanity and other living things will have to face irreversible consequences.