(At the Northwest Biocarbon Initiative we are constantly on the hunt for ways to improve the carbon storage capacity of natural systems.   One of my partners in the project, Rhys Roth, came across this new scientific study on the importance of fish poop.  One way to help remove the carbon load in the Earth’s atmosphere!  Patrick Mazza)

By Rhys Roth

I love pizza, but the anchovies?  Not so much.  Little did I know that by skipping the anchovies I may actually be helping protect https://grist.org/wp-admin/post-new.phpEarth’s  natural CO2 cleansing system.  Anchovy poop, new research suggests, is a really effective biocarbon storage pump.   Ah, the wondrous workings of Nature.

Reader support helps sustain our work. Donate today to keep our climate news free. All donations DOUBLED!

Here’s how it works:  Teeny-tiny, single-celled, drifting sea plants called phytoplankton grab sunlight and carbon dioxide (CO2) to grow.  (By some estimates, phytoplankton remove as much CO2 from our atmosphere as all the plants and trees on land.)  Forage fish like anchovies (as well as herring, sardines, shad, smelt and others) fuel up primarily on the super lightweight, drifting, surface-dwelling plankton.  They digest and they poop out pellets that are heavy enough to sink quickly to the bottom of the sea where the carbon won’t see the light of day for a long time

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Grace Saba of Rutgers U and Deborah Steinberg of Virginia Institute of Marine Science, set out to count anchovy poop pellets in the waters of the Santa Barbara Channel off southern California coast — nice work if you can get it.

anchovy poopThey also picked apart the pellets to measure their carbon content and to identify the semi-digested remains of creatures eaten by the anchovies.  Further, they figured out whether and how fast the poop pellets will sink in ocean waters.  Their key finding: “given the right conditions—fish fecal pellets can transport significant amounts of repackaged surface material to depth, and do so relatively quickly.”

In other words, anchovies and their forage fish brethren and sistren are another important component of Nature’s carbon pollution cleansing system; part of the solution to our biocarbon imperative.

It’s a part of the natural CO2 cleansing system that is under threat.  An international group of marine scientists called recently for cuts in the global commercial catch of forage fish; their use as feed for fish farming, in particular, has soared.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.