Monday, March 8, 2010

Whales are the “forests of the ocean”

Well here’s a weird little article from the BBC. Researchers from the Gulf of Maine Research Institute have calculated that a century of whaling has released a large amount of carbon into our atmosphere. The use of whale oil has released equivalent amounts of carbon to burning 130,000km^2 of temperate forests, or running 128,000 Humvees continuously for 100 years. Still pretty small compared to the annual anthropogenic input, but this highlights a larger issue.

From the biggest whales to the huge schools of harvestable fish, they are all made up of carbon, lots of it. And whenever we remove biomass from the oceans for our land use, we are reducing the amount of carbon that would otherwise sink to the ocean floor when the organism dies. Previously unaccounted for, the amount of carbon that can be sequestered to the deep ocean by large organisms may be significant. The new research suggests that megafauna aren’t just important an important flux of organic matter which feeds the ocean’s carbon cycle, but they may also be a manageable global carbon sink.

If the amount of carbon contained within a stock of whales or fish could be calculated, the researchers suggest a carbon credit system could be put in place to encourage nations to not fish. This could work in much in the same way as carbon credits are issued for trying to reestablish forests. Keeping marine carbon in the ocean…seems like an interesting way to address the issues of conservationism, climate change and dwindling fish stocks simultaneously.

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