by Michael Yap T.K./Malaysia
The ATO-ClimatEducate Project introduces our new coastal ecosystem warriors: Mark the Mangrove, Luz the Seagrass and Michael the Coral. (Illustration and Graphics by Chee Siang Teoh/ATO-ClimatEducate Project)
Marine coastal ecosystems are usually composed of mangrove forests, seagrass beds and coral reefs. The complexity and connectivity of all these three habitats are crucial to sustaining high productivity and biodiversity in our ocean. Losing either one of them would result destructive damage to the coastal communities, fish depletion and would even affect adaptation against climate change
The ATO-ClimatEducate Project introduces our new coastal ecosystem warriors: Mark the Mangrove, Luz the Seagrass and Michael the Coral.
Each of the habitats had the ability to stabilize its environment condition, sustaining important physical and biological support to another habitat. So how do these three cooperate?
1. Shoreline protection from wave erosion
High wave energy from the open sea will always reach the first barrier – coral reef. Michael the Coral would be able to reduce part of the strong wave energy before reaching the seagrass meadows. Then Luz the Seagrass would further reduce the wave energy with her soft and flexible leaf canopy. Finally, Mark the Mangrove will reduce the wave with his complex root system, protecting the shoreline from erosion.
2. Trapping sediment runoff and ensure good water quality
Sediment runoff from terrestrial areas constantly threaten coastal shallow habitat, which required less nutrients and crystal clear water to thrive. Mark the Mangrove can not only help stabilize the muddy soil, his network of roots help reduce the water flow and promote sedimentation. The effluent then flows into seagrass meadow, where Luz would use her leaf to catch more sediment before reaching to the coral reef areas. This to ensure water is clear and allows sunlight penetration for Luz the Seagrass and Michael the Coral to grow.
3. Fisheries breeding, nursery and feeding ground
Most commercially-significant fisheries such as crabs, shrimps, clams, and fish spend certain life cycles in a different habitat. Mature fish from coral reefs will swim into shallow water and lay their eggs in the mangrove forest. Mark the Mangrove may provide protection for smaller fish and for their hatchery. After reaching juvenile stage, they will swim into the seagrass meadows for food. Luz the Seagrass feeds them with abundance of larger food items and at the same time, their protection. Once those fish are mature enough, they’ll be able to migrate into deeper coral reef area and Michael the Coral provides hard physical protection to them.
4. Carbon sequestration and storage
Mark the Mangrove is able to absorb carbon in his biomass due to the large size, but Luz the Seagrass does it faster than Mark the Mangrove. All those carbon then are sequestrated and stored into the solid matter or into sediment. Luz the Seagrass contributes the highest carbon storage in our ocean sediment and stored in for millennia. Unfortunately, Michael the Coral does not have the ability to absorb carbon, making Luz the Seagrass an important player in mitigating climate change.
Unfortunately, most coastal resource management work and conservation were focused into specific habitats, such as coral reefs and mangroves, usually ignoring the importance of seagrass. The connectivity between all habitats are undeniable. We should look into ecosystems approach to manage, monitor and conserve all habitat as one whole ecosystem since any negative impacts on one would affect others as well.
Michael Yap T.K. is a marine researcher based in Sabah, Malaysia. He is also currently the Regional Project Manager of the ATO-ClimatEducate Project in East Asia, Southeast Asia and the Pacific (EASEAP); and is the founder of the conservation advocacy group, Seagrass Guardians.