Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Record bay: Denmark’s amazing sea grass

Record bay: Denmark’s amazing sea grass Rich Carey/Shutterstock
11 Mar
2017
An unassuming beach in Denmark is absorbing record-breaking levels of carbon dioxide

Saltwater, sand and seagrass. On Denmark’s Thora island, in the South Funen Archipelago, is a small bay called Thurøbund. Though it might not look like much, this stretch of water is a carbon storing powerhouse. It is capable of taking in almost three times as much carbon dioxide as anywhere else recorded on the planet.

‘The bay is capable of storing 27,000 grams of carbon per square metre,’ explains ecologist Professor Marianne Holmer. This figure has never been measured to be more than 10,000 to 11,000 grams of carbon per square metre in other parts of the world – it easily outstrips all other recorded locations. ‘There’s nowhere that even comes close to Thurøbund,’ she says.

The bay’s extraordinary ability comes from an ordinary-looking source: seagrass. Though it looks a bit like seaweed, seagrass is more like a terrestrial plant. It has roots, leaves, and seed-producing flowers, and lives its whole life submerged in shallow waters. According to the report, seagrass meadows such as those found around Thurøbund are disproportionately effective at storing carbon dioxide. ‘Though they only cover a minor fraction of the seafloor, their carbon sink capacity accounts for nearly one-fifth of the total oceanic carbon burial and thus play a critical structural and functional role in many coastal ecosystems,’ write the authors of the report that discovered the findings. At Thurøbund, however, the miracle plants are also helped by geography. The bay is sheltered, meaning that when plants die they stay in place to decompose and break down, whereas on less sheltered beaches they would often be washed out to sea.

As well as their carbon storing value, seagrass meadows are an important food resource for Denmark, supporting local cod and shrimp populations. The leaves also provide shelter for juvenile fish and invertebrates. Nonetheless, Danish seagrass meadows have been reduced by 80 to 90 per cent in less than a century, and almost 30 per cent worldwide since 1879. To help support carbon storage and sustainable food production, many scientists are now calling for the protection of seagrass meadows globally.

This was published in the March 2017 edition of Geographical magazine.

Related items

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...

Climate

Climate change is bringing earlier, dangerous 'false springs', longer summers…

Wildlife

A victory for conservation, South Africa has announced plans to…

Energy

The UK has made little progress decarbonising heating, but a significant source…

Nature

The concept of 'natural capital', where the value of nature…

Geophoto

Prestigious photography competition returns for a fourth year

Climate

Founded in the USA by Denis Hayes, Earth Day became…

Geophoto

Tom Goldner's project Do Brumbies Dream in Red? is an intimate portrayal…

Wildlife

Not your usual tune: translating spider's silk into sound could…

Oceans

Millions of oysters have been rescued from the struggling shellfish…

Climate

History is littered with examples of fungi helping to digest…

Geophoto

The streets of Philadelphia are home to a small and forgotten…

Geophoto

When photographer Matthew Maran first snapped a fox he had…

Wildlife

Coloradans have voted to reintroduce grey wolves to the state

Energy

Covid-19 provides an opportunity to re-assess the supply chains of…

Geophoto

Andrea DiCenzo is a photojournalist, who has covered conflicts for…

Oceans

Field observations of corals around the world reveal that not…

Climate

The Great Plains of the USA are once again getting…

Climate

Attempts to build a digital twin of the Earth could…

Oceans

Food systems will need to change as the global population…