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  • Writer's pictureAkasha Usmani

Australia’s ocean forest - key to fighting global warming

Australian ocean forests have become an important resource for an alternative approach to tackle the consequences of climate change.

Australia's Ocean Forests are considered to be the most productive ecosystem in the world.

Australia is known for its vast and diverse marine environment, which is home to numerous species of plants and animals. With an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) spanning 8.2 million square kilometers, Australia has the third-largest marine jurisdiction in the world. The oceans are home to a variety of life, with an estimated 11 percent of known species, 5000 distinct fish species, and 30 percent of the world's shark species residing in the ocean. These oceans also have a presence of valuable fisheries, oil and gas fields, coral reefs, mangroves, seagrass beds, and kelp forests that provide habitat to a wide variety of marine organisms. Recently, there has been growing attention on Australia's ocean forest. Research and studies have shown how the country's underwater forests can help the world mitigate climate change.

While the Great Barrier Reef is widely known as one of Australia's most iconic natural wonders, the country has another reef known as the Great Southern Reef, which is less well-known but is vital for ecological and economic benefits. Australia's ocean forests are growing, and that can help the world tackle the climate crisis.

Underwater forests, also known as ocean forests, are formed by kelps and seaweeds. Kelps are large brown algae that grow in dense underwater forests, known as kelp forests, in cool and nutrient-rich waters around the world. Kelps are among the largest and fastest-growing algae and can grow up to several meters in length, forming towering structures that provide critical habitat and shelter for a wide range of marine organisms. Similarly, seaweeds are a diverse group of marine algae that are found in oceans, and they play an essential role in the ocean's ecosystem.

According to a study led by a team from The University of Western Australia, Australia's ocean forest is one of the most productive ecosystems in the world. One way Australia's ocean forests can help mitigate climate change is through their ability to store carbon. Kelp and seaweed plants absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through photosynthesis and store it in their tissues, a process known as carbon sequestration. By sequestering carbon, Australia's ocean forests help to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which in turn helps to mitigate the effects of climate change. This is particularly important given the alarming global greenhouse gas emissions rise over the past few decades. However, it is not necessary that all the carbon is sequestered as this necessitates locking away seaweed carbon from the atmosphere for a substantial amount of time, and there is still a lot of debate over the amount of carbon that seaweed can sequester.

According to Pia Winberg, a marine ecologist at the University of Wollongong, Australia, growing more seaweed may be a key strategy in the fight against climate change. In an interview with the BBC, she stated, "If we used the infrastructure we have in the ocean and created seaweed islands, we would actually eliminate a lot of the climate change issues we have today."

Kelp and seaweed also have the ability to protect coastlines from erosion and storm surges. They can help prevent coastal erosion, protecting human settlements and infrastructure from the effects of rising sea levels and more intense storms.

Australia's ocean forests have a significant role in conserving biodiversity, which is crucial for maintaining the health and resilience of ecosystems. By providing a habitat and food source for a wide range of marine species, kelp, and seagrass ecosystems support a complex web of life that is integral to the functioning of the ocean. This biodiversity is particularly important in the context of climate change, as it can help to maintain the resilience of ecosystems in the face of a changing climate. By protecting the biodiversity of Australia's ocean forests, the health and functioning of marine ecosystems are also being protected.

Due to their rapid growth, ocean forests might also help to address the global food security challenge. Ocean forests are more productive compared to many intensively farmed crops like wheat, rice, and corn. Ocean forests in temperate areas, like Australia's southern coast, produced two to eleven times as much biomass by area as intensively farmed crops on average, which can be used to support the food system and address the food security problem.

Yet the ocean forests are threatened by various factors, including warming ocean temperatures, pollution, and overfishing. The Great Southern Reef is also showing signs of declining. There has been considerable focus on protecting, restoring, and conserving the ocean forests in Australia. One example of this is the Great Southern Reef Restoration Project, which aims to restore kelp forests along the southern coast of Australia. The project involves the planting of young kelp plants in areas where they have been lost due to human activities. The hope is that this will help restore the natural balance of the marine environment and protect the region's biodiversity.

Australia's ocean forests have a vital role in our fight against climate change, addressing food security and protecting biodiversity. Thus, protecting and restoring these ecosystems is essential to ensure their continued ability to support marine life and contribute to a sustainable future.

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