Ocean Currents

How the ocean helps keep carbon out of the atmosphere

© National Marine Sanctuaries

As George Leonard wrote recently, planning for a stormier, warmer ocean is a daunting but important task. That’s already a reality for those of us living on the Gulf Coast, where sea level rise (compounded by coastal erosion) can almost wash away an entire community.

With near-perfect timing, another new study has just revealed that sea grasses can trap 2 to 3 times more carbon than a typical forest. The ocean, not just forests, can play a larger role than scientists previously believed keeping carbon out of the atmosphere. A global team of scientists found that sea grasses can trap 183 million pounds of carbon per square kilometer. These grasses take up less than 0.2 percent of the world’s ocean but account for more than 10 percent of all the carbon absorbed by sea life.

Sea grasses can form vast underwater meadows when they are healthy and where the water is clear and clean enough for these flowering plants to grow from the sandy bottom. Here in the Gulf of Mexico, sea grass beds can be found along all 5 states but form the largest meadows  on the coasts of Texas and Florida, and they provide habitat to a number of important marine life, including dolphins, manatees, shrimp, sea turtles, and—my personal favorite—red drum.

Given the significant loss of this important habitat, including losses form the BP oil disaster, NOAA has identified sea grass beds as a priority for restoration in the Gulf. Ocean Conservancy fully supports sea grass restoration as a priority, given their role as nurseries and spawning grounds for marine life, including many of the fish we like to eat. We also depend on sea grass beds as a buffer against storm surge for our coastal communities, as well as to sustain our vibrant fishing communities.

Now we know that sea grasses can contribute to reducing the warming of the ocean. What other superpowers do you think the oceans are capable of?

Related Articles

Back to Top Up Arrow