Coastal blue carbon refers to carbon stored in shallow and coastal marine ecosystems, including mangrove forests, seagrass meadows, and saltwater marshes. These coastal blue carbon ecosystems accumulate and store a significant amount of carbon in plant biomass and sediments.
Healthy coastal blue carbon ecosystems can store many times the volume of carbon stored in terrestrial forest ecosystems. Conversely, degraded coastal blue carbon ecosystems may release these large amounts of stored carbon back to the atmosphere, and contribute to the drivers of climate change.
Action to address climate change that will result in the most favorable conditions for life as we know it requires both a reduction in the release of greenhouse gases and removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. Since blue carbon ecosystems are highly efficient at carbon capture and storage, their preservation, protection and restoration comprises an important tool in climate change mitigation and adaptation.
Conserving and restoring coastal blue carbon ecosystems provides additional local benefits of water filtration, shoreline stabilization, storm and flood protection, and habitat and sustenance for fish and other marine organisms, including commercially and locally important food species. For human populations, these ecosystems sustain livelihoods, provide recreational benefits and have cultural and spiritual values for the local community as well as visitors.
The value of coastal blue carbon ecosystems cross-cuts various political agendas and can therefore be applied through various policy pathways to meet shared goals, as outlined in the diagram below.
Image credits – top: Matthew D Potenski, inset: Steven Lutz