At a time when capturing carbon has never been of more importance, seagrass restoration projects such as this one are exactly what the world needs. According to the UN Environment Program, the mostly 'unseen' seagrass can capture carbon an amazing 35 times faster than rainforests.
Off Virginia’s Eastern Shore, researchers and volunteers have spread more than 70 million eelgrass seeds as part of a 20 year project. It's the world’s largest seagrass restoration project, and scientists have observed an ecosystem from birth to full flowering.
The eelgrass seeds initially covered just over 200 hectares but have now spread to cover an incredible 3,612 hectares - and counting. Within the first 10 years of restoration, scientists observed an ecosystem rebounding rapidly across almost every indicator of ecosystem health. Namely, seagrass coverage, water quality, carbon and nitrogen storage, and invertebrate and fish biomass.
The results are “a game changer,” says Carlos Duarte. “It’s an exemplar of how nature-based solutions can help mitigate climate change,” he says. The marine ecologist at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Thuwal, Saudi Arabia is a leader in recognizing the carbon-storing capacity of mangroves, tidal marshes and seagrasses.
A key finding from the restoration project was that storage capacity increases for seagrass meadows the more they mature. They found that meadows in place for nine or more years stored, on average, 1.3 times more carbon and 2.2 times more nitrogen than younger plots. Within 20 years, the restored plots were accumulating carbon and nitrogen at rates similar to what natural, undisturbed seagrass beds in the same location would have stored.
Another key finding was that seagrass meadows are remarkably resilient to climate change. When a sudden marine heatwave killed off a portion of the seagrass, it took just three years for the meadow to fully recover its plant density.
“It surprised us how resilient these seagrass meadows were,” says Karen McGlathery, a coastal ecologist at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. She believes the team’s work is more than just a great case study in restoration. It “offers a blueprint for restoring and maintaining healthy seagrass ecosystems” that others can adapt elsewhere in the world, she says.
At a time where capturing carbon has never been of more importance, more seagrass restoration projects are going to be a crucial part of the equation.
Source: Science News
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