According to a new UN report, marine plants take 2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide away from the atmosphere each year as they use the carbon dioxide for photosynthesis. Most of these plants are plankton, but planktons rarely form a permanent carbon store on the seabed. Instead, mangrove forests, salt marshes and seagrass beds are responsible for locking away well over 50 percent of all carbon that is buried in the sea – an amazing feat when you consider that these types of habitat only comprise 1 percent of the world’s seabed.

The carbon burial capacity of marine vegetated habitats is phenomenal, 180 times greater than the average burial rate in the open ocean,” say the authors of the UN report.

Mangrove forests, salt marshes and seagrass beds are the most intense carbon sinks on our planet and they store away an estimated 1,650 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year.

Unfortunately, these habitats are being ruined or damaged worldwide and a third of them are believed to have been lost already, although it is difficult to obtain accurate figures regarding the extent of these types of habitats worldwide. What we do know is that half of the world’s population lives within 65 miles of the ocean and that vegetated ocean near habitats are often under severe pressure.

On current trends they may be all largely lost within a couple of decades”, said Christian Nellemann, the editor of the report.”

To help developing nations protect the remaining marine vegetated habitats the authors of the report suggest that a fund should be launched. They also wish to have a market place created where oceanic carbon sinks are traded in the same fashion as terrestrial forests.

The report, which has been named Blue Carbon, is a collaboration between the United Nations Environment Programme, the Food and Agriculture Organisation and Unesco.