Put seagrass on the map with citizen science

Today, June 5th, is World Environment Day and at Project Seagrass we are happy to announce the launch of our GLOBAL Citizen Science smartphone app – SeagrassSpotter.org.

You (yes you) whether you know it or not, are (or at least have the capacity to be) a citizen scientist, and it is YOU who can help us conserve seagrass by uploading your sighting to SeagrassSpotter.org.

‘Seagrass Spotter’ is the first and only conservation tool for mapping seagrass distributions globally.

In the UK (as is the case globally) marine habitat loss is widespread, be it at the local or regional level. It is a problem that is likely to get worse as the global stressors of climate change and marine pollution combine to affect our waters. Indeed, right now it feels like the irrepressible tides of plastic seem worse than ever!

We need to act rapidly reduce the anthropogenic pressures on oceans under siege.

The good news is that seagrass meadows seem to be making the news a lot more these days… Indeed the contribution of seagrass meadows to the fishing industry is eventually being recognised to the point at which fishing has been argued as the ‘best argument for seagrass conservation’ with a recent study concluding that seagrass ‘supports 20% of fisheries’.

The profile of seagrass is on the up, and it has been identified by the Scottish Government as one of eleven of the most vulnerable ‘Priority Marine Features’ in Scotland’s waters. Marine Scotland is now looking to see whether protection is needed including whether management measures might be needed to ensure that development and use of the marine environment does not have a significant effect on their national status.

The obvious drawback for seagrass meadows is that they just aren’t seen to be as sexy as coral reefs. However, with the passionate work of a small global community of individuals we are looking to change that perspective. But we need both your support and your seagrass sightings!

At Project Seagrass we are calling on all SCUBA divers, freedivers, snorkelers, kayakers, sailors and other water users to download the app and get spotting seagrass in their area. Understanding where seagrass is and mapping its distribution is an important part of conserving it and preventing its loss. To date the world has mapped around 300,000km2 of seagrass, yet experts have speculated that there could be up to 4 million km2 of seagrass – much of which needs mapping!

This new global version of SeagrassSpotter.org also includes the first global easy to use identification guide for seagrasses. Simply put, a user can take photo of intertidal seagrass using the app, or for other devices people can simply upload a picture taken with any camera direct to the website. The user will then be asked to identify and describe what they’ve seen. This information is critical for understanding the health of these ecosystems around the world.

Project Seagrass is an environmental charity devoted to the conservation of seagrass ecosystems through education, influence, research and action. We’re here to communicate to you that seagrasses both locally and globally are under threat, and as such their capacity to act as both carbon sinks and fisheries powerhouses is being jeopardized by our actions.

Protecting seagrass helps to ensure food security and fights climate change. Some of our most iconic sea creatures live in seagrass; seahorses, sea turtles and sea cows all need seagrass meadows. Will you help us in our fight for a new dawn for seagrass?

Dr Richard Lilley is a British seagrass scientist and science communicator. Follow Richard @rjlilley on Twitter. You can see more images of seagrass and learn more about his work by following @projectseagrass on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.