Why saving marshes might save civilization
Source: Christopher Pollon, Today, Tyee Solutions Society
In February of this year, scientists identified what may be the oldest living organisms on Earth: a gnarled mass of aquatic seagrass off the coast of Spain, thought to be 200,000 years old. About 8,000 kilometres away, in the estuary of the Squamish River, a gumbooted army of volunteers attempts to restore a once broad seagrass meadow, long ago destroyed by log booming.
What the two aquatic gardens a hemisphere apart share is the potential to store more carbon than the thickest swathe of Amazonian rainforest, nurturing as much life concentrated into a smaller footprint. And while forests hold carbon for centuries at best, the sediments below such aquatic meadows can store carbon for millennia.
Coastal marine environments like seagrass meadows, salt marshes and mangroves (known collectively as "blue carbon") are just beginning to attract attention for all the free services they provide to humanity, most notably a seemingly supernatural capacity to remove carbon from the atmosphere (see sidebar).
Yet as with many natural spaces on land, no widely accepted metric yet exists to place a value on the carbon-scrubbing services such blue carbon sinks provide. As their importance has gone unrecognized, human activity has destroyed as much as seven per cent of the globe's remaining blue carbon sinks, including those in B.C., in a single year. Their continuing losses expose coastlines to erosion, diminish biodiversity, and release enormous amounts of carbon into the atmosphere.
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