- A Seychelles organization led a campaign to adopt Creole words for different types of seagrasses found in the country’s coastal waters.
- This move was part of a campaign to spread awareness about seagrasses’ value in protecting coastlines, providing habitat for marine life, and sequestering carbon.
- Seychelles has an estimated 20,000 km2 (7,700 mi2) of seagrass meadows in its waters, but those around the inner islands are under pressure from development and other human activities.
- In 2021, the nation pledged to protect 100% of its mangroves and seagrass meadows as part of its nationally determined contribution to the Paris Agreement.
Gomon. In Seychellois Creole, this has generally been the word to refer to anything “green and slimy,” says biologist and marine turtle expert Jeanne Mortimer.
“You have gomon in the cracks between tiles in your bathroom; you have gomon in the rainforest growing on trees,” she told Mongabay.
The word has even been used to describe seagrass, marine plants that grow in the seabed along the coast. In Seychelles, an archipelago with about 460 square kilometers (178 square miles) of land across 115 islands, seagrass plays an essential role in preventing surging seas from eroding the coastline. Seagrass meadows also perform other ecosystem services like sequestering carbon and providing habitat for species like turtles and dugongs.
In 2021, the Seychelles Conservation and Climate Adaptation Trust (SeyCCAT) launched a campaign to raise awareness about seagrass and the importance of conserving it. Part of this project focused on looking for new names for seagrasses in the local Creole language.
“The naming of the seagrass was important because how can you value something that you don’t have a decent name for?” Mortimer said. “It’s not to say that nobody had a name [for seagrass] because the fishermen have names. But most people were not that tuned into it. And most people would not know, for example, the difference between seagrass and algae. So we wanted to clear up that misunderstanding and make people aware of what the difference is.”
SeyCCAT worked with members of the public and fishers, linguists, and scientists to come up with an official term for seagrass: zerb lanmer. They also adopted Creole names for the five main seagrasses found around Seychelles. Long, flat-leaved species in the Enhalus genus gained the name Gomon zerb gran fey. The seagrass favored by green turtles (Chelonia mydas) — in the genera Thalassia, Cymodocea and Halodule — became Gomon zerb torti. Fan-like seagrass in the Thalassodendron genus became Gomon zerb levantay, while tube-shaped seagrass in the Syringodium genus became Gomon spageti or Gomon zerb sed. Last but not least, seagrass in the Halophila genus — typified by their fragile, oval-shaped leaves — would be called Lerb lanmer papiyon or Lerb lanmer zorey lapen.
Annike Faure, project manager at SeyCCAT, says the initiative has been a success so far, but there’s still work to get the words out into the wider public. The plan is to popularize them by including them in an updated Seychelles Creole dictionary, which may be published later this year.
“I think that would be the next step,” Faure told Mongabay, “seeing it in black and white in the dictionary.”
In addition to the renaming campaign, SeyCCAT is working with partner organizations to create a comprehensive map of its seagrasses to estimate how much carbon Seychelles’ seagrasses are storing, and to advance other scientific efforts related to seagrass.
There are an estimated 20,000 km2 (7,700 mi2) of seagrass meadows in the exclusive economic zone surrounding Seychelles. While Mortimer says many seagrass habitats are in good condition around Seychelles, seagrass meadows around the inner islands are under pressure from development and other human activities.
“Three of [the islands] have 99% of the human population, and that’s where most of the development occurs,” she said. “And since they’re high islands, they don’t have a lot of low land area, so over the decades, they’ve been reclaiming land adjacent to the island. And this is a problem because the land that they’re reclaiming tends to be seagrass meadows.”
Last year, the Seychelles government pledged to protect 100% of its mangroves and seagrass meadows as part of its nationally determined contribution to the Paris Agreement.
“Historically, people haven’t really valued seagrass,” Mortimer said, “but there’s so many benefits of seagrass that we want to make people aware of all of them.”
Banner image: Parrotfish swimming over sea grass. Image by Ben Jones / Ocean Image Bank.
Elizabeth Claire Alberts is a staff writer for Mongabay. Follow her on Twitter @ECAlberts.
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