How the blue carbon ecosystem can help mitigate the climate crisis
When £ 20million was spent to create a 250 hectare salt marsh on Somerset’s Steart Peninsula in 2014, many critics called it a ‘waste of money’.
At the time, the Environment Agency and the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust that led the project were barely aware of the climatic benefits of salt marshes. Meanwhile, others ridiculed it as an “extravagant and ridiculous plan” that put birds before humans.
Blue carbon is taking center stage in the fight against the climate crisis. Scientists at Manchester Metropolitan University claim that Steart Marsh is one of the most powerful carbon sinks in the world, as it absorbs 19 tonnes of organic carbon per hectare each year.
Here’s everything you need to know about blue carbon
What is the blue carbon ecosystem?
Coastal ecosystems such as mangroves, seagrass beds, and intertidal marshes are powerful carbon sinks and are often referred to as blue carbon ecosystems. They can sequester and store more carbon per unit area than terrestrial forests.
On the other hand, tropical green carbon rainforests remove and store carbon dioxide in biomass and release it when trees die. However, mangroves store carbon in their soil and sediment, which can stay for millennia if left undisturbed.
Why is the marine ecosystem necessary?
A report commissioned by a high-level panel for a sustainable ocean economy said that one-fifth of the emission reductions needed to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees C will have to come from the ocean. Mangrove, seagrass and salt marsh ecosystems together account for over 50 percent of carbon storage in ocean sediments. Therefore, protecting and restoring the blue carbon ecosystem will help to absorb nearly 1.4 billion tonnes of emissions per year by 2050, reported The Guardian.
However, these ecosystems are damaged by harmful fishing practices, agriculture and pollution, making their protection and restoration costly.
Seagrass beds can store carbon in the seabed for millennia 35 times faster than tropical forests. However, seagrass beds are disappearing at a rate of 7 percent per year. In addition, between 2000 and 2016, more than 3,360 km² of mangrove forests were lost across the world.
Carbon offset market
In an attempt to fund their work, conservation groups sell blue carbon credits to large organizations.
“We have been looking for a way to fund the Cispatá conservation project for years. About 50 percent of the mangroves have disappeared from the Caribbean coast over the past three decades, due to cattle ranching, roads and tourism, ”marine biologist María Claudia Diazgranados told the Guardian.
The Cispatá conservation project is a collaboration between the Colombian Coastal and Marine Research Institute (Invemar), Conservation International (CI) and Apple. CI plans to sell blue carbon credits and use the money to cover at least half of the $ 600,000 in operating costs of the project.
According to the Guardian’s investigation report, not all carbon offset programs are reliable. The report released earlier this year said several logging companies were paying for carbon programs but also allowing logging to continue.
Oceanographers still believe that the sale of blue carbon credits could be used as leverage to conserve the endangered marine ecosystem.
“Cispatá is the first blue carbon project to be verified by Verra and we have just sold our first blue carbon credits,” said Dr Emily Pidgeon, vice president of CI.
Verra is a US-based non-profit organization that administers the carbon credit standard around the world.
Investments in blue carbon are on the rise, according to its report, as renewable energy companies, shipping lines and financial firms seek to invest in it.
Several blue carbon mangrove projects are under development in Vietnam, Pakistan, Senegal, Kenya and Madagascar. In India, a blue carbon mangrove project is underway in the Sunderbans.
(Edited by : Kanishka Sarkar)