Sunday, October 23, 2011

Blue Carbon in Canada

Courtenay River Estuary could hold 'blue key' to lock in carbon dioxide

By Philip Round, Comox Valley Echo October 21, 2011

The Courtenay River Estuary is the largest estuary found on Vancouver Island (Image courtesy Sierra Club BC).

The Courtenay River Estuary could hold a blue key that locks in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, Comox Valley Regional District directors heard on Tuesday.

Paul Horgen, chair of Project Watershed, said local governments would have to start paying money to the province in the form of 'carbon offsets' from next year.

But his group saw an opportunity to spend that money on estuary restoration work here.

He sought support for a pilot project to investigate the potential for 'blue carbon' capture through the extensive restoration of eel grass beds and sedges in salt marsh riparian zones.

Research elsewhere has suggested that such plants were 90 times more effective than trees in absorbing the gas.

The plants stored it, and when the died back - as they did several times a year - and the vegetation rotted into the mud, the absorbed carbon dioxide was locked away for good, and in the far distant future would eventually become coal.

Horgen hoped it would be possible to persuade the province to divert $100,000 of the carbon offset payments it would be receiving to fund a hands-on pilot project here in the local estuary.

That would not only measure the effectiveness of carbon capture, possibly providing a model for many other north American estuaries, but also see the extensive replanting of eel grasses and sedges employing young people in the process.

It was, he suggested, a win-win, because even if the intensity of capture could not proved - although he believed it would be - the replanting project would help restore the estuary to its former abundance with big salmon returning as they did in the 1950s.

Regional district directors liked the idea and are now recommending the full board supports the project.

They are proposing the province be asked if they will allow local governments to invest their carbon off-set payments in blue carbon projects, such as the Courtenay River Estuary pilot project, rather than just sending the money to Victoria for undetermined use.

They will also suggest the Union of British Columbia Municipalities take up the issue, as it could be relevant to many other coastal areas.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Mangroves of Fiji - Blue Carbon and other Ecosystem Services

Mangroves of Fiji noted for the many important ecosystem services they provide including:
  • Filtering land-born sediments, thereby helping to protect adjacent coral reefs;
  • Absorbing and storing the greenhouse gases (Blue Carbon);
  • Acting as nursery grounds for commercially important fish species;
  • Protecting shorelines from cyclones and tsunamis; and
  • Providing resilience to climate change

Mangroves much maligned

Sunday, October 16, 2011, Kate Findley, WWF

Mangrove trees catch sediment from the river to build a base for their roots.

How would you describe a mangrove forest? Muddy, smelly, and mosquito-infested?

The land's not suitable to build on, the fish are small, refuse collects in the tangled web of roots that keep trying to trip you like a cartoon character, stunted shoots cut and scratch at you and it's impossible to navigate without years of experience or a compass. These are perhaps the reasons for Fiji's mangrove area declining by 13% between 1978 and 1994.

However contrary to popular belief mangrove forests are actually extremely productive and biodiverse ecosystems - linking the land to the sea they prevent debris from washing onto reefs, absorb and store the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, and act as nursery grounds for commercially important fish including rabbitfish (nuqa), bumphead parrotfish (kalia) and many shark (qio) species.

The mangrove corridor to the Great Sea Reef

There is a close connection between mangroves and the Great Sea Reef, the third longest reef in the southern hemisphere, hugging the entire northern coast of Vanua Levu. Those in the NGO business often consider the Great Sea Reef to be "the hidden gem" of the South Pacific with its globally significant biodiversity, 12 IUCN Red Listed species including the green turtle, humphead wrasse and manta ray, as well as its sheer length.

The Great Sea Reef's health is in large part dependent on that of its mangrove corridor which fringes the Labasa River from hilltop to river mouth before the river water flows on to the reef. Mangroves roots - those extensive, tangled masses - trap particles from the river, so that the tree in effect builds an environment for itself from which it can obtain nutrients and anchor its roots.

By trapping particles, mangroves clarify and purify the water, creating that wondrously clear aquamarine water essential for coral reefs to receive sunlight and flourish; and by absorbing excess nutrients they prevent algae enshrouding the slow-growing coral.

