Pilot Projects Lead the Way in Measuring and Protecting Blue Carbon

Mangroves in Costa Rica's Terraba Sierpe National Wetland

Approaching a blue carbon sampling site in a mangrove forest in Costa Rica’s Terraba Sierpe National Wetland. (Photo courtesy of Miguel Cifuentes)

The concept of “blue carbon” — the carbon stored by coastal and marine ecosystems such as mangroves, tidal marshes and seagrasses — has recently gained traction in climate change discussions. However, our knowledge of field projects that work to protect and restore these ecosystems for their role in climate change mitigation has thus far been limited.

To change this, I recently worked with CI and the International Blue Carbon Initiative to compile a database of existing blue carbon projects around the world. My report, “Profiles in Blue Carbon Field Work” (PDF), shows that a global community of scientists, policymakers and coastal communities is rallying around the concept of blue carbon as a nature-based tool to help mitigate global climate change.

Blue carbon projects have great potential to work alongside technological advances that can mitigate the harmful effects of greenhouse gas emissions. For this study, I surveyed 27 projects in order to provide a baseline understanding of the worldwide distribution and variety of attributes of current field activities.

I found that comprehensive and innovative blue carbon projects are starting up around the world. My report shows that many countries are demonstrating significant interest in learning how conserving areas containing blue carbon can contribute to global climate change mitigation.

mangrove rehabilitation, Tanakeke Island, Indonesia

Local communities engaged in mangrove rehabilitation work, Tanakeke Island, Indonesia. (© Ben Brown, Director Mangrove Action Project Indonesia, Founder and Director Yayasan Hutan Biru (Blue Forests))

Many of these projects are designed to be financed via grants or income generated through carbon markets. These revenue streams may provide financing for the project itself as well as investment in community improvement initiatives, such as education and local health care.

Here are just a few examples:

  • Senegal: The Danone Fund for Nature project is conducting mangrove restoration in Casamance and Sine Saloum to ensure restoration and long-term conservation of mangroves. The ultimate goal of this work is to improve livelihoods of the local community by restoring shellfish populations — species that require healthy mangrove ecosystems to thrive. Once in place, carbon offsets from this project will finance continued restoration efforts and local capacity-building projects geared toward transferring management responsibilities to the local communities. Learn more.
  • Costa Rica: CATIE (Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center) is a project currently focused on improving local capacity for managing natural resources. Managed by Dr. Miguel Cifuentes, a member of the International Blue Carbon Initiative Scientific Working Group, this project is conducting three carbon inventories along both of Costa Rica’s coasts. CATIE is also focusing on acquiring a national blue carbon data archive to improve national capacity for managing Costa Rica’s coastal ecosystems. Learn more.
  • Indonesia: Researchers from Australia’s Charles Darwin University are partnering with conservationists in Indonesia to implement sound management of the nation’s mangrove population at key test sites. Keeping these mangroves intact will result in avoided emissions of greenhouse gases and other benefits for the local communities, such as improved water quality and protection against storm surges. Learn more.

This range of projects is encouraging news for the future of blue carbon. Could blue carbon projects improve our global climate health, provide local communities with sustainable income and preserve vital habitats for future generations? As we’ve seen, some of them already are.

taking a soil sample in Costa Rica.

Field researchers extracting a soil sample in Costa Rica. (Photo courtesy of Miguel Cifuentes)

The results of this report will strengthen the Blue Carbon Initiative’s global reach. A new website, launched this week by the Blue Carbon Initiative, highlights the results of this report and is geared toward expanding the visibility of blue carbon projects. The website includes information on both the work of the Initiative and about blue carbon projects starting up around the world, with an aim of fostering greater coordination and collaboration within the global blue carbon community.

The Initiative’s scientific and policy working groups will continue to build upon this research to more accurately define and classify blue carbon projects and to provide support for demonstrations in the field. As these projects reveal, it is important that we, as a global community, better value our coasts for their many contributions to a healthy planet.

Allison Bredbenner was a summer fellow with CI in 2012. She was hired with support from the Trott Family Foundation. To learn more about the Blue Carbon Initiative, check out their new website.

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