Protecting Seagrass Through Payments for Ecosystem Services: A Community Guide

Seagrasses are an important part of many coastal ecosystems worldwide. They are flowering plants, or angiosperms, and grow as ‘meadows’ in subtidal and intertidal zones in tropical, subtropical and temperate seas. They provide many ecosystem services – the benefits to people provided by ecosystems – to those who live close to them and to people further afield. For example, they act as a nursery habitat for fish and shellfish, many of which are caught by fishers, and so help to boost the populations of marine species which provide food and income. They act as a coastal buffer, protecting the shore from erosion by waves and storms. They also trap large quantities of carbon, helping to mitigate climate change.

Seagrass meadows can be damaged and lost as a result of various human activities. These threats can be direct, involving the physical damage or removal of seagrass meadows (for example by fishing gears), or indirect, including smothering by sediment from land erosion upstream. Globally, the combined threats to seagrass have caused the loss of 29% of seagrass coverage worldwide in the last 100 years.

Seagrass is currently under-recognised by many governments and inter-governmental agreements. This is in part due to lack of recognition of the benefits that it provides to people, and its perceived lack of charisma by the public in comparison to other marine ecosystems such as coral reefs and mangroves, which receive more public attention. Even when appropriate legislation is in place, implementation is often lacking; the funds and expertise may not be available and seagrass is easily forgotten when competing with more obvious priorities.

This document does not provide step-by-step instructions on running a community-based seagrass conservation project; it does however provide guidance and best-practice advice on how to do so and acts as a ‘signposting’ guide to resources elsewhere. It provides general guidance for doing so as well as supplementary information on setting up a Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) project. Here, we have a particular focus on carbon-based PES.

Contact details are given at the end of the document for organisations wishing to seek advice or support in establishing a community-based seagrass PES project.

Read the manual here.