Sunday, September 12, 2010

Whales and Large Fish Mitigate Carbon Emissions

Perhaps the conservation of whales and large fish should be included in blue carbon strategies?

At least it is something to start thinking about...

Whales and Large Fish Reduce Global Warming

Jake Richardson ( Sep 7, 2010

Large marine species like whales, sharks and other large fish store a significant amount of carbon in their bodies. A blue whale weighing 90 tons, for example, can store 9 tons of carbon. That whale can live for decades, and keeps that carbon away from the atmosphere. Even once the whale dies and its body sinks to the bottom of the ocean, the carbon is still kept out of the atmosphere.

Whales are like trees in the way they store carbon, and a group of whales is like a forest. Letting whale populations recover could help remove nine million tons of carbon from the environment, which was said to be the equivalent of restoring 11,000 square kilometers of forest. (Source: Nature)

University of Maine researchers studied the relationship between whales and carbon in the oceans in relation to global warming. They estimated that a century of whaling removed 23 million tons of carbon from the oceans, releasing it into the environment and contributing to global warming. Additionally, because whale populations have been reduced greatly, their carbon storing capacity has also been reduced. In other words, the smaller the whale and large-fish populations, the less carbon is stored, and more carbon is available for global warming.

Using iron fertilization is one way researchers in the past have suggested as a means to reduce global warming. The iron causes more carbon to be stored, and prevents it from entering into the atmosphere. However, the researchers were surprised to find that large fish and whales could be even more efficient in sequestering carbon than iron fertilizers. They concluded that helping to grow populations of wild whales and large fish could take large amounts of carbon out of the environment and help reduce global warming. Scientist Andrew Pershing said, “What that tells me is that we can get significant carbon savings by conserving resources in the ocean, protecting whales, larger fish and sharks.” (Source:

There used to be an estimated 239,000 blues whales, but whaling has reduced that number drastically. Today their population is thought to be between about 5,000 to 12,000. An estimated 73 million sharks are killed every year. It isn’t known exactly how much exactly that abuse contributes to global warming; however, it appears from the research, that protecting large marine animals will benefit not only them, but also the entire planet.

Image Credit: Mike Baird


Pershing AJ, Christensen LB, Record NR, Sherwood GD, Stetson PB (2010). The Impact of Whaling on the Ocean Carbon Cycle: Why Bigger Was Better. PLoS ONE 5(8): e12444. (Published: August 26, 2010). Text available at:

See also:

Whaling and fishing for the largest species has altered carbon sequestering in oceans (6 September 2010)

Carbon credits proposed for whale conservation (26 February 2010)

Whale poo could aid climate, say Aussie scientists (23 April 2010)

Faecal attraction: Whale poop fights climate change (15 June 2010)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Coral Reef Conservation & Blue Carbon

How is the conservation of coral reefs related to blue carbon?

Coral reefs are not thought of as sinks for greenhouse gas emissions. However, our estimations of corals and carbon may need to be reassessed. Healthy ocean ecosystems are connected, and if reefs serve as feeding grounds and essential habitat for large fish then there’s the beginning of a blue carbon connection:

Healthy Coral Reefs = Healthy Fish Populations = Enhanced Oceanic Carbon Function

(see subsequent blog post on whale and fish carbon)

Another reason to protect these valuable ecosystems and pass strong coral reef legislation...
Healthy reefs make for healthy fish populations. Image courtesy Phil Kline, Greenpeace USA.

September 3, 2010, Miami, FL / Our coral reefs are in trouble. Almost 20% of the world’s coral reefs have been lost and an additional 35% are threatened according to the expert opinion of 372 coral reef scientists and managers from 96 countries who contributed to the latest Status of the Coral Reefs of the World, published in 2008.

In response, a coalition of non-governmental organizations and environmental stakeholders issued a letter today calling for the Senate to pass strong conservation-minded coral reef legislation. The House version of the reauthorization of the Coral Reef Conservation Act passed in September of last year. Further movement of the legislation now depends on the Senate.

Thirty-five organizations signed the Senate corals letter. Groups represented include leading organizations such as the Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL), International Society for Reef Studies, Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Surfrider Foundation, Greenpeace USA, Environmental Defense Fund, World Wildlife Fund, and Coastal States Organization.

The Coral Reef Conservation Act authorizes grants for coral reef conservation activities. Funds are awarded under six program categories: State and Territory Coral Reef Management; State and Territory Coral Reef Ecosystem Monitoring; Coral Reef Ecosystem Research; Projects to Improve or Amend Coral Reef Fishery Management Plans; General Coral Reef Conservation; and International Coral Reef Conservation.

The coalition expressed alarm about the declining health of coral reef ecosystems and the threats coral reefs face. Major threats noted include coastal runoff, overfishing and overharvesting, vessel impacts, invasive species, and coral bleaching, disease, and ocean acidification caused by unregulated greenhouse gas pollution.

Measures before Congress, supported by the coalition, include provisions to increase the status of protection for corals in all U.S. waters, increase funding for coral reef conservation efforts, provide support to better understand and manage the trade in coral reef wildlife, and support community-based approaches to coral reef stewardship, among others.

