Seagrass Photo from Shutterstock

The destruction of rainforests has long been a huge cause of concern for environmentalists due to trees’ ability to capture carbon — however a new collaborative study published in the journal of Nature Geoscience has found that seagrass can actually store more carbon per square mile than forests can. The plants, which populate coastal wetlands, could play a major role in combating climate change.

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The report states that seagrass has astounding carbon storage capabilities. Despite only occupying less than 0.2 percent of the world’s oceans, it can hold up to 83,000 metric tons of carbon per square kilometer. That is over twice what a typical terrestrial forest can store, which is only around 30,000 metric tons.

The ocean’s have always played a key role in capturing carbon, both from natural and man-made sources and according to the report’s lead author, James Fourqurean of Florida International University,  seagrass accounts for more than 10% of all the carbon stored there.

“Seagrasses have the unique ability to continue to store carbon in their roots and soil in coastal seas,” Fourqurean said in a statement. “We found instances where particularly seagrass beds have been storing carbon for thousands of years.”

The study also states that seagrass plays an even bigger part in protecting the world’s oceans. As well as filtering out sediment before it gets into oceans, it also protects coastlines from floods and storms and serves as habitat for fish, crustaceans and marine life.

However the world’s seagrass species are under threat from — you guessed it — human activity. Pollution, oil spills and boat propellers all cause damage preventing growth and cutting through roots.

“One remarkable thing about seagrass meadows is that, if restored, they can effectively and rapidly capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, possibly helping to slow climate change,” said McGlathery, one of the study’s authors and lead investigator of the Virginia Coast Reserve Long Term Ecological Research Project. “Our research over the last decade shows the importance of protecting and reestablishing these habitats.”

The study was conducted in association with the Blue Carbon Initiative, a global plan to mitigate climate change by conserving and restoring coastal marine ecosystems. The initiative is a collaboration between UNESCO, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Conservation International.

+ Blue Carbon Initiative / University of Virginia / Florida International University

via Reuters

Images © Paul and Jill, Penningtron