NEWBURYPORT — A marine biologist and diver with 30 years of experience working for the Environmental Protection Agency will give a presentation Feb. 11 about “blue carbon” coastal ecosystems and their importance in the fight against climate change.

The program, titled “Blue Carbon, the Lungs of the Sea,” will begin at 7 p.m. at the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge Visitors Center, 6 Plum Island Turnpike.

During the presentation, Phillip Colarusso will speak on “blue carbon,” the group of habitats that includes seagrasses, salt marshes and mangroves.

Colarusso believes these ecosystems contain enough carbon “to power a drive to Pluto and part way back,” according to Storm Surge spokeswoman Judy Tymon. 

Tymon said that during a recent conversation with Colarusso, he explained that blue carbon ecosystems are able to capture large amounts of carbon and hold them for hundreds of years

“Usually when we talk about carbon capture, we talk about trees absorbing it from the atmosphere. But here in New England, right in our backyard, we have this resource with the ability to capture so much more carbon,” Tymon said. “The more of them we can preserve, the more we can combat climate change.”

Colarusso has a master’s degree in environmental science from the University of Massachusetts in Boston and a doctorate from Northeastern University in marine biology.

He has worked on a wide variety of coastal and ocean issues, ranging from the assessment of power plants on fish populations to examining the impact of excess nitrogen on seagrass. His current research focuses on carbon sequestration by seagrass.

From 2012 to 2016, he was one of six representatives on the Commission of Environmental Cooperation’s Blue Carbon Steering Committee.

Tymon said Colarusso’s discussion will be relevant to the Newburyport area, where salt marshes are make up a significant and important part of the local coastal environment.

And with increased stormwater runoff because of climate change, as well as combined sewage overflows from the Merrimack River, protecting the area’s salt marshes is more important than ever. 

“We’re seeing more rain, and that means more stormwater runoff, which will degrade the salt marshes, so we need to be careful about building more roads and impervious surfaces,” Tymon said.

“The CSOs also degrade this great resource we have — it degrades the ability of the marshes and grasses to do that carbon capture. So, it’s all connected. People always talk about issues with the Merrimack, but where does it empty into? Right into the salt marsh.”

Tymon said there will be a question-and-answer portion of the discussion during which Colarusso will respond to guests’ questions about environmental issues as well as his time with the EPA.

“He could shed light on what it’s like working on the EPA under the Trump administration,” Tymon said. “He said it’s difficult, to say the least, but he didn’t go into detail.” 

 For more information about Storm Surge-sponsored events, email stormsurge9@gmail.com.

Staff writer Jack Shea can be reached via email at jshea@newburyportnews.com or by phone at 978-961-3154. Follow him on Twitter @iamjackshea.

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