Rapid seagrass meadow expansion in an Indian Ocean bright spot

Matthew Floyd*, Holly K. East, Dimosthenis Traganos, Azim Musthag, James R. Guest, Aminath S. Hashim, Vivienne Evans, Stephanie Helber, Richard K. F. Unsworth, Andrew J. Suggitt

*Corresponding author for this work

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The areal extent of seagrass meadows is in rapid global decline, yet they provide highly valuable societal benefits. However, their conservation is hindered by data gaps on current and historic spatial extents. Here, we outline an approach for national-scale seagrass mapping and monitoring using an open-source platform (Google Earth Engine) and freely available satellite data (Landsat, Sentinel-2) that can be readily applied in other countries globally. Specifically, we map contemporary (2021) and historical (2000–2021; n = 10 maps) shallow water seagrass extent across the Maldives. We found contemporary Maldivian seagrass extent was ~ 105 km2 (overall accuracy = 82.04%) and, notably, that seagrass area increased threefold between 2000 and 2021 (linear model, + 4.6 km2 year−1, r2 = 0.93, p < 0.001). There was a strongly significant association between seagrass and anthropogenic activity (p < 0.001) that we hypothesize to be driven by nutrient loading and/or altered sediment dynamics (from large scale land reclamation), which would represent a beneficial anthropogenic influence on Maldivian seagrass meadows. National-scale tropical seagrass expansion is unique against the backdrop of global seagrass decline and we therefore highlight the Maldives as a rare global seagrass ‘bright spot’ highly worthy of increased attention across scientific, commercial, and conservation policy contexts.
Original languageEnglish
Article number10879
Number of pages14
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 13 May 2024

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