Coastal wetlands excel at storing carbon

A new study supports mangrove forests, tidal marshes, and seagrass meadows as useful climate buffers.
If we want to talk about freshwaters, we can begin our conversation on the coasts and work inland.  Estuaries can compare well with forest and oceanic ecosystems as useful carbon buffers. Where human interference has not yet fragmented or destroyed coastal wetland ecosystems, they can store atmospheric oxygen for millennia.

Do aquatic ecosystems help ease the effects of climate instability. Typically, marine systems do not store carbon for long periods.  However, coastal zones do.   A shortlist of these aquatics networks includes:

  • Seafloor
  • Open Ocean
  • Lagoons
  • Coral reefs
  • Kelp beds
  • Intertidal zones
  • Estuaries
  • Salt marshes
  • Mangrove swamps

The last three systems in the above list occupy a zone intermediate in salt content between the ocean and freshwater.  The green plants found there are rooted in soil.  Thus a diverse system composed vegetation, organic debris, clay, silty sand, and rock fragments convert and retain atmospheric carbon.

Phytoplankton, mollusks, reptiles, fish, and kelp of the open ocean are not long-term carbon sinks.  While coastal wetlands serve as efficient storage reservoirs, one can find a definition of the term—”blue carbon”—for these stocks of oceanic and coastal carbon on the National Ocean Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce website.

Worldwide wetland loss not only exposes human communities to storm surges, but the damage also means continued coastline erosion.   Coastal wetlands are the superior choice in ecosystems for governing bodies to oversee because open ocean systems are almost by definition international waters.  A notable research paper in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment (Howard et al.) noted that coastal wetlands are closer to home and more amenable to management.

Furthermore, we here at Streamside News are pleased to see that it bolsters the contention—indeed not our’s alone—that adaptability and resilience are innate to diverse ecosystems.  More importantly, the authors’ findings are consistent with the concept that soils are central to ecosystem organization and structure.

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