Mangroves on Florida's Manatee River / Rick Schwartz / CC BY-NC 2.0

Mainstreaming Blue Carbon to Finance Coastal Resilience

Oceans and coastal plant species such as mangroves and seagrasses cover only a small fraction of the earth, but are responsible for sequestering over half of all the carbon captured by living organisms. However, despite being some of the most efficient known carbon sinks, they are also among the ecosystems most threatened by climate change. Threats such as rising sea levels and temperatures, offshore drilling, erosion, and pollution have resulted in the rapid deterioration of coastal and marine areas.

The concept of forest carbon, or the sequestration and storing of carbon by forests, is well known and utilized by voluntary carbon markets and payments through the global Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) program. However, the critical contribution of marine and coastal ecosystems in carbon sequestration, or “blue carbon,” has only recently begun to gain traction in market-based ecosystem management discussions. These ecosystems are often biodiversity hotspots, and provide essential services such as food security, water quality, shoreline protection, and the provision of livelihoods to coastal communities. They are therefore ideal ecosystems for conservation efforts worldwide.

However, mobilizing capital investments for conservation remains one of the primary obstacles in managing coastal and marine ecosystems. Therefore, blue carbon could be crucial in facilitating both private and public capital investment in these dynamic ecosystems. The blue carbon market is, at present, still nascent. Governments and international institutions are revising methods of monitoring carbon to include blue carbon and develop structures to encourage private investment in blue carbon offsets. This article explores these efforts to facilitate the generation and trade of blue carbon credits.

How Is Blue Carbon Different?

Blue carbon is sequestered and stored in coastal and marine ecosystems that include mangroves, tidal marshes and seagrass meadows. In terrestrial ecosystems, carbon credits reflect the storage and sequestration from forests, grasslands, soil and other sources of biomass. However, the carbon stored in coastal ecosystems differs in that biomass accumulates not only from sources like fallen leaves and twigs, but also from organic matter being washed up by the tide. Additionally, this organic matter is covered in saltwater, which inhibits breakdown of the material.

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