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Carbon Sequestration in a Pacific Northwest Eelgrass (Zostera marina) Meadow

Poppe, Katrina L., Rybczyk, John M.
Northwest science 2018 v.92 no.2 pp. 80-91
Posidonia oceanica, Zostera marina, carbon sequestration, carbon sinks, estuaries, forests, meadows, organic carbon, organic matter, primary productivity, salt marshes, seagrasses, sediments, sulfides, suspended sediment, toxicity, Washington (state)
Coastal wetlands are known to be efficient carbon sinks due to high rates of primary productivity, carbon burial by mineral sediments, and low rates of sediment organic matter decomposition. Of the three coastal wetland types: tidal marshes, tidal forests, and seagrass meadows, carbon burial by seagrasses is relatively under-studied, and reported rates range widely from 45 to 190 g C m⁻² yr⁻¹. Additionally, most of these seagrass rates are biased toward tropical and subtropical species, particularly Posidonia oceanica, with few focused on Zostera marina, the most widespread species in the northern hemisphere. We measured sediment organic content, carbon content, and long-term accretion rates to estimate organic carbon stocks and sequestration rates for a Z. marina meadow in Padilla Bay, a National Estuarine Research Reserve in Washington. We found rates of carbon sequestration to be quite low relative to commonly reported values, averaging 9 to 11 g C m⁻² yr⁻¹. We attribute this to both low sediment organic content and low rates of accretion. We postulate here that Padilla Bay's low carbon sequestration capacity may be representative of healthy Z. marina meadows rather than an anomaly, and that Z. marina meadows have an inherently low carbon sequestration capacity because of the species' low tolerance for suspended sediment (which limits light availability) and sediment organic content (which leads to toxic sulfide levels). Further research should focus on measuring carbon sequestration rates from other Z. marina meadows, particularly from sites that exhibit, a priori, the potential for higher rates of carbon sequestration.