Wednesday, December 19, 2012

New Website Puts Spotlight on Blue Carbon

Plans for the new Blue Carbon Portal include the potential incorporation of Blue Climate Solutions' Blue Carbon Blog (this blog) - - -

New Website Puts Spotlight on Blue Carbon

Information Portal Showcases Climate and Sustainable Development Role of Coastal Ecosystem
Mangroves forests, seagrass meadows and coral reefs can be connected to each other through nutrient cycles, physical processes, plant and animal migration and human impact. Photo credit: GRID-Arendal/Jason Valdez (Marine Photobank)

Nairobi, 19 December 2012 - Marine ecosystems, such as mangrove forests, seagrass meadows and saltwater marshes, can capture and store a significant amount of atmospheric carbon. Yet the full potential of these "blue carbon" habitats to mitigate climate change remains relatively overlooked.

To improve understanding of blue carbon, and highlight innovative projects that support these critical ecosystems, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has launched 'The Blue Carbon Portal':
Co-managed by UNEP and its Norway-based collaborative centre GRID-Arendal, the portal is the world's premier comprehensive community-based website for all matters related to blue carbon. 

It aims to provide a dynamic platform to discuss blue carbon issues, illustrate blue carbon initiatives worldwide, and create a network for different projects to share information, ideas and resources.

Other features of the Blue Carbon Portal include:
  • Updated and archived blue carbon news; 
  • Global map utility illustrating blue carbon projects and initiatives; 
  • Expert blog;
  • Resources page for all blue carbon publications, presentations and videos; and
  • Calendar of blue carbon events.
In addition to their climate benefits, blue carbon ecosystems play a critical economic role, through the services they provide to coastal and island communities. These include nurseries for coastal fisheries, protection of shorelines, supporting of coastal tourism and cultural heritage, and the conservation of marine biodiversity.

Yet despite their major contribution to sustainable development, coastal ecosystems continue to be degraded or lost at an alarming rate. 

More than half of the world's original mangrove forest has disappeared, often due to the conversion of habitat for shrimp and fish aquaculture. Over-exploitation of wood products, urbanization, and diversion of fresh water flow are other major drivers or degradation. The annual global rate of mangrove loss is presently between 1 and 2 per cent.

Seagrass meadows are found on every continent except Antarctica, with a global area estimated to exceed 177,000 km2. This is a reduction of 30 per cent in the last 100 years, and the rate of loss is thought to have accelerated considerably in the past 40 years.
The new website is part of UNEP's Blue Carbon Initiative, which aims to develop a global partnership to advance the sound management of coastal and marine ecosystems in order to ensure that their carbon sequestration and storage functions are maintained, and emissions of greenhouse gases are avoided. 

To submit content to the site, please contact the portal administrator via links on provided at:

Story link:

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Mangrove carbon in Quatar and at the UNFCCC

Qatar’s mangroves: why they matter to climate change

8 Dec 2012 / BY

Mangroves are one of the few plants that can withstand Qatar’s harsh desert conditions. Neil Palmer (CIAT).

DOHA, Qatar (8 December, 2012) - Indonesian scientist Daniel Murdiyarso and Lebanese scientist Mohamad Khawlie are spending the morning hopping over muddy streams, tasting salty leaves, and examining aerial root systems.

Just 60 kilometres from Doha but a world away from the air-conditioned unreality of the Qatar National Convention Centre where the UN climate talks are taking place, Murdiyarso and Khawlie are exploring Qatar’s northeastern coastline, indulging a shared passion – for mangroves.

“Mangroves have been here in the Arab Gulf since ancient times,” says Khawlie, an environmental consultant with the Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute (QEERI).

“They play a very important role, first in the ecosystem, and they are also important for both humans – their wood and fruits – and for animals, especially camel herds.”

Coastal ecosystems like this one at Al Zakhira play a special role in Gulf countries like Qatar, where few other plants can withstand the harsh desert conditions. Mangroves and salt marshes are uniquely adapted to the Gulf’s saline seas, high winds, and infrequent rainfall; and they provide a haven for birds, fish and other animals.

And, as Daniel Murdiyarso from the Centre for International Forestry Research points out, they’re also critically important for climate change.

“Mangroves are very good at sequestering carbon – they store five to eight times more carbon than tropical or boreal forest,” he says.

Mangrove forest’s complex root systems anchor the plants into underwater sediment, slowing down incoming tidal waters and allowing organic and inorganic material to settle into the sediment surface. Low oxygen conditions slow decay rates, so much of the carbon accumulates in the soil. When mangrove swamps are converted for other uses, large amount of carbon are then released to the atmosphere.

“So losing mangroves, even if it is a small area, is very significant in terms of carbon loss,” says Murdiyarso.

