Monday, August 30, 2010

Kelp Restoration Works - Implications for Blue Carbon

IUCN's report titled 'The Management of Natural Coastal Carbon Sinks' cites kelp's potential for climate mitigation. Good news, kelp restoration works! 

(Good news also for all the kelp forest critters and associated fisheries)

Massive artificial reef grows like wild

By Mike Lee (, August 18, 2010.

Large beds of giant brown kelp are thriving in the artificial reef built off the coast of San Clemente north of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.

A major initiative to boost sea life appears to be paying off in the coastal waters near San Clemente, where power companies spent $46 million to build what is touted as the nation’s largest artificial reef.

Large beds of giant brown kelp are thriving in the artificial reef built off the coast of San Clemente north of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.

Large beds of giant brown kelp are thriving in the artificial reef built off the coast of San Clemente north of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (image credit Eduardo Contreras).

Independent monitoring by scientists at the University of California Santa Barbara shows that the reef reached nine of 14 benchmarks during its first year of operations. Power company officials said Wednesday they are poised to meet the other standards, perhaps this year.

The Wheeler North Reef is part of a piecemeal strategy by ocean advocates for using artificial reefs to boost habitat for marine creatures, improve fishing and provide more opportunities for divers. It was required by the California Coastal Commission to make up for the ecological damage done by the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in North County, which is owned by Southern California Edison, San Diego Gas & Electric Co. and Riverside.

On Wednesday, Edison showed off the giant kelp forest that has grown over the past several months and highlighted the first UCSB monitoring report. Kelp forests sometimes are called the “rain forests of the sea” because they support hundreds of species of marine life.

“We are really well on the way to having duplicated a very complex ecosystem on a large scale,” said David Kay, head of environmental projects for the company. “You look offshore and you see this massive area of kelp canopy floating on the surface. … This is an amazing accomplishment.”

As he talked, the 174-acre reef spread out below a company helicopter for about two miles south of the San Clemente pier.

From the air, it’s obvious where Edison placed boulders at depths of about 30 feet because wavy tendrils of brown kelp — anchored to the rocks below — carpet the ocean’s surface like giant strands of hair. A few fishing boats bobbed in the gentle swells at the edge of the shimmering marine forest while seabirds rested and fed on the matted kelp.

Before the artificial reef was constructed, “Nothing was there,” Kay said. “You don’t have to be a scientist to say kelp density turned out pretty good.”

Ecologist Stephen Schroeter of UCSB’s Marine Science Institute was more reserved, but his assessment was upbeat.

“They have done a really nice job,” said Schroeter, part of the reef monitoring team that regularly dives at the site. “It looks like it’s on a hopeful trajectory.”

He said some of the unmet benchmarks may prove challenging, particularly one that sets the amount of fish in the reef by weight. The goal is 28 tons; only 16 tons were observed in the first year.

Despite the positive trendline, Schroeter urged caution about the widespread use of a similar approach.

“There may in fact be other places where artificial reefs may be a very useful mitigation measure, and we are learning important lessons about how you might want to go about doing that,” he said. “But I don’t think it’s a recipe for making kelp up and down the coast.”

The roots of the Wheeler North Reef go back to 1974 when the California Coastal Commission issued a development permit for units 2 and 3 of the nuclear plant. Years of monitoring led to new permit conditions to make up for ecological harm done by the plant.

They include restoration of the San Dieguito marsh, financing of a marine fish hatchery and construction of an artificial reef to replace kelp beds harmed by the plant.

The reactors are cooled by a system that each day takes in the volume of seawater equal to one square mile 14 feet deep, according to a UCSB analysis. The water is heated by the plant and released through pipes in the ocean. The discharge plume has redistributed sediment, decreasing the amount of light that reaches the kelp growing directly offshore of the plant.

UCSB researchers said cloudy water offshore caused a substantial reduction in the kelp forest, resulting in losses of fish and invertebrates.

The new reef is north of the nuclear plant near San Clemente. It started in 1999 as a 22.4-acre experimental project designed to guide construction of a larger reef.

“We don’t want to have to go back and redo things,” said Kay at Edison.

The rocks, quarried at Catalina Island, are roughly the size of medicine balls and scattered in a single layer on the sand, not piled on top of each other.

Kay said the goal was to create a dynamic ecosystem in which the boulders are jostled during storms so they can clear out patches of old-growth kelp and create a natural mosaic.

