All that’s changed. Seagrass now figures in the story of one of the world’s most serious threats: climate change.
Urban life, industrial development, large-scale agriculture – all of it generates carbon dioxide and methane, and excess carbon released into the atmosphere over time leads to warming temperatures. Carbon “sinks” as they’re called, are natural processes that help absorb and store carbon. They have been hailed as a key solution in mitigating the impact of climate change.
Enter the humble seagrass.The capacity of forests to capture carbon has become almost common knowledge, yet numerous studies reveal that seagrass meadows are likely much more effective than forests at storing carbon. Per hectare, seagrasses can store up to twice as much carbon as terrestrial forests; and unlike forests. which release carbon back into the atmosphere when they die, seagrass or “blue carbon” holds onto the carbon it stores. Eventually it’s buried in the ocean floor, and undisturbed can remain there for centuries.
In BC, the most common seagrass is eelgrass (Zostera Marina). One study suggests the province’s seagrass and salt marshes match or exceed BC forests in their ability to capture carbon, despite the fact that forests occupy 90 times more area.
Urban, industrial and agricultural development over decades have led to massive reductions in BC’s eelgrass, reflecting a loss that has happened worldwide.
Estimates are that as much as two football fields of eelgrass are being lost per hour around the globe.
Not only is eelgrass proving significant when it comes to carbon reduction, its presence along shorelines is also effective when it comes to flood control and it is vital habitat for young salmon as they transition from their home waters out into the open waters.
Despite the many benefits, less than 15% of eelgrass meadows in BC enjoy protection. However, efforts to protect and restore eelgrass in the Metro Vancouver region, and on Vancouver Island are underway. Just this spring the Port of Metro Vancouver began work to restore lost eelgrass beds in the Maplewood Basin with transplants and the Port Authority has plans to transplant 125,000 eelgrass shoots into the Burrard Inlet.
Efforts to preserve eelgrass often come from the grassroots up – so to speak – with organizations such as the seachange society. You can read about their work in our 2017 here – and we hope you’ll share our salmon shareable on the power of eelgrass far & wide.