Over the last 35 years almost 50 percent of the Earth’s coastal ecosystems have disappeared due to agricultural and aquaculture expansion, forest overexploitation, infrastructure and industrial development.

This doesn’t just result in carbon emissions. It also renders coastal populations more vulnerable to the effects of climate change, including sea level rises, storm surges and high winds, as losing mangroves means losing a natural barrier that protects coastlines and prevents erosion.

Khawlie said that Qatar has recently recognised the value of its mangroves, with 40 percent of the country’s coastline now protected by the government.

“The implementation of the law is also improving,” says Khawlie.

Khawlie is working with QEERI, part of the Qatar Foundation, as well as Qatar University and international partners including UNESCO and Conservation International (CI), to develop projects focused on Qatar’s mangroves, including mapping their biodiversity and exploring their cultural significance.

In July, the Qatar Foundation together with CI, launched “Mapping the Mangroves”, a project which encourages the public to upload GPS-tagged photos, videos, and text about Qatar’s mangroves to an online map.

The crowd-sourced data can be used by scientists, educators and NGOs – and has recently been expanded worldwide.

Youth ambassadors map the mangroves in Bahia, Brazil, by uploading photos and reports of different species of animals and plants they found. Qatar Foundation International

CIFOR works on mangroves through the newly-renamed SWAMP project (formerly the Tropical Wetlands Initiative for Climate Adaptation and Mitigation or TWINCAM) and is currently exploring a relationship with QEERI.

As Murdiyarso and Khawlie explore the Al Zakhira wetlands, a flock of flamingos takes flight and swoops south towards a horizon dominated by new housing developments.

Murdiyarso says given the importance of mangroves – and wetlands in general – for climate change, they need to be given more attention by the climate negotiators locked in discussions down the highway in Doha.

“Mangrove ecosystems are undergoing high pressure worldwide,” he said.

“So the international community – including the negotiators here in Qatar – need to consider the role of mangroves and their global contribution.”

Last week, the technical advisory body to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) agreed to hold a workshop to discuss research developments in coastal and marine ecosystems – the first step in getting mangroves on the international climate agenda.

The workshop is expected to take place in Honduras in the second half of 2013.

Blue Carbon Policy Action Plan

First Action Plan For World’s Blue Carbon Policy

Durban, South Africa, 6 December 2011 – The first policy framework outlining activities needed to include coastal marine areas such as mangroves, tidal marshes and seagrasses into the work of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), has been presented in a report by IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) and Conservation International (CI), two of the leading members of the Blue Carbon Initiative.

The report, “Blue Carbon Policy Framework”, outlines opportunities for including the conservation of coastal areas in the climate change policies and financing processes currently being negotiated in Durban. The study also highlights the need for the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands and the voluntary carbon market to take coastal marine ecosystems into account.

The oceans and marine biodiversity are crucial in regulating the global climate”, says Carl Gustaf Lundin, Director of IUCN’s Global Marine and Polar Programme. “Oceans absorb 93.4% of the heat produced by climate change as well as one third of human-induced carbon dioxide. Coastal areas also have an exceptional capacity to store carbon. But currently natural solutions that the marine world offers to climate change challenges are rarely taken into account in international climate change policy.”

The UNFCCC and the mechanism known as REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, fostering conservation, sustainable management of forests, and enhancement of forest carbon stocks), support the conservation and restoration of terrestrial forests as a way to reduce the effects of climate change. But the importance of coastal carbon sinks, such as mangroves, tidal marshes and seagrasses, is not yet fully recognized by the Convention.

Although coastal ecosystems cover only one to two percent of the area covered by forests globally, improving their management can supplement efforts to reduce emissions from tropical forest degradation. A square kilometer of a coastal ecosystem can store up to five times more carbon than a square kilometer of mature tropical forests. But currently these areas are being destroyed three to four times faster than forests, releasing substantial amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and the ocean, and contributing to climate change.

We think this recognition is critical,” explains report co-author Dr. Emily Pidgeon, Conservation International’s Senior Director of Marine Strategic Initiatives and a leading Blue Carbon conservation scientist. “The management of carbon in coastal systems can already be included in a number of UNFCCC and REDD+ components. This plan was produced to help detail what we see as key next steps in terms of a full integration of blue carbon into existing initiatives.”

We now have scientific evidence that conserving mangroves, tidal marshes, seagrasses and other blue carbon habitats is a very precious tool in our fight against climate change,” says Pierre-Yves Cousteau, IUCN’s Goodwill Ambassador and founder of Cousteau Divers, a non-profit organization dedicated to the protection of the marine world. “These muddy coastal areas also help us adapt to the changing climate. They protect local communities from storms and regulate the quality of coastal water. Increased recognition of their importance among the climate change community will hopefully improve the way they’re managed and conserved

We need to convince the broader policy community that blue carbon has a strong scientific basis and that it should be taken into account as a valuable tool in our suite of global efforts to confront and adapt to the impacts of climate change. We also need decision makers to understand that this tool requires adequate funding to maximize the many benefits it provides to people,” adds Pidgeon.


