HomeScuba NewsANZSeagrass Helps to Save a Sinking Island.

Seagrass Helps to Save a Sinking Island.


Marine Biologists have come up with an innovative solution to help save a sinking Island in the Laccadive Sea. Vaan Island is located in the Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve, between India and Sri Lanka. The reserve had previously  encompassed 21 islands, unfortunately two have already been lost to the ocean and Vaan is next on the list having shrunk in size from 26 hectares in 1976 to just 4 hectares in 2016.

The area is of great ecological and commercial importance with fishermen and researchers using the islands for protection from bad weather and for research purposes. The area hosts 23% of Indian fin fish species and local villagers rely on these waters for their livelihoods.

Divers Planting seagrass

The cause of the predicament that Vaan Island now finds itself in has been attributed to poor fishing practices, climate change, causing rising sea levels and historic coal mining, which has now been banned in the area. 

The solution was seagrass. Gilbert Mathews, a marine biologist at the Suganthi Devadason Marine Research Institute (SDMRI) said.

“Like corals, these tufts of grass provide a habitat to many splendorous sea-creatures, such as seahorses and lizard fish, which can be found in seagrass throughout the year, Seagrass provides the right environment for young fish and invertebrates to conceal themselves, while absorbing dissolved carbon dioxide and creating an oxygen and nutrient-rich environment. With its ability to trap sediments, seagrass also acts as a natural filter, clearing the waters and slowing erosion.

researchers helping with the seagrass project

The once abundant meadows of seagrass in the area were being destroyed but bottom trawling fishing boats, who were inadvertently destroy the habit on which they relied. 

Mathews stated “We believed that by restoring the seagrass meadows along these waters, we could strengthen the island and possibly save this and prevent others from submerging into the sea,” 

Replanting the sea grass took a considerable effort with the elements and the fishermen often undoing the researchers good work. Eventually they came up with a system of tying the seagrass to home made plastic quadrants.

Seagrass attached to plastic quadrants

Edward J.K. Patterson, director of the SDMRI, said.

“To date, the joint efforts to restore the coral and seagrass around Vaan Island and its neighbours has strengthened the degraded shoreline, making it less vulnerable to threats, “This is the first attempt in India to fight to save a sinking island,” he says. And it appears to be working – for now, Vaan island is stable.

Photo Credit: SDMRI

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