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Photo credits Left picture – Krishna Ashok, Wise Oceans, Two smaller pictures on the right – Jeanne A Mortimer

Climate change is impacting Seychelles and the rest of the world in many ways including through rising sea levels, changes in weather patterns, and a hotter climate. At current rates, the average temperature on Earth is expected to increase 3-5oC by the end of this century. A primary cause of this global warming is too much CO2 in the atmosphere produced by human activities such as burning of fuels. How can we reduce levels of atmospheric CO2? One approach is to reduce anthropogenic carbon emissions. A complementary approach is to protect and enhance natural ecosystems that remove CO2 from the atmosphere. The goal is to keep temperature increase below 2oC (ideally 1.5oC) this century.

When the Paris Climate Agreement was signed in December 2015, the 185 country signatories promised to take meaningful, measurable action to combat climate change through “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs), which must include strategies for reducing carbon emissions and building resilience to climate change effects. The countries are required to submit new NDCs every 5 years. Seychelles submitted its intended NDC (iNDC) in 2015, its second will be submitted sometime this year or early next year (due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the 26th Conference of Parties being postponed to 2021).

Coastal wetlands–including seagrass meadows, mangroves, and salt/tidal marshes– are recognized by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for their quantifiable carbon sequestration and storage capacity and for their huge potential in mitigating climate change. By leveraging coastal wetlands to meet their NDCs, parties to the Paris Agreement could also conserve some of the most threatened ecosystems on Earth and their ecosystem services. Almost two thirds of the Paris Agreement signatories have included nature-based solutions in their NDCs[1]that include protecting natural ecosystems that absorb and store CO2, but few of the countries have gone on to quantify the amount of carbon sequestered and made concrete, measurable commitments to the monitoring and safeguarding of these ecosystems. Seychelles seeks to set the pace.

Seychelles is looking at integrating seagrass carbon sequestration and storage into its upcoming NDC. This is being explored through the Coastal Wetlands and Climate Change Project at SeyCCAT. The project which started in January 2020, has a two-year timeline and will end in December 2021. There are several partners working with SeyCCAT under this project: The PEW Charitable Trusts, The Nature Conservancy, the University of Oxford, Blue Economy Research Institute (BERI) and many local stakeholders.

Working with these partners, national and international, Seychelles intends to commit within its next NDC to fully mapping our seagrass ecosystems and using the appropriate IPCC guidance to assess their carbon value. In fact, Seychelles will be one of the first countries to integrate seagrass ecosystems into the reporting of its NDCs, and the lessons we learn will be reported on under the project and will provide guidance to other countries on how to conduct these assessments and inform protection as well as impacts.

The Coastal Wetlands and Climate Change Project will produce the following outputs:

1)  Quantitative data about the carbon sequestration capacity of seagrass meadows in Seychelles, to be integrated into the country’s NDC and its Third National Communication.

2) Creation of awareness in Seychelles by:

  • building local capacity and conducting training sessions for local stakeholders on blue carbon and blue carbon stock assessments.
  • creating communication tools.
  • developing a blue carbon finance mechanism.
  • sensitizing target groups and the public about the importance of seagrass (and associated plants and animals).

Following the successful completion of the first workshop of the project to better understand the existing work that has taken place in the Seychelles on seagrass meadows, the project will now focus on activities to sensitize Seychellois about the importance of seagrass ecosystems, blue carbon issues, and the biology of seagrass meadows.

Traditionally, Seychellois culture lumps all marine plants under the single name “gomon.”  It does not differentiate between “seagrass” which are highly complex vascularized flowering plants, and the much simpler “marine algae.” In the coming months activities are planned for school children, youth, and other target groups, that will enhance their understanding of these beautiful, economically important, and productive ecosystems.

The absence of a name for seagrass in the native Seychellois tongue, Creole, can, in part, be blamed for the disconnect between these habitats and the local populations.  Therefore, another qualitative aim of the project would be to investigate and find consensus through a consultative process on a specific name for seagrass. By connecting our native language to this habitat/ecosystem/seagrass meadows this will enable a sense of ownership and attachment by Seychellois to these important habitats and change the general perceptions of them as annoying slimy algae interrupting their swim and dirtying the beach.

[1] https://www.iucn.org/news/climate-change/201909/countries-must-use-nature-more-their-climate-commitments-iucn-report