Friday, December 7, 2012

Madagascar's Mangrove Carbon Project

Making Moves Towards Madagascar’s First Mangrove Carbon Project 7 December 2012 / Blue Forests Team, Madagascar / Blue Ventures    

Madagascar’s 5,600 km coastline includes Africa’s third largest extent of mangroves: an estimated 213,000 hectares! These “blue” forests take and store significant amounts of carbon dioxide and support a diverse and in many cases unique range of plants and animals. For residents of coastal communities along Madagascar’s west coast, who are amongst the poorest and most vulnerable to climate change in the world, livelihoods are inherently dependent upon the numerous goods and services associated with healthy, intact mangrove ecosystems.

Comprised of a mixture of Malagasy, Canadian, American and Zimbabwean scientists and conservationists, and augmented by the knowledge and expertise of community members, the Blue Ventures Blue Forests (BF) team remains hard at work helping to facilitate community-based mangrove restoration, conservation, sustainable use and alternative livelihoods. Following a national assessment of mangrove dynamics that confirms that massive over-exploitation is a widespread issue, the BF team has chosen a few areas to investigate the potential for payments for ecosystem services (PES) and carbon financing projects.

A fishing pirogue (canoe) in the channel of Ambondrolava’s mangrove forest (Photo by Samir Gandhi)

The Ambondrolava mangroves in southwest Madagascar have been degraded, deforested, or both within the last several decades. The remaining mangroves and deforested areas of Ambondrolava, are a potential candidate area for Madagascar’s first mangrove forest carbon project! Recognizing the severity of the situation and this promising opportunity to correct it, the BF team has partnered with the Belgian NGO Honko (meaning “mangrove” in Malagasy) and is working hand-in-hand with locals. Recently, we have spent several months consulting with community members to understand land-use and tenure rights in the area, and conduct socio-economic surveys and a comprehensive ecological inventory.

The community management association has also taken part in a participatory mapping exercise, which focussed on depicting historic and contemporary distribution of land-cover types and land-use categories. This exercise also involved documenting goals for land-cover and land-use transformations in the coming decade. In addition, at the time of writing, a mangrove biomass inventory is ongoing, which will result in estimates of total forest carbon stocks and work towards local capacity building through training community members in measurement techniques.

Participatory planning of conservation activities with members of the Mamelo Honko (“Growing Mangroves”) management committee. (Photo by Ben Taylor)  

Using the results of our field work and Honko’s history of mangrove replanting efforts since 2008, we are currently making tangible progress in laying the groundwork for a climate services project, which can link local communities with voluntary carbon markets. A similar initiative is underway by the Mikoka Pimoja project in Kenya, which is developing a mangrove forest carbon project through the UK-based charity, The Plan Vivo Foundation, Honko and the Blue Ventures BF team are working together to do the same! The aim of the BF team’s work in Ambondrolava is to provide technical advice and information to local communities in their efforts to manage and conserve mangrove ecosystem services. By helping communities to adhere to Plan Vivo forest carbon projects, communities may later be able to pursue the registration of their conservation activities as part of a forest carbon project. Carbon revenues can help fund continued mangrove restoration and expansion, sustainable use, and the implementation of various alternative livelihoods projects, all of which can greatly benefit the health and security of local communities who will depend on mangrove forests for decades to come.

The key to the success of these projects is community ownership – in the end it is the communities that, as custodians, will reap the benefits of conservation activities or forest carbon projects. Blue Ventures Blue Forests team believes that our role is to support communities in providing technical advice, and linking communities with partners, to maintain healthier mangrove forests which support the traditional lifestyles on Madagascar’s west coast, and so many other communities across the globe!

Dr. Chandra Silori on mangrove carbon

Review of mangroves as blue carbon sink - - -
Mangroves under Pressure: Forgotten Wetlands in the Changing Climate

Dr. Chandra Silori tells us why mangroves need to receive more attention in international climate change negotiations, laying out the many benefits provided by these “blue carbon sinks.”

Mangrove forests in Pred Nai, Trat province, Thailand.

