Bali, 14 October 2023 – Seagrass bed is a lush expanse of green underwater vegetation that thrives in clean and shallow waters at depths of 0 to 10 meters. These plants flourish in calm currents at approximately 0.5 meters per second. Indonesian waters, particularly along the east and west coasts of Sumatra, have become a comfortable home for seagrass, such as in the Tanjung Kelayang area in East Belitung, Bangka Belitung Province.
Seagrass thrives in regions like Batam, Bintan, Nias, and parts of Lampung. Seagrass, forming a triumvirate of coastal defense or greenbelt with mangroves and coral reefs, can also be found in the shallow waters of Nusa Tenggara, western Sulawesi, and the Maluku Islands.
Indonesia's waters harbor a significant amount of seagrass. Out of approximately 60 seagrass species worldwide, 15 are found in Indonesian waters. The most common seagrass species in Indonesia include Enhalus acoroides, Thalassia hemprichii, Cymodocea rotundata, and Cymodocea serrulata.
Like mangroves and coral reefs, seagrass beds serve as the best habitat for several endangered species, such as sea turtles and dugongs. These marine creatures treat the underwater meadows like a five-star Michelin restaurant, always serving the finest and most delicious menu, the seagrass.
Seagrass beds also provide an abundant food source for marine life, including spinefoot fish, seahorses, crabs, clams, other small fish, and crustaceans. Moreover, seagrass beds play a vital role in preventing coastal erosion. The dense seagrass can slow down the flow of water and waves toward the shore, creating calm waters around the seagrass beds.
Indonesia has the largest expanse of seagrass beds in Southeast Asia and ranks second globally after Australia. Indonesian seagrass beds cover approximately 15% of the world's total seagrass bed area. Marine biogeochemistry researcher Aan Johan Wahyudi from the National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN) said that the verified and validated seagrass beds in Indonesia cover an area of 293,464 hectares, as determined by satellite imagery and field observations.
According to BRIN's research, Aan mentioned that the current expanse of seagrass beds in Indonesia has the capacity to absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) in the range of 1.9 to 5.8 megatons (Mt) of carbon per year. As with mangroves, seagrass has substantial carbon absorption capacity. Every hectare of seagrass bed can absorb up to 6.59 tons of carbon annually.
He emphasized that the carbon-absorbing ability of seagrass meadows is far superior to any terrestrial vegetation. "This figure is truly fantastic because the carbon absorption capacity of seagrass is greater than that of terrestrial vegetation. It can be up to 77% higher than terrestrial vegetation such as forests," he stated, as reported by Antara.
Considering these facts, coastal vegetation like seagrass beds become essential for carbon control efforts, a prominent program in Indonesia's agenda until 2045. However, despite the recorded potential of seagrass bed area in the country reaching 875,967 hectares, the efforts of environmental organizations to intensify research still need improvements.
Overall, seagrass beds that can absorb carbon are still dominated by Enhalus acoroides and Thalassia hemprichii species. These two seagrass species are particularly crucial due to their significant carbon reserves.
Carbon reserves in seagrass are stored in the substrate beneath the seafloor sand and integrated with seagrass roots. These reserves can endure for extended periods if the coastal areas remain undisturbed.
According to seagrass researcher Nurul Dhewani Mirah Sjafrie from BRIN, only 15.35% of the validated seagrass area is considered to be in excellent or healthy condition. The remaining 53.8% is classified as less healthy, with approximately 30.77% categorized as poor or deteriorating.
Following the Minister of Environment's Decree No. 200 of 2004, healthy seagrass beds should have a minimum coverage of 60%. Currently, the average seagrass bed coverage in Indonesia stands at 42.23%.
Therefore, the government is determined to protect the greenbelt ecosystem, which includes seagrass meadows. This is also an effort to regulate and manage the potential marine resources in the country.
These efforts are also in accordance with Government Regulation No. 16 of 2017 on Indonesia’s Maritime Policy, which serves as the guiding framework for maritime policy and implementation steps through various ministries and agencies in the field of maritime affairs.
Since 2017, the Indonesian government has been collaborating with the Australian government to preserve seagrass beds as part of a maritime-focused bilateral agreement.
According to two BRIN researchers, Husen Rifai and Kevin M Lukman, as reported in “Ambio: A Journal of Environment and Society,” seagrass ecosystems must be restored to address climate change and other environmental issues. They emphasize the need for the government to implement seagrass restoration programs and involve coastal communities in preserving seagrass bed ecosystems.
"Community awareness is a vital factor for the success of seagrass conservation and restoration. If communities neglect this, it can lead to a setback for seagrass beds conservation efforts," they stated.
Husen and Kevin propose large-scale seagrass bed restoration efforts involving various stakeholders and related organizations. Indonesia can draw inspiration from Australia, where seagrass bed restoration has been successfully implemented at a much lower cost than coral reef restoration.
They estimate a cost of around $700,000 (Rp10.8 billion) per hectare for seagrass restoration efforts, including planning, planting, and monitoring. In contrast, coral restoration reaches approximately U$3 million (Rp45 billion) per hectare. “When carried out in developing countries like Indonesia, the costs would certainly be lower due to the less expensive human resources compared to Australia,” Kevin said.
An example of this approach can be seen in the Sangkarang Islands, South Sulawesi, where seagrass bed restoration efforts covering 600 square meters consumed a budget of U$100,000 (Rp1.5 billion) for planning, planting, and monitoring over three years. This program, initiated in 2016, used a transplantation method, relocating healthy seagrass plants and planting them at the target location.
After seven years of implementation, the restoration effort has yielded positive results. The recovered seagrass beds attract marine wildlife and protect against coastal erosion.
Support from the AIS Forum
The Archipelagic and Island States (AIS) Forum also supports seagrass preservation efforts, recognizing its multitude of benefits. This support is part of climate change mitigation and adaptation of sustainable ocean governance, one of the four main objectives of this forum, which was established in Manado, North Sulawesi, on 1 November 2018.
The AIS Forum has established international partnerships to develop innovative solutions. One of these is the Seagrass Carbon Converter (SCC), a web-based application for calculating carbon reserves and absorption in seagrass beds.
Developed by the AIS Forum Secretariat in collaboration with BRIN's Oceanography Research Center, SCC estimates carbon reserves and absorption in the coastal areas of AIS Forum participating countries. SCC was introduced at the 1st High-Level Meeting in Nusa Dua, Bali, on 10 – 11 October.
Hopefully, the efforts to preserve seagrass ecosystems in Indonesia will enhance the well-being of coastal communities and protect marine biodiversity, including endangered species. (Anton Setiawan/Ratna Nuraini/Elvira Inda Sari/IF/WW)
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Foto caption: Deputy for Prevention of the National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB), Prasinta Dewi (center), plants mangrove seedlings in the coastal area of Tapulaga Village, Soropia Subdistrict, Konawe Regency, Southeast Sulawesi, Thursday, 12 October 2023. BNPB, in collaboration with the Southeast Sulawesi Provincial Government, initiated the planting of 7,000 mangrove seedlings to strengthen disaster mitigation efforts against tsunami and coastal erosion as part of the 2023 Disaster Risk Reduction Month (DRR Month) commemoration in Kendari City. ANTARA FOTO/Jojon/YU