Australian researchers explore carbon-storage potential of seaweeds

The University of Technology (UTS), Sydney, reports May 2015: There are great hopes for the potential of coastal plants and seaweeds to store carbon and help counter the effects of climate change and a new study is backing that potential.

Scientists from UTS and Deakin University have carried out the first investigation of how a diverse range of coastal plants and seaweed (macroalgae) can contribute to “blue carbon” stocks, the carbon in leaves, sediments and roots that is naturally captured, or sequestered, by plants in coastal habitats.

Picture by Daniel Ierodiaconou

Picture by Daniel Ierodiaconou

The finding, published in the prestigious Ecology journal, that some seaweed species have the capacity to make a significant contribution to coastal carbon capture may better inform projects designed to mitigate against greenhouse gas emissions.

According to, co-lead author Stacey Trevathan-Tackett, a PhD candidate in the UTS Plant Functional Biology and Climate Change Cluster (C3 ), these blue carbon systems are recognised as being more efficient than land-based systems for long-term carbon storage. But Ms Trevathan-Tackett said a better understanding of how the diverse range of coastal plants contribute to blue carbon “pools” was needed for both carbon accounting and coastal management purposes.

“We wanted to know how the fundamental biology, that is, the cell wall structure and cell wall composition of seaweeds and coastal vascular plants like seagrasses, affected their long term carbon storage potential in blue carbon habitats,” Ms Trevathan-Tackett said.

“Macroalgae in particular are of interest because they generally produce a lot of biomassbiomass The amount of living matter. This is therefore a different measure to numbers of organisms. So, for example, there is much more biomass in 1 elephant than there is in 1000 fleas and there may be more biomass in 100 large cod than you would find in 150 small (because of over fishing) cod. and are easily transported making them potential ‘donors’ to blue carbon stocks.

“However we don’t know if this carbon is as chemically stable as that of coastal plant species or whether seaweed carbon can be stored long term in coastal habitats.”

The results showed that cell wall structure and composition of seaweed in particular are central to their long-term carbon storage potential. In addition the discovery that some species of seaweed contained compounds that only degraded at very high temperatures means there is potential for a contribution to long-term carbon storage.

Source: University of Technology, Sydney, Press release May 2015. For further details, see


Publication details:
Comparison of marine macrophytes for their contributions to blue carbon sequestration.
Stacey M Trevathan-Tackett, Jeffrey Kelleway, Peter Macreadie, John Beardall, Peter Ralph, Alecia Bellgrove Ecology (2015)

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