What is seagrass? And how is it different to seaweed/algae?

Seagrass is often mistaken for seaweed when in fact they are very different. Seagrasses are complex, underwater flowering plants. They have true roots, leaves and veins for nutrient transport. They even have flowers that are pollinated by marine insects like shrimp, much like bees pollinate flowers on land and which become fruits and seeds.

Algae are simple, non-flowering underwater plants that lack true roots, leaves and veins. They include a diverse range of growth forms, from microscopic plants called phytoplankton, to long weed that can grow up to 30m in some parts of the world.

Does seagrass occur naturally in the Maldives?

Yes! Seagrasses are found all over the world, in both hot and cold locations. Seagrasses live in shallow seas of all continents except Antarctica!

Seagrass meadows are found in areas with soft sediment that are either intertidal (exposed to the air daily at low tide) or subtidal (always under water). Seagrasses prefer sheltered places, such as shallow bays and lagoons, where waves are small and light levels are high. They can also be found at depths of up to 60m.

Why does seagrass sometimes grow in areas where it didn’t exist before?

The growth of seagrass is dependent on water depth, wave action, water clarity, nutrient levels and salinity . Often human activity causes factors like water flow (from construction of coastal structures like harbours) and nutrient levels to change, which can lead to the proliferation of seagrasses in areas where they were not found before. This is not a bad thing but could point to underlying environmental stressors that need to be addressed, like sewage treatment.

Why should seagrass be protected in the Maldives?

The IUCN Maldives summarises the answer well in their 3-minute video.

Seagrass supports thousands of marine animals. For example, it provides a home or feeding area for more than 1,000 species of fish, including fishes that humans eat, as well as larger endangered species found in the Maldives such as turtles and rays

Seagrass meadows also support coral reefs and other habitats for fish, by providing food or a place for baby fish to live.

Seagrass holds sediment together, which helps to protect the coast from the impacts of storms and large waves, by preventing coastal erosion.

Seagrass meadows also play an important role in the fight against rapid climate change, because seagrasses take up carbon dioxide that is dissolved in seawater, like other plants remove it from the air. The carbon dioxide is used to build the plant’s tissues or is stored in their roots which extends deep under the sediment. Estimates suggest that seagrass meadows can bury carbon in underwater sediments up to 40 times faster than tropical forests bury it in soil, and seagrasses provide one of the greatest contributions to the total carbon buried in ocean sediments.

All of the ways in which seagrass helps humans are called ecosystem services, which are valued at $1.9 trillion per year. These ecosystem services make seagrass one of the most important marine ecosystems for humans.


Why did the Blue Marine Foundation (BLUE) and Maldives Underwater Initiative (MUI) start this campaign?

Tropical seascapes like the Maldives generally have 3 distinct habitat types: coral reefs, seagrass meadows and mangrove forests. Together, live corals, seagrasses, and mangroves supply more protection services than any individual habitat or any combination of two habitats. Though mangroves and coral reefs are often hot topics of conversation in the Maldives, seagrass is not.

Resorts and guest houses occupy more islands in the Maldives than local people do and their operations impact the Maldivian environment. We want to draw attention to the need for sustainable tourism practices across the Maldives and ensure resorts recognise that it is in their interest to conserve their local resources not only for the benefit of their business but for the wellbeing of the Maldives and its people.

What is the goal of the #ProtectMaldivesSeagrass campaign?

BLUE, MUI and our partner organizations want to promote a culture of eco-tourism in the Maldives. The goal of the campaign is to secure pledges from Maldivian resorts to protect a minimum of 80% of their seagrass (or recognise the importance of seagrass habitats and the need for resorts to protect it). We also want to make sure that Maldivian people and tourists visiting the Maldives understand how important seagrass is for the country. If the guests who visit Maldivian resorts understand the value of seagrass ecosystems, they are less likely to write a negative review about the resort. By generating support from a number of resorts, Maldivians and tourists who visit the Maldives, we will be able to create an enabling environment for future policy change.

Are you asking resorts to protect all of their seagrass?

Operationally, at some resorts it might be a difficult task to protect 100% of their seagrass. Conservation sometimes requires compromise. At this stage, we are asking resorts to commit to protecting a minimum of 80% of their seagrass meadows, with the goal of increasing the level of protection over time.

What does ‘protecting’ mean?

Protecting the seagrass meadows around a resort means not removing it! We are asking resorts to commit to leaving their seagrass beds to grow naturally and thrive without human intervention.

Can resorts without seagrass still join the campaign?

Of course! We want all resorts in the Maldives to play a role in this campaign, recognising that there is a need for a sustainable tourism industry in the Maldives. When resorts without seagrass sign on as supporting resorts, they are making a public statement rejecting the practice of seagrass removal in the tourism industry and embracing the importance of this habitat.

How can I make sure the resort I am booking doesn't remove their seagrass?

All of our campaign partners are listed on our home page. If you click on the resort’s name you can see the area of seagrass they have pledged to protect.

How would the presence of seagrass at a resort add value to my stay as a visitor to the Maldives?

Let’s use our partner resort Six Senses Laamu as an example. Of guests surveyed, 94% said they ‘strongly agreed’ that the presence of seagrass near their villa added value to their stay.

Thanks to its five hectares of seagrass meadows, guests can spot more than 100 species of fish; view feeding green sea turtles (above and below the water); see stingrays feeding at the meadow’s edge, and spot juvenile reef sharks cruising in the shallows. Over a 4 day stay, guests say they see an average of 11 turtles, sharks and rays in the seagrass nearby their villas.

What does it mean to make a pledge for the campaign? Why are we collecting pledges?

Pledging as a local Maldivian or visitor to the Maldives means you acknowledge the important ecosystem services provided by seagrass meadows and you reject the practice of seagrass removal. More pledges from tourists will mean we can convince resorts that are reluctant to stop removing seagrass that their target market do not support this practice. The more pledges we have from locals and the more resorts we have on board, the greater the chance for of enabling long lasting protection of this habitat in the Maldives.