Recent scientific evidence following the 2004 Boxing Day Aceh tsunami indicates that mangroves are also effective buffers for the shore when cyclones and tsunamis strike; fewer lives are lost and less damage is caused in communities with broader mangrove belts, earning them the nickname "bioshields".

Putting a plaster on a gaping wound

With lives and livelihoods lost in the furious flash floods that strike Labasa year after year, in 2008 it was decided to dredge the Labasa River, which flows directly through the centre of the town. Floods have always been a problem in Labasa, which is unsurprising considering it sits straddling three rivers in a flat, low-lying estuary that used to be a swamp.

For those who are not familiar with the term, dredging is the process of excavating the sediment lying at the bottom of a river bed to deposit it somewhere else, which at least in the short term deepens the water channel so it can carry a larger volume of water at any one time.

So what's the problem? Environmental group the WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature) have recently been speaking out about the impact dredging is having on the surrounding mangroves.

"Unfortunately, the act of dredging to deepen the channels and river mouth is in this case creating a false sense of security with the dredging's capacity to do more harm than good." Ms Monifa Fiu, Building Resilience Officer at WWF South Pacific commented.

"The way dredging is currently being conducted in the Labasa river just now, the material or 'spoil' that is dredged from the bottom of the river is being dumped in the first line of mangroves on the river bank, killing them."

"My fear is that as storm frequency increases due to climate change, we will have to dredge much more often, progressively destroying the layers of mangroves that line the bank."

Ms Fiu noted these dead patches on a field trip assessing the vulnerability of these mangroves to climate change as part of the major new AusAID funded 'Building Resilience' project, which aims to strengthen the resilience of the Ba and Labasa river catchments to the effects of climate change. The patches were of mature black mangroves (dogo) - a species of particular note for their protection and stabilization of low-lying coastal areas. In short, their message is clear: In Fiji we gain so much from mangroves that we cannot afford for them to be damaged as a result of poor planning. Mangrove build, mangroves protect, mangroves host and mangroves provide.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Climate Conversations - Uprooting families to save trees

A critique of REDD+, some questions to keep in mind as Blue Carbon advances:
  • Does rights and access to ecosystems present an even more intensive issue for Blue Carbon then REDD+? (Many more people live on coastlines than in forests.)
  • People have lived on coastlines for many generations, is there anything we can learn from traditional practices that promote environmental sustainability?
  • Is it possible to incorporate traditional sustainable practices into a Blue Carbon approach?
  • Is it important to ensure the right of coastal communities to the environment where they live? And how would this be accomplished in a Blue Carbon approach?
  • How could coastal communities also receive a fair share of Blue Carbon benefits?
- Steven

Climate Conversations - Uprooting families to save trees

By Darryl Vhugen | Tue., October 4, 2011

In this 2005 file photo, traditional honey collectors row a boat during honey collection at Bali Island in the Sunderbans mangrove forest delta in India (REUTERS/Jayanta Shaw).

Much has been written about the global land rush –the trend in which investors, eager to establish plantations to produce food or biofuel at a discount, buy up or lease vast swaths of farmland in the developing world. In the process they often uproot entire villages, reducing small indigenous farmers to legions of landless poor.

From Uganda to Cambodia, there are reports of farmers and herders being told, often with little notice or compensation, that they must vacate their land to make room for investors.

Often, these investors have negotiated directly with central authorities and have promised jobs, technology, and infrastructure improvements in exchange for the land. But their promises of benefits to locals often go unfulfilled.

It is becoming increasingly clear that this accelerating trend of largely unregulated commercial land acquisitions threatens not only the developing world’s farmers and pastoralists, but also the world’s forests and the people who depend on them.

That’s because as farmland becomes increasingly scarce, investors and others are looking to forest land for their food and biofuel production.

At least 400 million people are highly dependent on forests for their livelihoods. These forest dwellers often have sustainably used and managed their forest land for generations.

They survive by gathering medicinal plants, and produce like honey and mushrooms. But they often have no formal legal claim to the land or forest resources. The forests they use now cover about 30 percent of the planet.

