Coastal Bend’s carbon-capturing natural ecosystems can help reduce CO2

Patrick D. Larkin, Ph.D.

Whether you’re a gardener, hunter, hiker, or someone who just loves the view from your garden, you’ve probably been impressed with the variety and fertility of plant life at some point. As someone who has worked with plants for over three decades, I am always amazed by their ability to grow in inhospitable places, hold soil in place, clean our streams, rivers and bays, and provide food. , animal feed, fiber and medicine. in the world. But that’s not all. They also absorb greenhouse gases. Many of them.

Since 1850, when truly accurate worldwide recording of temperature readings began, the earth’s average temperature has risen from around 56 degrees to 59 degrees F, an increase of 5%. While this difference may seem small, it has resulted in more intense flooding, wildfires and tornadoes. High levels of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane, absorb heat energy radiated from the earth. This creates a sort of blanket that warms the planet. To reduce these effects, we need a multi-pronged strategy that includes technology, thoughtful economic incentives and sound policy, but let’s not forget one other: nature.

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For an impressive illustration of nature’s power when it comes to greenhouse gases, watch the interactive video created by collaborators from NASA, Oregon State University and Esri Inc, makers of the software. popular ArcGIS cartography. The video, “A Year in the Life of Earth’s CO2” (http://co2.digitalcartography.org/), clearly shows how global CO2 levels rise and fall over the course of a year, primarily in response to emissions, to vegetative growth and decline. This is powerful testimony to the ability of plants to absorb greenhouse gases.

Plants use CO2 for photosynthesis, a biological process that uses energy from the sun to convert CO2 into sugars and other structures they need for growth and survival. Some of these structures can be long-lived, decades or even centuries in the case of trees, grasslands and seagrasses. These plant habitats serve as natural “carbon sequestration” deposits. Coastal ecosystems, including coastal marshes, mangroves and seagrasses, have proven so effective in this regard that they have even earned their own nickname Blue Carbon, to highlight their carbon sequestration potential. Unfortunately, we are losing these greenhouse gas trapping habitats at an alarming rate.

Here in Coastal Bend, we can help reduce atmospheric CO2 levels by ensuring that our crucial blue carbon ecosystems are protected, restored and enhanced. We can support efforts like the Trillion Tree campaign by planting trees wherever we can, landscaping with pollinator-friendly native plants that tolerate heat and drought, and supporting policies that reduce emissions, promote energy efficiency and incorporate sustainable practices.

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Success is possible. Although not intended for this purpose, the construction of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway in the 1940s drastically reduced salinity levels in the Laguna Madre, leading to an explosion of seagrass growth in the 1940s. 1950s and 1960s – tens of thousands of acres. Tampa Bay, Florida, by improving their wastewater treatment process, restored their seagrass beds to levels not seen since the 1950s, an increase of nearly 20,000 acres.

It can happen.

The prospect of global climate change is so great it can be overwhelming, but creating, enhancing and protecting plant habitats in Coastal Bend is a task well within our capabilities. This will not only provide us with a virtually cost-free carbon capture mechanism, but it will also support fishing, hunting, bird watching, hiking, and other outdoor activities that many of us enjoy. These, in turn, support our community by creating jobs and small business opportunities, and improving the quality of life for everyone.

Now is the time to get more serious about habitat conservation and climate change in Coastal Bend. If we commit, we can leave a legacy of a beautiful, productive and resilient carbon-capturing environment to our children and grandchildren.

Patrick D. Larkin, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the Department of Physical and Environmental Sciences at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.