2012/12/07 - This was the theme of one of the side events on Forest Day 6 in Doha on December 2, 2012.  A panel of well known coastal and marine ecologists, sociologists, policy makers, and environmentalists in Doha shared their thoughts and reminded everyone present about the importance of the mangrove and other marine ecosystems in climate change mitigation and adaptation. The capacity of mangroves, seagrasses, and salt marshes to sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and deposit it in a reservoir is becoming increasingly recognized at the international level. Of all the biological carbon, also termed as “green carbon” captured in the world, over half (55%) is captured by marine living organisms, also known as “blue carbon.” Mangroves, salt marshes, and seagrasses form much of the earth’s blue carbon sinks. They store a comparable amount of carbon per year to that of all other plant biomass on land. Quoting the findings of a study conducted by a team of researchers from the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest and Northern research stations, University of Helsinki, and CIFOR, one of the panelists shared that per hectare mangrove forests store up to four times more carbon than most other tropical forests around the world.

Research attributes this ability of mangroves to store such large amounts of carbon, in part, to the deep organic-rich soils in which it thrives. Mangrove-sediment carbon stores were on average five times larger than those typically observed in temperate, boreal, and tropical terrestrial forests, on a per-unit-area basis. The mangrove forest’s complex root systems, which anchor the plants into underwater sediment, slow down incoming tidal waters allowing organic and inorganic material to settle into the sediment surface. Low oxygen conditions slow decay rates, resulting in much of the carbon accumulating in the soil. In fact, mangroves have more carbon in their soil alone than most tropical forests have in all their biomass and soil combined.

However, despite such a substantial role of mangroves in absorbing atmospheric carbon, all the panelists unanimously agreed that mangrove forests have yet not been given due attention in the global debate on climate change. They need much more attention in the UNFCCC climate change talks, on the level of that given to other forest ecosystems, such as terrestrial forests and peat lands. Interestingly, in a way, mangroves combine both, tropical and peat land forests together, and have the highest productivity of any forest ecosystem on earth.

Mangroves perform a variety of useful ecological, bio-physical, and socio-economic functions. They not only serve as breeding grounds for a variety of fishes and other marine fauna, but also protect the inhabitants of coastal areas during natural calamities such as storms, typhoons, and tsunamis, by serving as natural barriers. Such natural calamities are projected to increase in future due to increased anthropogenic pressures, and climatic changes. From a socio-economic point of view, mangroves provide a variety of benefits. Serving as a breeding ground for fishes and other marine fauna, they provide an income source to the local fishermen communities, while mangrove wood is used to make charcoal and also as wood fuel for cooking. Values of mangroves for honey, fodder, edible seeds, and medicinal properties have also been documented widely.

Thus mangrove forests play both, mitigation and adaption functions in the changing climate.

But unfortunately mangroves are being rapidly destroyed all over the world, at a higher rate than tropical forests. The range of anthropogenic pressures on mangroves are on a constant increase.  For example, Southeast Asia, which has 22% of the total mangrove cover in the world – the largest share amongst all the 124 countries in the world – faces severe pressure from commercial shrimp farming and charcoal making. Every year thousands of tons of shrimps are exported to the western markets. Looked at another way, this means transporting carbon to these countries, as shrimps are reared at the cost of cutting down thousands of hectares of mangroves. Due to the cutting down of mangroves, the wet soil dries up very quickly, releasing more carbon into the atmosphere, at a substantially higher rate, as mangroves have more carbon in their soils. Estimates suggest that a range of between 150 million to 1 billion tons of CO2 is emitted annually due to the destruction of mangrove forests globally. All these are important factors to consider when pushing the agenda forward to include mangroves in climate change mitigation and adaptation frameworks.

In this context, RECOFTC’s work in promoting community based conservation of mangrove forests in Pred Nai village, Trat Province on Thailand’s eastern sea board (through its Thailand Country Program) is an important intervention and contribution to promoting a participatory approach in the conservation and management of mangroves. The Thailand Country Program of RECOFTC continues to work in Pred Nai village and has recently initiated a grassroots level, community based learning center there. This network of natural resources and environmental conservation initiatives links and establishes communication between concerned units at the provincial level and community members who play a vital role toward natural resource conservation in Trat. These efforts also promote policy support for local authority decentralization, and provide technical and technological support to local officers on natural resources management planning, and strategies on strengthening community self-management. This is an important initiative to better understand the roles of mangroves in local livelihoods and also for climate change mitigation and adaptation at the local level.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Mangrove carbon and shrimp ponds in the Philippines

Linking pink shrimps, green mangroves and blue carbon

Mangroves stores carbon in both their trees and their soils. Research is urgently needed to understand the true cost of mangrove deforestation and to ensure the protection of these valuable ecosystems. Photo: Phil's 1st Pix
  - by Cecilia Schubert -

In the Philippines there is a manual for anyone interested in starting up their own fishpond. You simply “go to the mangrove, cut it down and dig a fish pond. You then put the fish in and feed them". There is no reference to sustainability or the value of mangroves for local communities.