These people and the forests they use are increasingly at risk.

A recent report from the Rights and Resources Initiative highlights the implications: “Now that forest lands are increasingly valuable for agriculture, carbon and biofuels, there is greater pressure from investors and less interest by many governments to recognize the local land rights.”

Fortunately, international groups including the UN and the World Bank have created a tool called REDD+ - Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation - to help protect the world’s forests.

This international program is designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through (1) avoiding the release of carbon stored in trees when trees are cut down; (2) encouraging the storage of additional carbon by leaving trees standing; and (3) promoting reforestation.

If the international community can agree on the details, at some point, REDD+ funds will flow to heavily forested countries that take steps to preserve and grow their forests.

It sounds good except for one missing element: the rights of forest dwellers.

Tens of millions of traditional people have lived in and around the forest for generations and managed the forest sustainably, taking what they need but ensuring that the ecosystem continues to thrive.

Will these people be allowed to continue using forest products sustainably and receive their fair share of these funds for preserving, protecting and managing the forest? Or will governments bypass the people and pocket all of the money themselves?

Recent headlines make clear, no matter what the source of the demand for forest land (conservation or timber), traditional forest dwellers can be the big losers as more powerful interests, public and private, force them out of the forest or preclude them from engaging in their customary activities.

Admirable motives could lead to deeply troubling unintended consequences – families uprooted to save trees.

This is discouraging particularly because research indicates that forests that are actively managed by local communities thrive. They can actually have lower rates of deforestation than protected areas where forest resource use is completely prohibited.

And obviously from a social stability, socio-economic and human rights standpoint, allowing these traditional people to remain in the forest makes sense.

For the past several months a team at Landesa has conducted a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded study of the property rights implications of REDD+.

We carried out field research in Indonesia, Mexico, Nepal, Tanzania and Mozambique. One of our conclusions is that for REDD+ to be effective in the long-term, and for the world to create a sustainable forest conservation program, a substantial portion of the financial benefit must go to the communities who have the ability to manage and protect the forest.

Often that will be the local, forest-dependent community.

Such a path would require governments, many of whom are poor and cash strapped, to forego a part of the REDD+ payments they would receive and pass the cash on to often powerless and voiceless forest dwellers. Recent reports indicate that this is not happening.

In order for REDD+ to be successful, these forest communities must have secure rights to the land where they live. They must also receive a fair share of REDD+ benefits.

Otherwise, the remaining tropical forests will continue to shrink and we will undermine one of the most cost-effective and promising climate change strategies available.

Darryl Vhugen is a senior attorney and land tenure specialist with Landesa, a non-profit organisation that has advised and partnered with government departments and other groups in more than 40 countries to help extend secure land rights to the rural poor.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Blue Carbon in Suriname

Restoring mangroves may give Suriname carbon credits

05 Oct 2011 15:30 / Alertnet / Marvin Hokstam

John Goedschalk and Sieuwnath Naipal monitor the growth of mangroves planted along Suriname's coastline. ALERTNET/Marvin Hokstam

CORONIE DISTRICT, Suriname (Alertnet) -- The seawall that is supposed to protect the muddy coastline of coconut district Coronie, in the country's north, is almost complete.

Standing some 10 meters above sea level, the wide dam provides a scenic drive, with virginal land on both sides and fish-filled channels cutting through it - a dream habitat for wildlife.

But this idyllic situation may not last long. According to University of Suriname professor Sieuwnath Naipal, much of the land on the ocean side of the 15-km-long dam will disappear in 20 years, abandoned as unsalvageable as the country focuses on forming a barrier against the waves that are eroding Coronie District’s coastline.

The dam, which contractors started building two years ago, sits about 100 meters inland; everything between it and the sea is sacrificed to the waves. Already, about 50 meters of the road to the dyke has disappeared, chewed away by the constant barrage of salt water.

“That’s a part of our country we already lost,” Naipal says, shaking his head.

The solution to preventing similar losses, Naipal says, is his mangrove reintroduction project, which he believes will save the land that others have given up on.

