As one of the outputs of the Australian Centre for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis workshop on “Australian seagrass habitats: Condition and threats”, I composed a song which Kieryn Kilminster from Western Australia Department of Water was able to convince her husband, Gary Cox, to set to music and then record. It turned out to be Kieryn and Gary’s tenth wedding anniversary, which they were spending on opposite sides of the Australian continent, so Gary, a talented musician, was very generous to work on this song while missing his wife.
The scientific background to the song is the concept of ‘Blue Carbon‘. Blue carbon is the term given to the ability of oceanic plants to absorb some of the excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from fossil fuel burning. Coastal vegetation like seagrasses, mangroves and salt marshes can form productive ecosystems and the carbon that is sequestered from the atmosphere can be trapped and buried as peat (Fourqurean et al., 2012). The reason that we may have the blues is the global loss of seagrass meadows (Waycott et al., 2009), just when we need their blue carbon sequestration the most. Seagrasses have a high light requirement (in excess of ten percent surface light). The depth maxima of seagrasses often approximates the depth that a white circular disc (Secchi) can be seen when lowered over the side of a boat (Dennison et al., 1993). Seagrass are often known as the coastal canary, due to their high light thresholds, and we have made the case that we should take decisive action when seagrasses are lost (Orth et al., 2006).
Seagrass Blue Carbon Blues
We keep pumping out CO2
What’s a person to do?
Well don’t let the problem fester
You just got to sequester
Suck up that bad gas
Turn it into seagrass biomass
So the seagrass meadows we cannot lose
Or you’re goin’ get the seagrass blue carbon blues.
Seagrasses shed leaves and bury roots
For blue carbon, that really suits
But the problem comes along
When we get the water quality wrong
Seagrasses need a whole lotta light
The secchi has to remain in sight
Dirty water’s real bad news
It gives you the seagrass blue carbon blues.
Seagrasses are the coastal canary
When they start to go, you better be wary
When seagrasses decline
It ain’t so fine
Dugongs, turtles, crabs and fish
Seagrasses they would really miss
They have everything to lose
They’d be singing the seagrass blue carbon blues.
We gotta act right now
Let me tell you just how
We protect and conserve
We do not lose our nerve
To give seagrasses a chance
We gotta take a stance
It’s up to you to choose
Or we’ll be singing the bluegrass carbon blues.
Dennison WC, Orth RJ, Moore KA, Stevenson JC, Carter V, Kollar S, Bergstrom PW, Batiuk RA (1993) Assessing Water-Quality with Submersed Aquatic Vegetation. Bioscience 43(2):86–94
Fourqurean, JW, Duarte, CM, Kennedy, N, Marbà, N, Holmer, M, Angel Mateo, M, Apostolaki, ET, Kendrick, GA, Krause-Jensen, D, McGlathery, KJ, Serrano, O. (2012) Seagrass ecosystems as a globally significant carbon stock. Nature Geoscience 5, 505–509
Orth RJ, Carruthers TJB, Dennison WC, Duarte CM, Fourqurean JW, Heck KLJ, Hughes AR, Kendrick GA, Kenworthy WJ, Olyarnik S, Short FT, Waycott M, Williams SL (2006) A Global Crisis for Seagrass Ecosystems. Bioscience 56(12):987–996
Waycott M, Duarte CM, Carruthers TJB, Orth RJ, Dennison WC, Olyarnike S, Calladine A, Fourqurean JW, Heck KLJ, Hughese AR, Kendricki GA, Kenworthy WJ, Short FT, Williams SL (2009) Accelerating loss of seagrasses across the globe threatens coastal ecosystems. PNAS 106(30):12377–12381