Oct. 10 - Climate scientists in the United States are calling for greater protection of coastal ecosystems following a study that shows them to be major absorbers of CO2. They say the destruction of systems like mangrove swamps, may release more than one billion tonnes of carbon into atmosphere every year and contributes significantly to climate change. Ben Gruber reports.
Most scientists believe that the use of fossil fuels and deforestation are the principle contributors to climate change. But now one team of researchers is pointing to what they say is another major source of carbon emissions - the destruction of coastal eco-systems. Brian Murray, an economist at the Nicholas Institute at Duke University, says the global loss of mangroves, sea grass and salt marshes sends more CO2 into the atmosphere than most countries on Earth. (SOUNDBITE) (English) BRIAN MURRAY, DIRECTOR FOR ECONOMIC ANALYSIS AT THE NICHOLAS INSTITUTE FOR ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY SOLUTIONS AT DUKE UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "Our best global estimates are that the losses are roughly 500 million to a billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year and to put that in context that is equal to the carbon emissions of the UK or Japan and Japan is the 5th largest emitter in the world of any country. So what we found is that this is a significant amount and that it is a source of emissions that the global climate agreement has largely overlooked." James Fourqurean, a professor of biology at Florida International University, says the situation has been overlooked mostly because it has gone unseen. Unlike the burning of rain forests, most of the carbon in coastal eco-systems is stored in massive deposits in the soil beneath the vegetation. (SOUNDBITE) (English) JAMES FOURQUREAN, PROFESSOR OF BIOLOGY , FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "It's carbon that is been stored over millennia. So, if we cut down and destroy these systems, that long term storage of carbon that has been in there for thousands of thousands of years gets returned in a big puff into the atmosphere." And the scientists found that these eco-systems are being destroyed at an alarming rate - especially in developing countries where these coastal systems are being converted into farm land. (SOUNDBITE) (English) BRIAN MURRAY, DIRECTOR FOR ECONOMIC ANALYSIS AT THE NICHOLAS INSTITUTE FOR ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY SOLUTIONS AT DUKE UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "When you build a shrimp farm you scrape off the top metre or so of soil and the carbon that is in that soil actually ends up in the atmosphere rather quickly contributing to the climate change problem." Brian Murray hopes the findings will convince climate policy makers that serious funding is needed to create valuable incentives for farmers and landowners to leave these fragile eco-systems intact before it's too late. (SOUNDBITE) (English) JAMES FOURQUREAN, PROFESSOR OF BIOLOGY, FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "With loss rated of 3,4,5 percent, within a century it will all be gone and the carbon that is stored in it will no longer be stored there." Data related to coastal eco-system destruction has yet to make it into the literature of the United Nations panel on Climate change. The scientists hope these findings will change that at the U.N. Climate Change conference in Doha next month.