Seagrass Comeback Bolsters Climate Change Battle

Apr 29, 2016

There’s good news on the environmental front today.  Aerial surveys show a 21% increase in sea grasses – plants that store carbon and other greenhouse gases while making the Chesapeake Bay a cleaner place.  Sandy Hausman reports that Virginia is becoming a model for other countries hoping to fight climate change.

Credit University of Virginia

For a decade, volunteers working with the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences and the University of Virginia have been gathering seeds from sea grass – sowing them across a wide expanse off the Eastern Shore.  Professor Karen McGlathery says that area was once rich in underwater meadows, but they were wiped out by disease and storms in the 1930’s.

“A third of all the world’s seagrass meadows have been lost," she says. "That released carbon back into the atmosphere, so through restoration we’re trying to reverse this trend. We create these habitats and then carbon gets stored back again for decades to centuries.”  

Credit University of Virginia

Sea grass meadows store twice as much carbon as forests, and they come back much more quickly.  They’re also home to growing populations of blue crabs and scallops.

“The scallops are important for local markets," Mcglathery explains.  "There's an increases in biodiversity,  in water quality for the region, so there’s a whole host of benefits.” 

McGlathery and UVA student Mathew Oreska have been working on a model that could lead to carbon credits for companies that grow underwater meadows, and several countries have contacted Virginia to learn more about the restoration project.