Seagrass meadows, the researchers found, store ninety percent of their carbon in the soil--and continue to build on it for centuries.
In the Mediterranean, the geographic region with the greatest concentration of carbon found in the study, seagrass meadows store carbon in deposits many meters deep.
Seagrasses are among the world's most threatened ecosystems. Some 29 percent of all historic seagrass meadows have been destroyed, mainly due to dredging and degradation of water quality. At least 1.5 percent of Earth's seagrass meadows are lost every year.
The study estimates that emissions from destruction of seagrass meadows can potentially emit up to 25 percent as much carbon as those from terrestrial deforestation.
"One remarkable thing about seagrass meadows is that, if restored, they can effectively and rapidly sequester carbon and reestablish lost carbon sinks," said paper co-author Karen McGlathery, a scientist at the University of Virginia and NSF's Virginia Coast Reserve LTER site.
The Virginia Coast Reserve and Florida Coastal Everglades LTER sites are known for their extensive seagrass beds.
Seagrasses have long been recognized for their many ecosystem benefits: they filter sediment from the oceans; protect coastlines against floods and storms; and serve as habitats for fish and other marine life.
The new results, say the scientists, emphasize that conserving and restoring seagrass meadows may reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase carbon stores--while delivering important "ecosystem services" to coastal communities.
|Contact: Cheryl Dybas|
National Science Foundation