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Sustaining Seagrass Ecosystems // The Crucial Role of Sea Cucumbers, Conch, and Innovative Technology

Updated: Apr 22

The Bahamas boasts a treasure trove of natural wonders, and among its most valuable assets are the sprawling seagrass beds that embellish its immaculate coastlines. While seagrass may not command the spotlight like coral reefs or enjoy the widespread recognition of mangroves, it stands as a silent powerhouse in the intricate tapestry of healthy coastal ecosystems. This unassuming marine grass plays a pivotal role in supporting a diverse range of marine life and, more significantly, is one of the greatest assets in the fight against climate change and the carbon crisis. Its contribution to the overall health of our planet is massively underestimated.

shark swimming through seagrass meadow in the bahamas

A nurse shark in the seagrass meadows of The Bahamas

In recent times, what was once considered an environmentalist's passion project is now emerging as a potentially crucial player in the emerging blue carbon market, thanks to the growing realization of seagrass’ high carbon sequestration and storage.  The Government of The Bahamas has taken strides to protect, preserve and monetize these vast seagrass meadows through the formation of the blue carbon development company, Carbon Management. Carbon Management have used data derived from their project partner, Beneath the Waves, a marine research NGO, to create the baseline data necessary to bring these large blue carbon projects to life. As this pipe dream becomes a tangible reality, seagrass conservation is stepping into the limelight, transforming from a niche concern to a positive nature-base climate solution. 

(i) Synallactida Sea Cucumber (ii) Aliger Gigas ‘Queen Conch’

Beneath the surface of the vast ocean lies a world teeming with life, from vibrant fish to majestic mammals. Known as the ‘unsung heroes of the deep’ —sea cucumbers and conch quietly play a pivotal role in the flourishing health of seagrass, a critical but often overlooked ecosystem. In the face of climate change coastal communities, like The Bahamas, grapple with imminent threats such as sea-level rise and ocean acidification. Safeguarding the delicate balance of marine life, particularly within seagrass ecosystems, becomes not just a necessity but a collective responsibility.

While seagrass may lack the glamour of coral reefs or the recognition of mangroves, its significance cannot be overstated. Found in shallow coastal waters, these meadows act as vital habitats for diverse marine species and serve as powerful carbon sinks, absorbing and storing substantial amounts of atmospheric carbon—estimated to be up to double the amount of amazon rain forests on a per acre basis (Source: This makes them indispensable in mitigating the adverse effects of climate change.

In the past, Bahamian seagrass meadows thrived with bustling populations of sea cucumbers and conch. However, there is now a noticeable decline due to over-fishing and Chinese demand (the latter specifically of sea cucumbers), raising concerns about the overall health of these crucial ecosystems. Keith Cooper, from West End Ecology Tours, a conservationist in the West End of Grand Bahama, vividly recalls the abundant sea cucumbers and conch in the 1970s but laments their scarcity in recent times. This decline underscores the urgent need to replenish these vital marine species for the well-being of seagrass meadows.

Let’s take a closer look at a couple of the marine species that help seagrass thrive; Sea cucumbers and Conch.  Sea cucumbers, often underestimated, play a vital role in seagrass bed health through a process known as bioturbation. By feeding on sediment rich in organic matter, they prevent nutrient accumulation, aerating the sediment and creating a healthier environment for seagrass growth, including alkalinity our acidifying seawaters. Similarly, conch contribute by grazing on algae and detritus that grow on seagrass leaves, preventing smothering and ensuring adequate sunlight for photosynthesis. The decline in these creatures directly impacts the overall health and productivity of seagrass beds.

To address these challenges, the solution is two fold.  Firstly, there is a need for further investment into the protection and restoration of sea cucumbers and conch.  Secondly there is a requirement to monitor and map seagrass beds over time.  Blue Action Accelerator has welcomed Ocean Ledger, a climate tech startup, into its expanding portfolio. Utilizing cutting-edge technology, including drones and remote sensing, Ocean Ledger maps seagrass meadows and other marine habitats with precision. This data proves invaluable not only to scientists and policymakers but also for cost-benefit analysis and financing mechanisms such as biodiversity and carbon credits.

Ocean Ledger analysis of (i) coastal ecosystems in Grand Bahama (ii) aerial image of Bahamian flats outlining complexity of sand vs seagrass

According to Paige Roeper, co-founder of Ocean Ledger, "The Bahamas is strategically positioned to benefit from coastal ecosystem accounting at the national and local scale. It has a wealth of coastal ecosystems, including seagrass. There is an opportunity to set a new standard for sustainable coastal developments and high-impact conservation by integrating natural capital accounting as a fundamental component of their economy, their policies, and really, in doing so, that helps them preserve the long-term health of biodiversity and these ecosystems."  Collaborating with local conservation groups, including the Bahamas National Trust and Mangrove Mania, Ocean Ledger aims to monitor and preserve unique ecosystems. This approach, integrating natural capital accounting into the economy and policies, provides a blueprint for sustainable coastal developments and high-impact conservation.

The collaboration between climate tech companies like Ocean Ledger and local initiatives marks an exciting milestone in the ongoing efforts to protect and preserve the vital marine habitat of The Bahamas. The importance of nurturing sea cucumber and conch populations, coupled with the need for seagrass mapping in quantifying carbon credits, holds the key not only to combatting climate change effects but also to providing economic benefits for coastal communities.

As we navigate the challenges of climate change, understanding the interconnectedness of marine life and embracing innovative technologies becomes paramount. The journey toward a healthier and more resilient future for our coastal and ocean communities is fueled by collective efforts, highlighting the significance of collaboration, conservation, and responsible stewardship.

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