As it does so, the project could also turn out to be a groundbreaking money-earner for Suriname, potentially making the country tens of millions of dollars from the carbon-compliance market.


A few kilometres beyond the end of the seawall, black mangrove seedlings Naipal planted on a mudbank a year ago are thriving. Where there was bare muck, mangrove plants now stand up to two meters tall. Red ibises and other birds frolic among the plants.

“This project has exceeded my expectations,” says Naipal, a Russian-trained hydrologist.

He started planting the cloned mangrove seedlings as part of a university project supported by the Suriname Conservation Foundation (SCF), a government-funded NGO. The project was supposed to prove that, under the right circumstances, mangroves could be introduced to protect the country's heavily eroding coastline from moving further inland.

That has proved the case. Naipal discovered that the mud banks that shift along Suriname’s coastline at a pace of 1-to-5 kilometres per year manage the flow of inland freshwater as it meets sea water, creating the perfect level of salinity for mangroves, which used to be plentiful along the coast.

For centuries, coastal mangrove forests worked as a natural protection against erosion, their stilt-like air roots locking in the shifting mud spit out by Brazil's Amazon River and causing Suriname’s coastline to expand.

Naipal believes the construction in the 1960s of the East-West link, the road from the capital Paramaribo to the western border district of Nickerie, disturbed the natural flow of freshwater out to sea, causing a slow but mass demise of the country's mangroves.

With the plants gone, the sea has free rein and Suriname's coastline has been retreating. Over the past ten years, coastal district Coronie has been getting smaller by about 100 meters per year, and residents now fear for their fields and livelihoods.


Naipal agreed that a seawall was necessary to save Suriname's coast - but he also was convinced it wouldn't be enough and that mangrove reintroduction could play a key role.

With his tentative proof that reintroduction works, the professor now wants to convince MNO Vervat, the Dutch company building the dyke, to consider investing in freshwater channels to the sea and to allow him to plant alongside a longer stretch of coast.

“They are shipping thousands of kilograms of boulders down here, to reinforce the foot of the dam,” he said. But "if they would fix the (freshwater channels) and allow me to plant the mangroves, the waves would never reach the dam.

“I'm saying: let's see if I’m right. If I’m wrong they can always spend all that money on the boulders two years from now,” he said.

Along with the environmental benefits, Naipal sees in his project an opportunity to boost tourism and employment in Suriname's coastal areas – and make the sea wall sustainable.

“With mangroves alongside the coastline we will continue to have forests on both sides of the seawall, which can then serve as a boulevard with a tourism industry surrounded by wildlife," he says. "But without the mangroves, the sea will slowly eat away the dam [and] after this dam is gone, more money will have to be spent on building a new one."

"The erosion of the coastline will continue if we don’t do anything," he says. "Building a dam is us expecting that nature will adapt to us. But we need to adapt to nature and assist it where we can."


If successful, Naipal's project could not only stop Suriname from shrinking, but could boost the country's coffers. His efforts have caught the attention of the government's newly established Climate Compatible Development Agency (CCDA), which wants to use the mangrove project to trade in blue carbon credits - credits earned from carbon stored in wetlands like mangrove forests and which can be sold on a carbon market.

"Mangroves store up to 25 times more carbon than tropical forests," says CCDA director John Goedschalk, "So the professor may have unwittingly started a project that can be turned into millions of dollars of income for Suriname."

Low-lying and heavily forested, Suriname counts itself among the five nations most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and aims to seek funding from international agencies to arm it against the effects of climate change.

Goedschalk, a U.S.-trained economist tasked with helping Suriname acquire the funding it's entitled to, says the country should focus on climate-change adaptation and mitigation measures that also have economic benefits.

“We should move toward climate resilience and low-carbon development, but at the same time take advantage of our access to international climate-change rewards,” he says.

Naipal’s plan to reintroduce Suriname's mangroves, especially since it has an emissions-trading element, “is definitely the kind of project that falls within our scope," says Goedschalk.

“The climate-change funding agencies look for projects that have poverty eradication, employment creation and sustainable tourism elements. Naipal has all of those covered in his."