But this is how livelihoods works - people want to survive. They therefore think about the short-term benefits instead of the potential long-term negative effects. So said Jurgenne Primavera, Chief Mangrove Scientific Advisor, Zoological Society of London at the “Mangroves under pressure: Forgotten wetlands in the changing climate” discussion forum held during Forest Day in Doha.

Greatest carbon footprint in the world - Shrimp farming in mangrove ponds

Aquaculture, including shrimp cultivation, puts a lot of pressure on our mangrove systems and is one of the primary reasons for mangrove deforestation. “Eat a shrimp from a mangrove pond, and in your mouth you have the greatest carbon footprint in the world!” said Boone Kauffman, Research Professor at the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. Cutting down these natural systems releases high amounts of carbon and depletes storage capacities. Leaving coastlines bare also puts people people living in and around the coast in a very vulnerable position. A healthy mangrove can in fact reduce the vulnerability of coastal people, including smallholder farmers, by acting as a physical barrier against sea level rises and storm water surges, which may become increasingly common.

The interesting thing about mangrove systems is that in addition to its trees, they possess soils similar to those found in peatlands, which means that mangroves, just like peatlands, store huge amounts of carbon. There has been a lot of discussion about deforestation of inland forests, but mangroves have up to now been ignored. There is great potential to expand existing frameworks to include them as well, emphasised Boone Kauffman. However as shown with the textbook example from the Philippines, there is a need to further educate people about their long-term benefits and to engage local community members in protection services.

Finding the true value of mangroves key for preservation

To ensure that mangroves are recognised as the important natural resource that they are; better information dissemination about their value is needed, but also laws, and correct estimations of the carbon that they store. Much more work is needed, before the rate of mangrove deforestation is curbed. Especially important will be finding out the true cost of mangrove deforestation and seeing how much mitigation co-benefits mangroves actually contribute. Blue carbon, carbon stored in water and vegetable living near or in water, is an area with little research on how it can be captured and estimated.

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Thursday, November 22, 2012

Blue Carbon - Opportunities for the Regional Seas Conventions and Action Plans

A good status review for blue carbon is included in a UNEP report titled 'Blue Carbon - Opportunities for the  Regional Seas Conventions and Action Plans'. The report was released for the 14th Global Meeting of the Regional Seas Conventions and Action Plans Nairobi, Kenya 1st – 3rd October 2012, and can be found through the following link:

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Seagrass Role in Carbon Sequestration (Part I)

Nov 21, 2012 Seagrass Recovery

Recent studies have emphasized that conserving and restoring seagrass meadows may reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase carbon stores.5,17 Seagrasses occur over a wide distribution range along the shores of every continent, except Antarctica, to maximum depths down to 50 meters, depending on water clarity.8 The total area of the Earth covered by seagrasses has not been cataloged to-date; however, different estimates are available. The current documented area of seagrass coverage is approximately 177,000 km2, but this is acknowledged as an underestimate since many regions with large seagrass cover have not been fully monitored.2,7 Recent estimates most commonly used in literature are between 300,000 km2 and 600,000 km2, with the global area potentially suitable to support seagrass growth estimated at 4,320,000 km2.1,3,4,6,12,13 That’s equivalent to between 74,131 and 148,263 acres of seagrass or roughly 56,160 to 112,320 football fields of estimated global cover. Considering the global area potentially could support over one billion acres of seagrass, the aforementioned numbers are just a drop in the bucket.

Not only are seagrass meadows highly productive ecosystems that play a key role in supporting high biodiversity they also provide an enormous source of carbon to the detrital pool. Some of this carbon gets exported to the deep sea, where it provides a supply of organic matter in sometimes extremely food-limited environments.14,15 Most of the organic carbon produced by seagrasses is stored within the sediments making these areas hot-spots for carbon sequestration.4,14 Seagrass sediments are organic-rich, with an average organic concentration of 4.1% and can be characterized by their capacity to sequester and store considerable amounts of carbon in their sediments (known as blue carbon).5 Seagrasses remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and incorporate it into organic matter; in other words, they convert sunlight and carbon dioxide efficiently into organic form. Seagrasses are also responsible for approximately 10% of the yearly global carbon sequestration in marine sediments even though they only occupy less than 0.2% of the ocean surface.4,5,8,9

