To celebrate the June 5 World Environment Day, diplomats from more than a dozen foreign embassies and international organizations Monday joined the U.S. State Department to plant underwater seagrass in the Potomac River, a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay.
Diplomats told VOA their participation in “green diplomacy” is to help raise awareness of the challenges of clean water here and at home.
Underwater grasses growing in shallow waters of the Chesapeake Bay add oxygen to the water, provide wildlife with food and habitat, absorb nutrient pollution, trap sediment and reduce erosion, according to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
Representatives from China, Costa Rica, Finland, Germany, Indonesia, Iraq, Malta, Pakistan, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates, as well as the European Union and the World Bank, have been growing seagrasses in their chanceries or ambassadors’ residences since January 2017.
After six months of grow-out, diplomats gathered at the Mason Neck State Park in Lorton, VA to plant their grasses to bolster grass populations and help restore the Chesapeake Bay.
Nursing the grasses is a challenge.
“My gosh, it is very difficult,” Anggarini Sesotyoningtyas from Embassy of Indonesia’s Economic Affairs office told VOA.
“It’s not just like regular plant ‘cause I think it really needs a careful maintenance and care,” said Sesotyoningtyas, adding that the first few days were making sure grass-growing kits were set up correctly, then checking constantly that the seeds were growing.
By working with the CBF’s “Grasses for the Masses” program, diplomats are demonstrating the commitment to environmental protection.
“Underwater grasses are great to protect the natural ecosystem. They offer a lot of benefits for the water. One of the neat things about grasses is they provide shade for some of the river critters or the bay critters. They also provide oxygen to the water, bring in more oxygen, they help trap pollution,“ said Rebecca LePrell, Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Virginia executive director.
Addressing the challenge of clean water is part of the State Department’s green diplomacy initiative.
“It’s certainly something that many other countries, most other countries, struggle with as well. And so it’s something that we share in common and can work around a simple product that can be taken to other countries to use. Just simple six months of growing grasses makes a huge benefit to waterways,“ the State Department’s Office of Foreign Missions director Cliff Seagroves told VOA.
Some diplomats say the U.S. decision to leave the Paris agreement will affect their partnerships. Instead of country-to-country relationships, they will instead focus on cooperation with local governments and communities.
“My job here at the embassy is environmental cooperation with the United States.That might take a different form going forward. We might focus more on state local actors, on the business community who have been very loud in their opposition to the pulling out with the Paris agreement and want to continue to fight climate change,” said Anton Hufnagl from the Germany Embassy.
By helping restore seagrass in the Chesapeake Bay, the State Department said it aims to raise awareness of the challenge of clean water, both in the Washington, DC metropolitan area and around the world.
It also is an opportunity for the U.S. to work with the foreign diplomatic community to address an environmental challenge that people face globally.