“To get giant kelp coming back generation after generation, there always needs to be bare rock on the reef, and you are only going to get that if you have an unstable reef,” he said.

So far, the rocks have performed as Kay hoped. The first of UCSB’s annual reports said the rocks were not sinking into the sand — a possible threat to the reef. It also said that fish abundance and diversity at Wheeler North was similar to or greater than natural reefs nearby. The study team didn’t find evidence of invasive species harming the reef.

“Generally, things are going well,” said Susan Hansch, chief deputy director at the Coastal Commission. “The kelp is flourishing.”

She warned that Edison is not in the clear yet. “They are going to be monitoring and responsible for these mitigation sites for a long time,” she said.

Kay is hopeful that the reef will meet all its performance targets this year without additional intervention by Edison. The company is responsible for the reef for at least 40 years, though Kay expects it to last for centuries.

“It goes on its own at this point,” he said. “We are just watching it grow.”


California Coastkeeper Alliance - Restoring Southern California’s Kelp Beds 

Santa Monica Baykeeper - Kelp Restoration Project

Monday, August 23, 2010

Ocean Acidification Threatens the Global Carbon Cycle

Plankton, the foundation of the oceanic carbon function and vital to the global carbon cycle, imperiled by ocean acidification.

Ocean acidification not only threatens coral reefs, and fish and shellfish larvae, but also plankton, the foundation of the oceanic carbon function and marine food webs.

Living healthy oceans are a crucial element of the global carbon cycle.

Only an immediate reduction in carbon emissions can prevent our oceans from continuing to become more acidic.

How Acidification Threatens Oceans from the Inside Out (Scientific American, Aug. 2010)
Carbon dioxide emissions are making the oceans more acidic, imperiling the growth and reproduction of species from plankton to squid

The "Other" Carbon Problem - Ocean Acidification (Counter Currents, Aug. 19, 2010)

World’s Marine Plankton in Peril - 40% Decline Since 1950 (Planetsave, Aug. 4, 2010)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Make Ecosystem Restoration a Cental Strategy in Climate Policy

We like - "make ecosystem restoration a central strategy in climate mitigation and adaptation."

(& don't forget blue carbon ecosystems!)

How Can President Obama Cut Carbon Emissions Without a Climate Bill?

Matthew McDermott, TreeHugger, New York, NY on 08. 5.10

With Congress still not able to get out of its own way and actually move forward any legislation with the word 'climate' in it, what options does President Obama have to make good on his oft-stated commitments to make reductions in greenhouse gas emissions? Leaving aside the EPA mandating carbon emission reductions (remember it's now officially a pollutant), over at Climate Progress, the executive director of the Presidential Climate Action Project has some good suggestions:

First is a great suggestion: Create a national clean energy roadmap and part of that is helping all states adopt a series of energy and climate policies outlined by the Center for Climate Strategies. These 23 sector-based policies at the state level would create 2.5 million net new jobs by 2020 while reducing emissions 27% below 1990 levels--that's well over 10% below what the President has pledged, if still not in line with scientific recommendation.

Second is Declaring a war on energy waste. It's pretty shocking to think that the US economy wastes 87% of the energy it consumes, and that in energy efficiency it ranks 22nd in the world. Or maybe it's not, considering that the US doesn't rank near the top of many indices for social welfare, only topping the charts when it comes to military spending. But I digress...

PCAP urges Obama to challenge the US to become the world's most energy-efficient industrial economy by 2035, something which could be done by improving energy efficiency at the rate of 3.1% annually.

Number three requires Congress, but avoids the dreaded C-word. It's also something which about half the staff at TreeHugger has written is a crucial but overlooked component of reducing oil consumption and sound climate policy. It's Reinventing national transportation policy.

Since transportation is responsible for such a large percentage of oil consumption and greenhouse gases, shifting federal funding from overwhelmingly supporting new road-building to supporting mass-transit (and creating more walkable/bikeable communities) is key in tackling climate change and oil dependency. It's also broadly favored in public opinion polls.

Going right along with that is Stopping fossil fuel subsidies. The way PCAP describes it is brilliant:

The oil, coal, and gas industries in the United States are like 50-year-old children still on the breast. They are mature and ridiculously wealthy; the shouldn't need taxpayers to subsidize them.

Currently the US gives 2.5 times more subsidies to fossil fuels than clean energy sources.

