Fish Carbon: Exploring Marine Vertebrate Carbon Services

Abu Dhabi/Arendal 5 Nov 2014 – In response to the call by the United Nations to provide innovative solutions to address the climate challenge and to prevent global biodiversity loss, GRID-Arendal, a centre collaborating with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and Blue Climate Solutions, a project of The Ocean Foundation, have produced a report on the potential of marine vertebrates to readily fill this void.

“Fish Carbon: Exploring Marine Vertebrate Carbon Services  is a key step in increasing our understanding of the ways that marine vertebrates contribute to the global carbon cycle, one of the vital functions of our life support system,” stated Dr. Sylvia Earle, Founder of Mission Blue and a former Chief Scientist of NOAA, who provided the report’s preface.

”Acknowledging the importance of marine life in climate change will not only provide much needed opportunities for climate mitigation, it will simultaneously enhance food security for coastal and island communities, while safeguarding biodiversity and marine ecosystems on a global scale, particularly in the unprotected high seas,” she added.

The role marine vertebrates play in climate regulation is underappreciated. Recent discovery includes the grazing and predation activities of sea turtles and sharks in seagrass ecosystems being understood as key in helping maintain the uptake and storage of atmospheric carbon by seagrasses. (Photo credit: P. Lindgren/Wikimedia Commons) Marine vertebrate carbon services, or ‘Fish Carbon’ for short, are natural mechanisms of carbon cycling in all marine ecosystems, from shallow coasts to ocean depths.

“Marine life from tuna to turtles, sharks to sea otters, provides ecosystem services that operate naturally and maintain the ocean’s role in climate regulation. These services have previously been overlooked, yet provide realistic opportunities for mitigating the impacts of climate change.” stated Angela Martin of Blue Climate Solutions, co-author of the report.

One example given in the report is that grazing sea turtles help maintain healthy seagrass meadows, which are known to store atmospheric carbon, and turtle populations are in turn controlled by predators, such as tiger sharks. If the sharks are overfished, then the sea turtles can over graze the seagrasses and the associated sea grass carbon function diminishes.

The report presents eight Fish Carbon mechanisms and raises options for the future of international climate change mitigation efforts and ocean management. “A key next step for the Fish Carbon concept is improving our understanding of these mechanisms,” stated Steven Lutz of GRID-Arendal, lead author of the report.

“Coordinated research is needed to understand the total significance of marine vertebrates in the ocean’s carbon cycle, and its potential application to management and policy,” he added.

The preliminary implications of Fish Carbon are that effective marine management and sustainable fishing practices, which support healthy populations of marine vertebrates, can help secure the capacity of the oceans to take up and store carbon, and thereby mitigate the impacts of climate change.

With the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicting that the impacts of climate change on people and ecosystems will be irreversible unless immediate action is taken, there is even more reason to explore the use of Fish Carbon.

The Fish Carbon report was launched on November 9 in Abu Dhabi. The report can be downloaded from 

Additional information:

Fish Carbon: Exploring Marine Vertebrate Carbon Services is available online at:


Blue Climate Solutions:

Mission Blue:

For more information please contact:

Angela Martin, Project Lead, Blue Climate Solutions