Recent studies have shown that coastal seagrass beds store up to 83,000 metric tons of carbon per square kilometer, predominantly in the sediments beneath them.5,17 As a comparison, a typical terrestrial forest stores about 30,000 metric tons per square kilometer, mostly in the form of wood.5,17 The total global carbon pool in seagrass beds is estimated to be as much as 19.9 billion metric tons.5,9 Seagrass meadows have occupied coastal environments over thousands of years and can combine a high metabolic capacity to act as carbon sinks with the capacity to accumulate large carbon pools in the sediments. These pools are able to form thick carbon deposits or mattes, raising the seafloor by about 1 mm per year.5,9 The thickest documented sedimentary deposit has been reported to be 11 m thick from the Posidonia oceanica meadow at Port Lligat, Spain, in the NW-Mediterranean Sea which is equivalent to an accumulation of approximately 0.18 tons C m-2, that’s over 6000 years of seagrass growth at that site.5,11 Other seagrass deposits up to several meters in thickness, have also been reported at other sites in the Spanish Mediterranean, Shark Bay (Western Australia) and Florida Bay in the United States.9

Unfortunately, seagrass meadows are declining globally at a rapid rate, with about 5% of seagrass meadows lost annually.2 This decline is mostly due to dredging and degradation of water quality which has accounted for at least 1/3 of the area present lost since World War II, which means the existence of an important blue carbon sink is at stake.2,12,14,16 The long retention times of carbon in these sedimentary deposits is quite unique and qualifies seagrass meadows as one of the most carbon-rich ecosystems on the planet. That is why it is fundamentally necessary to understand the processes for the capacity of seagrass meadows to capture and store carbon so we can manage these ecosystems in support of strategies to mitigate climate change. Necessary management strategies should include both conservation and reforestation of seagrass meadows.5,14 There is also a critical need for targeted global conservation efforts that include protection, monitoring, management and policy regimes for seagrass habitats, as well as targeted educational programs informing regulators and the public of the value of seagrass meadows.5,14 Without proper management and conservation practices and increased global awareness, seagrass meadows will continue to decline. But if restored, these ecosystems have the capacity to effectively and efficiently sequester carbon, reestablishing lost carbon sinks in the ocean. 5,17 Let’s take that as a challenge.



1Charpy-Roubaud, C. & Sournia, A. 1990. The comparative estimation of phytoplanktonic and microphytobenthic production in the oceans. Mar. Microb. Food Webs 4, 31-57.
2Duarte, C.M., et al., Assessing the capacity of seagrass meadows for carbon burial: Current limitations and future strategies, Ocean & Coastal Management (2011), doi:10.1016/j.ocecoaman.2011.09.001
3Duarte, C.M., Borum, J., Short, F.T., Walker, D.I., 2005. Seagrass ecosystems: their global status and prospects. In: Polunin, N.V.C. (Ed.), Aquatic Ecosystems: Trends and Global Prospects. Cambridge University Press.
4Duarte, C. M., Middelburg, J. J. & Caraco, N. 2005.Major role of marine vegetation on the oceanic carbon cycle. Biogeosciences 2, 1-8.
5Fourqurean, J.W., Duarte, C.M., Kennedy, H., Marbà, N., Holmer, M., Mateo, M.A., Apostolaki, E.T., Kendrick, G.A., Krause-Jensen, D., McGlathery K.J. and Serrano,O. 2012. Seagrass ecosystems as a globally significant carbon stock. Nature Geoscience, 5: 505-509.
6Gattuso, J.-P., Gentili, B., Duarte, C.M., Kleypas, J.A., Middelburg, J.J., Antoine, D., 2006. Light availability in the coastal ocean: impact on the distribution of benthic photosynthetic organisms and their contribution to primary production. Biogeosciences 3, 489-513.
7Green, E.P. and Short, F.T. (2003) World Atlas of Seagrasses. Prepared by the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre, University of California Press, Berkeley, USA.
8Hemminga, M.A., Duarte, C.M., 2000. Seagrass Ecology. Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge.
9Kennedy, H., Beggins, J., Duarte, C.M., Fourqurean, J.W., Holmer, M., Marbà, N., Middelburg, J.J., 2010. Seagrass sediments as a global carbon sink: isotopic constraints. Global. Biogeochem. Cycles. 24 doi:10.1029/ 2010GB003848.
10Laffoley, D.d’A., Grimsditch, G., 2009. The management of natural coastal carbon sinks. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland, 53 pp.
11Lo Iacono, C., Mateo, M.A., Gracia, E., Gasch, L., Carbonell, R., Serrano, L., Danobeitia, J., 2008. Very high-resolution seismo-acoustic imaging of seagrass meadows (Mediterranean Sea): implications for carbon sink estimates. Geophys. Res. Lett. 35, L18601. doi:10.1029/2008GL034773.
12Mcleod, E., Chmura, G.L., Bouillon, S., Salm, R., Björk, M., Duarte, C.M., Lovelock, C.E., Schlesinger, W.H., Silliman, B., 2011. A blueprint for blue carbon: towards an improved understanding of the role of vegetated coastal habitats in sequestering CO2. Front. Ecol. Environ. doi:10.1890/110004.
13Nellemann, C., Corcoran, E., Duarte, C.M., Valdés, L., De Young, C., Fonseca, L., Grimsditch, G., 2009. Blue Carbon. A Rapid Response Assessment. United Nations Environment Programme, GRID, Arendal.
14Orth, R.J., Carruthers, T.J.B., Dennison, W.C., Duarte, C.M., Fourqurean, J.W., Heck Jr., K.L., Hughes, A.R., Kendrick, G.A., Kenworthy, W.J., Olyarnik, S., Short, F.T., Waycott, M., Williams, S.L., 2006. A global crisis for seagrass ecosystems. Bioscience 56, 12; 987-996.
15Suchanek TH,Williams SW,Ogden JC,Hubbard DK, Gill IP. 1985.Utilization of shallow-water seagrass detritus by Caribbean deep-sea macrofauna: 13C evidence. Deep Sea Research 32: 2201–2214.
16Waycott, M., Duarte, C.M., Carruthers, TJ.B., Orth, R.J., Dennison, W.C., Olyarnik, S., Calladine, A., Fourqurean, J.W., Heck Jr., K.L., Hughes, A.R., Kendrick, G.A., Kenworthy, W.J., Short, F.T., Williams, S.L., 2009. Accelerating loss of seagrasses across the globe threatens coastal ecosystems. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. USA (PNAS) 106, 12377e12381.
17Wilson, H.W. 2012. Seagrasses Store More Carbon Than Forests Do. Science Teacher, 79.6; 26-27. Available from: OmniFile Full Text Mega, Ipawich, MA. Accessed November 2012.