“Coral reef ecosystems face growing threats from overfishing, habitat destruction, poor water quality and disease”, said Dr. Andrew Baker, a coral reef biologist at the University of Miami and a 2008 Pew Fellow in Marine Conservation. “When you add the devastating impacts of our carbon dioxide emissions, which lead to warmer and more acidic oceans, coral reefs worldwide are left reeling from the impacts. The decline of coral reef ecosystems worldwide underscores the need for Congress to pass coral reef legislation, while also renewing its commitment to reducing greenhouse gas pollution.”

“These valuable and fascinating ecosystems are disappearing within our lifetimes, and their loss will have significant economic, social, and environmental consequences in the United States and worldwide,” said Steven Lutz, Executive Director of Blue Climate Solutions, the group that organized the coalition effort. “The Senate has a fantastic opportunity to protect and conserve coral reefs by passing this important legislation.”

See also:

Friends of the Monument join call for coral reef conservation

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Invisible Carbon Pumps

Note: "there is a lot of carbon floating (and sinking) in the oceans that has not previously been noticed."

Invisible Carbon Pumps
A group of oceanic micro-organisms just might prove a surprising ally in the fight against climate change

9 September 2010 | The Economist

Understanding how the oceans absorb carbon dioxide is crucial to understanding the role of that gas in the climate. It is rather worrying, then, that something profound may be missing from that understanding. But if Jiao Nianzhi of Xiamen University in China is right, it is. For he suggests there is a lot of carbon floating in the oceans that has not previously been noticed.

It is in the form of what is known as refractory dissolved organic matter and it has been put there by a hitherto little-regarded group of creatures called aerobic anoxygenic photoheterotrophic bacteria (AAPB). If Dr Jiao is right, a whole new "sink" for carbon dioxide from the atmosphere has been discovered.

The main way that carbon dioxide is absorbed by the ocean is through photosynthesis by planktonic algae. These algae are the basis of most food chains in the sea--being eaten by tiny animals that are, in turn, eaten by larger ones. When all these creatures die, their remains (those bits that are not immediately eaten, anyway) sink to the sea floor, where some are eaten and some are buried indefinitely. These remains are known in the jargon as particulate organic matter.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Greenhouse Gas Action Plan for Tidal Wetlands

Restore America’s Estuaries Releases Greenhouse Gas Action Plan for Tidal Wetlands

Blue Ribbon Panel Issues Report on Development of National Greenhouse Gas Offset Protocol

WASHINGTON / August 30, 2010—Restore America’s Estuaries (RAE) announced today that it has released an action plan that will speed the creation of a greenhouse gas offset protocol for coastal tidal wetlands.

RAE’s “Action Plan for the Development of a National Greenhouse Gas Offset Protocol for Tidal Wetlands Restoration and Management,” developed by a National Blue Ribbon Panel of national experts in wetlands science, carbon markets, and public policy, examines the scientific, methodological, and policy hurdles that still must be overcome, and charts a “roadmap” for the next phase of offset protocol development.

“We know that coastal tidal wetlands sequester carbon dioxide at impressive rates, both in the soil and as biomass,” said Dr. Stephen Crooks, Blue Ribbon Panel chair and director of Climate Change Services for Philip William and Associates (PWA), an environmental hydrology firm headquartered in San Francisco. “We intend to answer the remaining questions surrounding the creation of an offset protocol, quantify sequestration rates across a variety of different coastal tidal wetland ecosystems, and make those findings available to investors in national and international carbon trading markets. This is truly historic.”

The plan—the product of a year-long collaboration capped by an intensive three-day workshop convened by Restore America’s Estuaries in April 2010—marks the first-ever attempt to make tidal wetlands restoration and management projects integral parts of commercial carbon offset planning, strategy, and investment through the development of a GHG offset protocol.

Among the plan’s goals are procedures for quantifying and monitoring GHG flux and sequestration, ensuring that the sequestration is not reversed, and guidelines for determining the eligibility of projects under the offset protocol.

Key recommendations include the establishment of four Working Groups dealing with the following criteria:

• Eligible Project Activities (avoided wetland loss, wetland restoration, wetland enhancement, and wetland creation);

• Eligibility Criteria (guidelines for project inclusion);

• Permanence (efficacy and durability of wetland projects); and

• Quantification (metrics, methodologies, and monitoring associated with carbon sequestration in wetlands projects)

The plan also calls for geographic case studies across different wetland ecosystem types to provide real-world “laboratories” for concepts and recommendations advanced by the panel. Proposed study sites include:

• Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta (managed, freshwater tidal marsh);

• Mississippi Delta (large deltaic system);

• Coastal salt marsh (location TBD)

“Preserving and restoring some of America’s most threatened ecosystems—coastal tidal wetlands—may be among the best ways of mitigating greenhouse emissions that fuel global warming and climate change,” said Jeff Benoit, President and CEO of Restore America’s Estuaries. “Increased investment in wetlands protection and restoration gained through greenhouse gas offset markets will provide an added benefit of helping vulnerable coastal areas adapt to the impacts of future climate change.”

Sea-level rise, development, pollution, and other factors destroy thousands of acres of coastal wetlands in the United States every year. Scientists agree that tidal wetlands and estuaries are key components in ensuring biodiversity and coastal resiliency in the face of rising sea levels.

The authors and other scientific and policy experts will be discussing the Action Plan and its implications for coastal tidal wetlands restoration and management during a special session of the 5th National Conference on Coastal and Estuarine Habitat Restoration, November 15th, in Galveston, Texas. Information is available at