Protecting carbon-sequestering marine animals can help fight climate change •


Protecting marine animals could be one of the best ways to counter climate change, says associate professor of Marine Biology at the University of Southeast Alaska Heidi Pearson. As she explained in a recent article for The conversation, focusing our attention on protecting carbon sinks – that is, places like oceans, forests and wetlands that sequester carbon from the Earth’s atmosphere – is an inexpensive but powerful strategy to mitigate climate change.

So far, through the Paris Climate Agreement, 28 countries have agreed to protect forests and wetlands. However, no strategy has been put in place to protect carbon storage in the oceans, where marine animals do a large part of carbon sequestration.

Pearson is currently working with UN Environment / GRID-Arendal study and identify marine animals that could help slow climate change through their biological carbon storage / removal processes. She and her colleagues have already identified nine examples.

An example is a Trophic Cascade Carbon. Trophic cascades occur when changes at the top of the food chain spill over into the rest of the chain. Thus, for example, sea otters, large predators of the North Pacific, feed on sea urchins. These sea urchins eat kelp that grows on reefs near the shore. And that kelp stores carbon. Therefore, increasing the amount of sea otters will reduce the amount of sea urchins, thus allowing kelp forests to grow and store more carbon.

In addition, Pearson and his colleagues also identified carbon from biomass, that is, when carbon is stored in living organisms like whales, which can store massive loads of carbon over the course of their lifespan. life of 200 years, and when they die and sink to the bottom of the ocean, that carbon goes with them, which is called Deadfall Carbon. This carbon will eventually be buried and stored for millions of years.

Whales are in fact essential carbon storage vessels, as Pearson and his colleagues discovered. They can effectively fertilize the carbon-eating phytoplankton with their fecal plumes and nutrient redistribution.

In order for “blue carbon”, that is, the carbon associated with marine life, as a carbon sink, it must be measured. Fortunately, some studies have already quantified how much carbon could be sequestered, but Pearson notes that more needs to be done to refine previous research and prove that the oceans are valuable carbon sinks.

“Many governments and organizations around the world are working to rebuild global fish stocks, prevent bycatch and illegal fishing, reduce pollution and establish marine protected areas,” Pearson wrote. “If we can recognize the carbon value of marine vertebrates, many of these policies could qualify as climate change mitigation strategies. “

Pearson hopes that the protection of marine vertebrate carbon stocks can and will be added to the Paris Agreement.

Through Olivia harvey, Editor-in-chief

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