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June 8, 2012

World Oceans Day: Europe’s underwater forests are burning down

BY: Angela Pauly


© OCEANA / Carlos Suárez


It’s hard to imagine that if thousands of hectares of forest in Europe were being scraped away and dying off, politicians – even those not very environmentally “inclined” – would avoid protecting these vital habitats.

And yet – that’s exactly what’s happening here in Europe. Yes, the forests are made up of kelp, seagrass meadows, coralligenous beds and other marine species instead of oak and pine trees and wild flowers, but did you know that underwater forests are among the most productive ecosystems on the planet: one hectare of seaweed or seagrass can produce over 18,000 Euros per year in economic benefits, 8 times more than the value of a hectare of tropical forest. Yet pollution, anchoring boats, destructive fishing techniques, resource overexploitation, invasive species and coastal construction are some of the causes that have led to their drastic decline in recent decades.

Underwater forests are a massive defence against coastal erosion, which costs Europe around 90,000 million euros a year. Yet, despite knowing that every euro invested in marine and coastal conservation translates into at least 10 to 15 euros of profit, the EU spends little to nothing on protecting these habitats.

Money aside, these underwater habitats also play a critical role in regulating climate change. A recent study has also showed that seagrass, one of the most threatened ecosystems, stores as much as twice more carbon than the world’s temperate and tropical forests. And when these meadows get destroyed, what do you think happens to all that CO2 they are storing? That’s right, it’s released. Not a good thing.

So this World Oceans Day, we are raising the alarm. Someone has to make our policy makers know that this is unacceptable. Will you join us in raising your voice?

Check out our press release here for more information. We’ve also put together a set on Flickr with some great images of underwater forests and meadows – they are quite amazing!