Project Watershed and UBC Students Studying Blue Forests in the Estuary

On Saturday, January 21 around 11 PM to catch the lowest tide of the month, a team of Project Watershed volunteers and a group of Chemical and Biological engineering students from the University of British Columbia walked out onto the mud flats to obtain some samples of estuary sediment and eelgrass rhizomes.  This is part of a joint effort to measure carbon dioxide uptake by eelgrass first in simulated tanks at the UBC campus and then actual measurements of uptake in photosynthesis in the intertidal areas of our estuary.  Dr. Royann Petrell and five students from her advanced class in chemical and biological engineering laboratory techniques, as part of their program for students’ hands-on learning about community realities are working with a Comox Valley Stewardship group on these efforts.  The team was led out onto the estuary by Project Watershed’s Michele Jones, Dan Bowen and Dave Davies from DFO.

A major question facing residents of communities like the Comox Valley is how we can reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.  One approach is to establish strategies of conservation or use of renewable energy (solar, wind, etc.).  Another is to eliminate carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere through living carbon storage.  Living carbon is more commonly known as the long-term storage of carbon in the tissues of trees and plants in forests.

A special opportunity exists for those of us who live in coastal communities.  Blue carbon is a form of living carbon that occurs in aquatic environments where aquatic plants such as eelgrass act to store carbon in the soils and sediments. Greenhouse gas reductions (of carbon dioxide) can be achieved through uptake by estuarine “Blue Forests” moving these greenhouse gases to estuaries and Deep Ocean (sediments).

Photograph Left to right Back row: Dave Davies (DFO), Dr Royann Petrell, Sylvain Alie, Dan Bowen, Ting-Ching Jerry Chou Front row: Tsung Han (Henry) Kue, Yan Zhang, David Eng, Heather Kempthorne, and Qing-Yuan Hebe He

The Comox Valley Project Watershed Society, through its Estuary Working Group, has launched a pilot project to evaluate carbon storage by estuarine vegetation systems and to assess the effects of community based restoration efforts on eelgrass meadows and their abilities to remove greenhouse gas from the atmosphere.  Recent reports indicate eelgrass can be as much as 90 times as effective as identical areas of coniferous forest in removal of CO2 from the atmosphere. This project represents a long -term effort and has a “win-win” outcome for both carbon sequestration and habitat improvement.

Loss of, and damage to, eelgrass has affected whole populations of fish, including threatened salmon and herring, water fowl, shellfish, and other animals.  Many animals use eelgrass meadows for nursery areas, others swim or walk among the leaves, or burrow in the sediments.  Within eelgrass meadows, there is food and shelter for a wide variety of creatures. Therefore eelgrass restoration efforts automatically improve habitat and biodiversity in addition to their potential to positively affect climate change.

Should you be interested in making a contribution to this project or to become involved as a volunteer in the future, please contact Project Watershed at 250-703-2871 or Email at <volunteer.projectwatershed@gmail.com><volunteer.projectwatershed@gmail.com>

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