Eelgrass. Photo by John Brew via Wikimedia Commons

The Port of San Diego is partnering with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration to study bay wide eelgrass carbon sequestration, it was announced Monday.

The Maritime Administration’s META program “promotes the research, demonstration and development of emerging technologies, practices and processes that improve maritime industrial environmental sustainability,” according to its mission statement.

Eelgrass and other coastal ecosystems have the ability to rapidly capture and hold large amounts of carbon dioxide in their plants and soils, according to a statement issued by the port.

Like all plants, eelgrass absorbs carbon dioxide and produces oxygen.

Unlike land plants though, eelgrass is submerged in saltwater, which prevents the release of CO2 back into the atmosphere. The carbon is trapped in the eelgrass plants and soils for thousands of years. Even though eelgrass habitats cover a small fraction of the area forests on land, they can store carbon at rates 30 to 50 times greater than forests.

The Maritime Administration– also known as MARAD — awarded the port a $150,000 cooperative agreement for a one-year study to assess how much carbon is stored in San Diego Bay’s eelgrass and how much carbon eelgrass will continue to capture into the future.

Information from the study is intended to help the San Diego region better understand the carbon sequestration benefits of healthy eelgrass and how restoring or enhancing eelgrass could help mitigate greenhouse gases.

“We need to consider all options in supporting state and local climate planning efforts, and a better understanding of eelgrass carbon sequestration in San Diego Bay could unlock a treasure trove of information and possibilities,” said Michael Zucchet, chairman of the Board of Port Commissioners. “This study and partnership with MARAD is part of the port’s holistic approach to mitigating greenhouse gases and helping us meet state requirements and the goals we’re setting in our own Maritime Clean Air Strategy.”

San Diego Bay supports 17% of all eelgrass in the state and half the eelgrass found in Southern California. More research is needed to understand how much carbon eelgrass can store and how eelgrass can support efforts to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.

“MARAD is very pleased to support projects such as this one that will advance the research needed to support attainment of the ambitious goals for decarbonizing the maritime sector set forth by the administration,” said Lucinda Lessley, the acting maritime administrator. “We look forward to seeing the results of this work and will also provide vital information to support natural habitats.”

The study is a component to the port’s ongoing efforts to protect the resources that tidelands provide to the region, as well as climate planning efforts.

City News Service contributed to this article.