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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Blue Carbon Blog back on-line

March 2013

Dear colleagues,

The blog has been out of service for a wee bit. Blue carbon posts will be updated and post-dated from Nov 2012 till March 2013.

Best wishes,


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Seagrass and Blue Carbon Emissions

Seagrasses are an important store of ‘blue carbon’ (Image credit Blue Climate Solutions).

Seagrass decline releasing large quantities of carbon

Oct. 25, 2012 / European Commission, Environment DG

Grasses growing at the bottom of our oceans lock away large quantities of ‘blue carbon’, according to a new study. The results suggest that the soil that seagrass grows on is capable of storing more carbon than soils on land and as a result of the current global decline in seagrass, vast stores of carbon may be being released into the ocean and atmosphere.

Seagrass is widely distributed in the world’s oceans, including in Europe, but is declining rapidly; the global loss rate of its extent has averaged 1.5% a year since the beginning of the twentieth century and accelerated in recent decades. In the EU, the Natura 2000 network and the Nitrates, Urban Wastewater, Water Framework, Marine Strategy, Birds and Habitats Directives offer direct or indirect protection to seagrasses. Around a quarter of the Mediterranean’s seabed, at depths between 1-40 metres, is covered in seagrass. However, disease, pollution, eutrophication and disturbances, such as dredging and construction of dams, harbours and pipelines, all pose threats to seagrass.

Seagrasses are an important store of ‘blue carbon’, the carbon stored by marine life, and may release an amount of carbon that is equivalent to 10% of that released by land use changes, according to the study. To reach this figure, the researchers analysed a database containing 3640 observations of 946 seagrass meadows around the world to try to understand how much carbon is locked away in seagrass plants and soils.

They estimated that around 3 tonnes of carbon are stored in living seagrass per hectare covered. For soils, organic carbon stocks had been measured down to the depth of a full metre, but in some, estimates were only available for shallower depths. The researchers combined data from the metre-deep measurements with their own estimates, based on extrapolation, for the remaining sites. Their conservative calculations suggest that an average of 140 tonnes of organic carbon are stored in the top metre of each hectare of seagrass soil, which is around twice that found in soils on land.

The researchers went on to estimate the total amount of carbon sequestered by seagrass globally. Assuming that seagrass meadows cover between 30-60 million hectares (around 0.2% of the area of the world’s oceans) they estimate that a total of between 4.2 to 8.4 petagrams of organic carbon (where one petagram is equal to a thousand million tonnes) is stored in the top metre of seagrass soils. A less conservative estimate suggests the figure could be as high as 19.8 petagrams. Terrestrial soils, by comparison, cover 15 billion hectares and are estimated to contain between 1500-2000 petagrams of organic carbon. A further 75.5 to 151 teragrams of carbon was estimated to be stored in seagrass itself (where one teragram is equal to one million tonnes).

Mediterranean meadows held the largest stores of organic carbon yet identified, although data for the Pacific and South Atlantic are currently limited. In the Mediterranean, seagrass soils containing 11-metre thick organic carbon deposits that have built up over thousands of years have been found. Elsewhere, carbon stores also go deeper, but the researchers focused on the top metre as it is the most easily returned to the atmosphere when seagrass meadows are lost.

