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UNC Marine Sciences

Harmful fishing practices and high sediment pollution are disturbing the world's oyster reefs, and these disturbances could significantly impact levels of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, according to a new study. Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill studied the carbon buried in 22 different reefs and found that, when disrupted, the reefs become sources of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Why it matters: Higher levels of CO2 in the atmosphere can accelerate the effects of climate change, and oyster reefs may have a role in that process.

What they found: Reefs contain both organic carbon and inorganic carbon, which lives in shells. The organic carbon takes CO2 out of the atmosphere, while shell carbon feeds CO2 back into it. Whether a given reef is a source or sink of carbon depends on the ratio of carbon types buried. But "when you disturb a reef … you create a bigger source," says Joel Fodrie, one of the researchers. This is because while shell carbon is largely inert, organic carbon can be metabolized and start to vent CO2 if it is disturbed.

The limitations:

"We work in one place on the planet," Fodrie said. The scientists measured effects in the oyster reefs of North Carolina's temperate waters. Another study might test colder or warmer waters or consider mussel beds instead of oyster reefs, Fodrie said.

Go deeper

China deems all cryptocurrency transactions illegal

A person walking past China's central bank in Beijing in August 2007. Photo: Teh Eng Koon/AFP via Getty Images

China's central bank declared on Friday that all cryptocurrencies are illegal, banning crypto-related transactions and cryptocurrency mining, according to Reuters.

Why it matters: China's government is now following through with its goal of cracking down on unofficial virtual currencies, which it has said are a financial, social and national security risk and a contributor to global warming.

Biden's big bet backfires

Two key dealmakers — Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) — leave a luncheon in the Capitol yesterday. Photo: Kent Nishimura/L.A. Times via Getty Images

President Biden bit off too much, too fast in trying to ram through what would be the largest social expansion in American history, top Democrats privately say.

Why it matters: At the time Biden proposed it, he had his mind set on a transformational accomplishment that would put him in the pantheon of FDR and JFK.

Biden sinks in swing districts

Photo: Biden speaks about wild fires and climate change in Sacramento on September 13, 2021. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/ AFP via Getty Images

Sudden doubts about President Biden's competence — on Afghanistan, immigration and COVID — are driving double-digit drops in his approval in private polling in swing House seats, The Cook Political Report's Amy Walter writes.

Why it matters: "[T]hese early mistakes go directly to the very rationale of his presidency; that it would be low drama and high competence."