The IEA says phasing out over the next decade the $560 billion subsidies that fossil fuels get annually would achieve more than 30 percent of the cuts in carbon emissions necessary to keep rising atmospheric temperatures at no more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Fossil fuel profits and the expense of taxpayers and a planet with a roughly comparable climate to that of today? Sounds like a bad bargain.

The last suggestion is perhaps the most under-publicized, yet potentially hugely effective, of the lot: Make ecosystem restoration a cental strategy in climate mitigation and adaptation.

Rehabilitating ecosystems which human activity has degraded is hugely helpful in reducing the impacts of storms along coastlines, increasing the ability of the landscape to absorb carbon emissions, controlling erosion, flooding, and more. To accomplish this through human machination is a far more expensive proposition than simply working with nature so that it can do it naturally, and except for the costs of getting our artifices out of the way and restoring the landscape, do it for free.

Good thoughts all around. Far less contentious than crossing the Rubicon with the EPA cutting out Congress and having a go at regulating carbon emissions itself.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

US Moving Ahead With Ecosystem Markets Despite Cap-and-Trade Setbacks

US Moving Ahead With Ecosystem Markets Despite Cap-and-Trade Setbacks

The US Senate has put climate-change legislation on the back-burner, while the courts have hobbled the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to take its acid-rain reduction scheme nationwide. That hasn't stopped the Obama Administration from moving ahead with its plan to coordinate payment schemes for biodiversity and water.

2 August 2010 | It has been a schizophrenic couple of months for environmental markets. The acid rain market, considered the founding father of all cap-and-trade markets and credited with slashing sulfur dioxide emissions in the United States, received a body blow in a recent EPA decision to curtail these markets’ use. And the long-anticipated U.S. mandatory cap-and trade carbon market was shelved by Senate leaders.

Yet, thanks to key support from the Obama Administration, environmental markets that promote good stewardship of water and wildlife have a chance of delivering on their potential.

In June, the United States Department of Agriculture released its Strategic Plan for ecosystem markets, the first large-scale, panoramic effort to develop multiple environmental markets that promote ecosystem services.

Written as the nation works to pull itself out of the worst recession since the Great Depression, the Plan embraces environmental markets as a key method to undergird farmers struggling to survive in an unsteady and rapidly evolving global marketplace. It projects more than doubling the annual revenue these markets generate from $1.9 billion currently to $4 billion within the next five years.

Since the plan is written and overseen by the USDA, some see it as a system written by farmers for farmers that could leave the environment as a forgotten step child. But others embrace the plan as an innovative way to address economic and environmental issues that have eluded the nation in the past.

“Markets properly designed can produce real environmental improvements and real revenue for farmers,” said Mark Nechodom from his Washington, DC office where he works as deputy director of the Office of Environmental Markets (OEM) under the USDA. The OEM was launched by the Bush administration and has been embraced by the Obama administration.

From Piecemeal to Partnerships

Because environmental regulations and enforcement efforts continue to fall short of their goal of protecting air, land, water and biodiversity, nations and communities have responded by creating marketplace solutions. Through these markets, those who harm air, water, plants and animals have the opportunity to more than compensate by purchasing credits from businesses that restore, preserve and protect the environment.

Environmental markets have sprung up piecemeal throughout the world during the past two decades. Europeans, through the Kyoto Protocol, embrace a carbon cap-and-trade market as a primary means to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The United States created an acid-rain trading program – now threatened – that is credited for slashing sulfur-dioxide emissions by more than half. Various nations and states have begun implementing water quality, water conservation and biodiversity markets.

The USDA’s Strategic Plan consolidates these piecemeal efforts by creating partnerships with landowners to leverage investments, drive these markets and, if successful, achieve tangible environmental improvements.

Good News for Environmental Investors

The Plan, according to supporters as well as detractors, is good for both farmers and environmental-market investors.

“What Obama is doing is feeding our business,” said Michael Van Patten from his New York City Soho loft where he works as founder of Mission Markets and Mission Markets Earth facilitating investments in environmental markets.

The Plan pledges financial, technical and planning support to create what it calls an “all-lands approach” to bring public and private owners together across landscapes and ecosystems. It will connect and equip farmers with market information that enables them to earn revenue from ecosystem markets. And it announces the USDA’s intention to help develop tools and materials that will quantify the value of ecosystem services and monitor and assess their effectiveness.

