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Carbon-absorbing kelp forests will be used to fight global warming: Land Ministry

Clusters of kelp are seen in waters off Heigun Island in Yamaguchi Prefecture, in this 2018 photo provided by Tomohiro Kuwae.

TOKYO -- Seaweed and aquatic plant ecosystems such as kelp and mangrove forests located in and off the ocean on Japan's shores will be utilized as "carbon sinks" to absorb harmful greenhouse gases, as part of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism's drive to strengthen the country's measures against global warming.

Coastal marine plants and plant-like protists' ability to absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) is referred to as "blue carbon," which has been advocated particularly by the U.N. Environment Programme since 2009. A panel of experts meeting convened on June 11 began discussions regarding estimated amounts that could be absorbed and ways to conserve the flora.

Kelp forests have come to be seen with importance as cradles for the cultivation of marine life, but only in recent years have they also been valued alongside land-based forests for their ability to soak up CO2. In Australia they are already used to calculate greenhouse gas emission figures.

The blue carbon research group, made up of a collection of specialists, said that based on trial calculations compiled in 2018, kelp forests and other similar marine ecosystems in Japan's coastal waters could absorb some 1.73 million metric tons of carbon emissions, as much as is produced by around 386,000 households, according to figures from 2013.

Tomohiro Kuwae, who has a detailed understanding of blue carbon in his capacity as head of the Coastal and Estuarine Environment Group at the Port and Airport Research Institute's Coastal and Estuarine Environment Department, spoke to the Mainichi Shimbun. "From a global warming prevention point of view, the international regard for these marine ecosystems is on the rise. I want the Japanese government to lead the advancement of blue carbon initiatives."

(Japanese original by Ai Oba, Science & Environment News Department)

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