Webinar Recap: The opportunities and challenges for blue carbon

Mangrove forest. Image credit: Creative Commons, Timothy K

Webinar Recap: The opportunities and challenges for blue carbon

Each week, One Earth will be featuring a webinar recap from organizations and scientists around the world that focus on important topics such as biodiversity, conservation, food justice, and the intersections of environmental and human health.

Plan Vivo is an organization that believes restoring and protecting natural environments, as well as aiding the local communities in these areas, are key to solving the climate crisis. In the debut episode of their webinar series about nature-based solutions, on-the-ground researchers and conservationists come together to promote and discuss blue carbon. Coastal ecosystems such as  mangroves, salt marshes, and seagrass make up blue carbon systems. These ecosystems sequester and store more carbon per unit area than terrestrial forests. Despite this , there are several unique challenges that blue carbon projects face - social, political, and economic - that the webinar examines. 

Professor Mark Huxham from Edinburgh Napier University is an expert on blue carbon, our moderator, and introduces the panel’s subject. As he points out, any gardener will tell you that salt is the antithesis of a healthy floral ecosystem. Yet, there are around 200 unique species of plants that grow in salt water and thrive in the transitional regions between the ocean and land. Together these species provide habitats to a plethora of wildlife, protect the coasts from hurricanes and flooding, and are exceptional carbon sinks. Although only taking up about five percent of the earth’s surface, these blue carbon regions may contribute to up to 50 percent of all the organic carbon stored. 

So, if blue carbon seems to be such an obvious solution to decreasing greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere, why are projects preserving and restoring these areas having such a hard time getting off the ground? Many people live in these coastal regions, and the incentive to develop the land is currently more appealing and profitable than conservation. Also, as Leah Glass, Project Coordinator of the Tahiry Honko project in Madagascar describes, these regions can also fall under both land and sea jurisdictions. Trying to coordinate projects within two government entities can prove to be quite challenging. 

However, solutions for these obstacles are already in motion. 

Rigorous measurements, modeling, and remote sensing are cost-effective ways to provide evidence of blue carbon’s importance. Dr. Blanca Bernal, Program Officer at Winrock International, said,

New forms of financing are also coming. The top 100 pension funds globally, have 18.5 trillion dollars in resources. Dr. Ryan Merrill, Executive Secretary and Co-Founder of the Global Mangrove Trust, believes that enlightening shareholders and tapping into these resources can offset any benefits of industrial development and provide support for researchers and their work. 

Education, analysis, and finance all come together in projects like ecologist Mark Beeston and his team’s Fair Carbon, a digital map that highlights blue carbon projects around the world. Ensuring that these efforts are credible, they make the funding and learning process more efficient which they hope will scale the number of projects worldwide. Beeston is optimistic that programs like these will “bridge the gap” between communities and their understanding of how important their blue carbon environments are.