Carbon markets alone – for now voluntary instead of compulsory as a result of the Senate's actions – could offer huge boosts in income for farmers, ranchers and forest landowners’ income. The Plan details the large role it expects landowners to play in achieving the Administration pledge to reduce US greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent by 2020. Plants naturally absorb and store climate-warming carbon dioxide, turn it into sugars and release oxygen into the atmosphere. Landowners, according to the Plan, will be able to bolster their incomes through conservation tillage and by improving energy and fertilizer efficiency, growing perennial grasses, planting trees on marginal farmland, minimizing deforestation and building methane digesters that process carbon-releasing cow dung.

But Will it Work?

The Strategic Plan’s goal of promoting environmental markets faces significant hurdles. Its release inadvertently coincided with events that emphasize market uncertainties and frighten investors. Wall Street stock market prices plunged this month, spurring fears of a double-dip recession. And environmental-market credibility took a big hit from actions this month by the Senate and the US Environmental Protection Agency. The Senate decided to shelve debate and, thus, delay creation of a carbon market. And the EPA, responding to a court order, announced new federal pollution rules that will require energy plants to reduce their own emissions instead of relying on environmental market trades to do so.

Meanwhile, assigning the USDA as the prime mover of ecosystem markets spurred doubts even among hard-core market supporters. Many say the USDA’s Strategic Plan focuses on supporting farmers – the job the USDA was created to fill – rather than on ensuring that environmental markets achieve their goal of restoring ecosystems. For example, a farmer might cash in on ecosystem markets by restoring a wetland. But his restored wetland might not achieve the environmental goal of protecting a threatened bird’s habitat or improving water quality.

“When one reads between the lines,” said Terry Anderson, a pioneer in free market environmentalism and executive director of the Montana-based Property and Environmental Research Center, (PERC), “one finds an ecosystem whitewashing of traditional agriculture subsidies.”

Answering the Skeptics

Although the USDA’s plans face significant hurdles, many environmentalists, government officials and environmental-market investors view the Strategic Plan as a gateway that could effectively resolve economic and environmental concerns that have eluded them for decades. The key, they say, lies in establishing markets with consistent ground rules and reliable oversight.

“It is refreshing that the USDA has the interest in looking across media including water, habitat, air and biodiversity,” said Annie Petsonk, counsel for Environmental Defense that focuses on developing economic incentives to promote environmental protection. Numerous studies confirm that well-regulated environmental markets achieve environmental goals, she said, adding that “the USDA faces the challenge of making sure what they do is done with integrity.”

Adam Davis, partner in Ecosystem Investment Partners and president of the environmental investment firm Solano Partners as well as cofounder of Ecosystem Marketplace, agrees.

“It is a tremendous advance for the government to explicitly recognize the value of environmental markets to achieve public policy objectives.”

Environmental markets already provide capital to develop better metrics for measuring environmental achievements such as improved water and air quality. The problem, Davis said, is that farmers and other landowners have been unaware of these markets and their potential to bolster their incomes.

The government addressed this disconnect by assigning the USDA – with its long-standing relationship with farmers – with the job of promoting environmental markets. Meanwhile, environmental enforcement agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will continue to play the critically important role of ensuring compliance and accountability.

Marching Forward

The Plan can be viewed as the culmination of a series of steps to establish environmental markets. The last USDA Strategic Plan released in 2005 included elements that promoted market mechanisms to achieve environmental goals. The 2007 Farm Bill furthered this goal by serving as the single largest source of environmental spending by the federal government. Then last year OEM began to develop uniform guidelines to promote ecosystem markets. And this past May, the government announced its Strategy for Protecting and Restoring the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, a strategy that supports environmental markets in their multiple forms – nutrient, sediment, habitat, carbon and wetlands trading – as the primary tool for environmental restoration of the Chesapeake Bay, the US’s largest and most polluted watershed that spans 64,000 miles and six states.

Drum Roll for Environmental Markets

As Wall Street falters and farmers stumble, businessmen and government officials have pinpointed environmental markets as an innovative way to bolster the economy and the environment. Clearly, the environmental markets involving carbon and acid rain markets took big hits this month. Yet, thanks to key support from the Obama Administration, markets that promote the preservation of water, land, air and wildlife have made significant strides. The Strategic Plan released this month by the USDA culminates its crescending drum roll of support for these markets as a force to solve challenging environmental and economic conundrums.

If successful, they will shore up the economy, the environment and the lives of struggling farmers.

“We’re at the very beginning,” said Nechodom of OEM, “of a new chapter here.”

Author: Alice Kenny, Copyright © 2006, The Ecosystem Marketplace,