Exploring the effects of the seagrass restoration project on mitigating the effects of climate change and potentially becoming a model for future projects, as well as the positives and negatives of globalization and its ties with global warming.
By Ananya Dua
Recently, the presidential debates brought up the issue of climate change, breaking a 20-year streak which began after this topic was last addressed in 2000. Both candidates expressed starkly different views upon the topic, highlighting that even today, climate change is a topic up for debate for many citizens. While a majority are cognizant of the rising temperatures, a significant amount still believe that climate change is a myth. They claim that corrupt scientists and politicians are looking to instill fear in society through propaganda.
At the same time, the world’s largest seagrass restoration project hit the news with the potential to mitigate global warming and its evident effects on the planet. This restoration project, like others, is an effort to help the damaged ecosystems that have been harmed by natural events. This project was a result of a succession of hurricanes off the coast of Virginia in the late 1900’s.
This initiative, led by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and The Nature Conservancy started off by spreading out 70 million eelgrass seeds over plots covering more than 200 hectares, in proximity to Virginia’s east shore. Eelgrass, a flowering variety of the seagrass native to marine ecosystems was decided upon due to the region. Today, almost 20 years after their initial beds of eelgrass, the plot has grown to span over 3612 hectares, almost 18 times its initial size.
While there have been similar projects of a smaller scale, this one is the largest scale project of the 21st century that is efficiently able to monitor the planted grass and track the response of the terrestrial biosphere, an essential step to map out whether the project is going to be sustainable in the future.
Historically, projects have used the help of volunteer societies to plant the grass all over, leading to a more tedious data-gathering process and lower success rate due to the scattered nature of the seeds. This initiative, however, located prime areas for scattering seeds and were thus able to see prodigious results in a much shorter period of time, along with a more effective way to track the progress of the system.
After analysis of the results, ecologists came to a reassuring conclusion. Studies done on the project show a “remarkably hardy ecosystem that is trapping carbon and nitrogen that would otherwise contribute to global warming and pollution”. With this restoration project, ecologists believe that underwater ecosystems like this one can be modeled for many future projects. They imagine a healthier future for our planet with these projects trapping greenhouse gases before they can harm the environment.
The team’s success has led them to seek partnership with a coastal zone management program to introduce bay scallops into the seagrass beds. They believe this will help small fish in the ecosystem that were previously displaced. The team also has faith that the coastal water quality will see improvement as the system absorbs nutrients and traps sediments.
Ecological restoration is no doubt a key component of conservation. However, some ecologists voice concerns regarding the long term viability of such projects. Restoration projects have been negatively impacting landowners in the vicinity, creating social boundaries for future projects. They affect commercial land use for things such agriculture. After resentment from landowners and farmers, the government has had to pass regulations to minimize effects. Legal constraints have been exercised in the past with the riparian restoration in the Sacramento River Area in 1989.
Zoe Pierrat, a phD student and researcher at UCLA’S Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences Department talks about the factors that affect the success of such projects, underscoring the ecologists’ need to first identify the reason for restoration, to reduce impacts to surrounding areas.
“If the ecosystem was cut down by humans or experienced pollution, [and that is what caused it to deteriorate], we need to address the main concern first,” Pierrat said. …planting plants will not help restore the ecosystem, it could actually prove [detrimental to the nearby soil and water quality].”
However, for most, these restoration projects are just a big industry, ripe with government expenditure. According to Takepart, an environmental justice student, “$70 billion has been spent on wetland restoration projects alone in North America over the past 20 years.”While money is being spent, little is known about the long-term performance of many projects. A recent study reported upon the success of restoration projects that “global seagrass survival rates of 37% are averaged among restoration trials.” The significantly lower rate of success can be accredited to a variety of environmental factors, the majority of them linked with poor site and plant selection.
Many of these environmental issues today can be traced to globalization, which is fueling an increase in our greenhouse gas production. Ethical issues are brought up, and a balance must be struck, starting with the switch from non-renewable resources to renewable resources. Globally, it has been estimated that we consume the equivalent of over 11 billion tons of oil from fossil fuels every year. Due to industrialization, chemicals are thrown into the soil which result in the growth of many toxic weeds, damaging genetic makeup of plants in their natural ecosystem.
So then, surely, anti-globalization should have a positive impact on the planet, right?
Studies find that that is not necessarily true. Through a phenomenon known as the technique effect, globalization is known to trigger environmentally friendly innovation from more developed countries to those still developing, aiding in the transportation of clean technologies. De-globalization could mean these technologies aren’t passed on to countries that are trying to go green, diminishing awareness and not proving beneficial to combat climate change.
Addressing climate change requires intervention from the government, as our individual efforts can make a difference, but not a significant one. “71% of Carbon emissions come from 100 companies that are mainly fossil fuel industries,” Pierrat said. “So, unless you can help move them towards renewable energy, you’re not really making all that much difference.”
Nonetheless, she does encourage individuals to use their first amendment rights to advocate for climate change reform. “Voting for politicians that take climate science seriously is important, as they are the ones that will push forward climate change action,” Pierrat said. For those who aren’t yet of age, she recommends changing to a vegan or vegetarian diet that is more sustainable, as well as using less animal products and opting for carpooling to curb carbon emissions.
“We are all connected to communities,” Junior Atmaja Patil, who is currently working with the MV Environmental Science Club, said. “Right now, we are working on a project to get teachers to use less paper. We [hope to] expand this to the district.” Through her efforts she attempts to join together groups to make a difference, and bring about structural change in paper use, leading to a greener planet with fewer trees being cut down.
Sophomore Chetnaa Prasad also talks about her own efforts to diminish the disastrous effects of climate change on our planet by transitioning from plastic to reusable water bottles, which require fewer fuels to produce. “I got this filtered water cap and bottle…. It was an investment [of] 300, 400 [dollars], but it’s better for the planet” she states.
According to the World Health Organization, by 2030, “climate change could put an additional 100 million people worldwide in extreme poverty.” If not before, this shocking statistic should be a wakeup call. Our lifestyles are negatively impacting the planet, and while restoration projects can alleviate effects, they cannot address the root cause. We have to take responsibility and embody the change we want to see.