Study: Restoring Washington wetlands can fight climate change

SEATTLE -- A new study out of Western Washington University found restored wetlands stored a significant amount of carbon from the atmosphere, showing promise in the efforts to mitigate climate change.

Dr. John Rybczyk and his research assistant Katrina Poppe compared the rate of carbon being captured and held in restored wetlands to unrestored wetlands.

They partnered with The Nature Conservancy in 2011 to restore a 150-acre estuary in the Stillaguamish. They removed a levy that was once in place for farming and let the restoration begin. Within a year, the estuary responded positively with thriving wildlife and habitat. They then took dozens of core samples, a meter long, and analyzed how much carbon they contained. They found the carbon was sequestered at a rate twice as fast as the adjacent natural marshes.

"It's a small area of 150 acres, but once the restoration project is maxed out, we estimate that it will store the equivalent of removing 7,000 to 10,000 cars for one year," said Dr. Rybczyk.

Dr. Rybczyk says restoration efforts are happening at all levels- from federal to state and tribes to local entities.

"We only have 10 percent of coastal wetlands that we used to have around the sound so that bridge has been burned, so what we can do now is restore the wetlands where we have it," said Dr. Rybczyk.

And the benefits of restoring wetlands go beyond slowing down climate change.

"If you're interested in salmon and the orca population then coastal wetlands are absolutely necessary. If you're interested in water quality, wetlands provide that," added Dr. Rybczyk.

Along the east coast, as Hurricane Dorian continues to cause devastation, restored wetlands could also provide life-saving protection from dangerous storm surge.

"The ones that build right up to the edge are most at threat. When the hurricane comes, there is no protection so wetlands are extremely important around there," said Dr. Rybczyk.