Press release: Seagrass decline releasing large quantities of carbon (European Commission)

Journal article: Fourqurean, J. W., Duarte, C.M. Kennedy, H. et al. (2012). Seagrass ecosystems as a globally significant carbon stock. Nature Geoscience. 5(7): 505-509. DOI: 10.1038/ngeo1477.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Legal implications of blue carbon

Legal implications of blue carbon

By Ben Milligan, on 25 October 2012

Matthew Potenski (Marine Photobank
The Centre for Law and Environment has recently commenced a research project entitled Binding blue carbon: developing global legal and policy responses to an emerging risk of climate change. Ben Milligan is the project’s principal investigator. Contributions are also provided by Professor Richard Macrory QC. Funding is provided by the AXA Research Fund through the Fund’s Postdoctoral Fellowship scheme.

The term ‘blue carbon’ refers to carbon stored, sequestered and released from the ocean’s vegetated habitats, including mangroves, tidal marshes, and sea-grass beds. Recent scientific studies have drawn attention to the critical role played by these ecosystems in regulating climate change. The Centre for Law and Environment’s blue carbon project will map the extent to which blue carbon management activities are consistent with, or already enabled by, international legal and institutional governance frameworks of relevance to nature-based climate change mitigation. In collaboration with several inter-governmental organisations, it will also develop detailed recommendations for enabling blue carbon management activities in selected developing countries.

Detailed project overview

The critical role of blue carbon and associated risks
 The term ‘blue carbon’ refers to carbon stored, sequestered and released from the ocean’s vegetated habitats, including mangroves, tidal marshes, and sea-grass beds. Recent scientific studies have drawn attention to the critical role played by these ecosystems in regulating climate change. A report published in 2009 by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) estimates that marine vegetated habitats store 55% of the world’s naturally absorbed carbon dioxide. These habitats contain less than 1% of the plant biomass on land, but absorb a comparable amount of carbon dioxide per year. The marine ecosystems that bind blue carbon are being damaged or destroyed at an increasing rate by anthropogenic factors including aquaculture, marine and land-based pollution, and coastal development. If this trend is not arrested, there is a risk that:
  • the global capability of natural ecosystems to mitigate climate change will be significantly eroded; and
  • on-going damage and destruction of marine vegetated habitats will cause previously stored blue carbon to be released back into the atmosphere (thereby accelerating climate change).
How can law and policy respond to these risks?
Over the last 20 years, several international legal and institutional governance frameworks have been developed in an attempt to preserve the climate change mitigation function of natural ecosystems. These ‘nature-based’ mitigation frameworks are designed to encourage three key responses to climate change related risks:
  1. protection of vegetation and natural ecosystems;
  2. provision of financial incentives for developing countries to establish such protection measures;
  3. relevant capacity building and technical assistance for developing countries.
At present the clear focus of nature-based climate change mitigation efforts is to encourage the protection of terrestrial vegetation (in particular tropical rainforests). Current nature-based climate change mitigation frameworks were developed before the importance of blue carbon was well understood. How they need to be modified to enable management of blue carbon and accommodate the acute need to protect marine plant life (for climate-related objectives) is at present unclear. Building on existing preliminary studies, the projects key research objectives are to:
  • map the extent to which blue carbon management activities are consistent with, or already enabled by, international legal and institutional governance frameworks of relevance to nature-based climate change mitigation; and
  • develop detailed recommendations for enabling blue carbon management activities at a national level through progressive development and implementation of these international frameworks.
The recommendations will focus primarily (but not exclusively) on challenges faced by developing countries in tropical regions, where blue carbon sinks are primarily located.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Fish Carbon

Researchers from VIMS and Rutgers University have published on the potentially significant role fish may play in the marine carbon cycle, through the production of carbon-rich fecal pellets (fish poo) which rapidly sink to the seafloor, sequestering carbon and thereby mitigating climate change on potentially millennial timescales.

Study shows small fish can play a big role in coastal carbon cycle

Fish Fecal Pellets - These are example of fish fecal pellets analyzed during the study. Image courtesy Dr. Grace Saba, Rutgers IMCS.

10-Oct-2012 / Virginia Institute of Marine Science

A study in the current issue of Scientific Reports, a new online journal from the Nature Publishing Group, shows that small forage fish like anchovies can play an important role in the "biological pump," the process by which marine life transports carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and surface ocean into the deep sea—where it contributes nothing to current global warming.

The study, by Dr. Grace Saba of Rutgers University and professor Deborah Steinberg of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, reports on data collected during an oceanographic expedition to the California coast during Saba's graduate studies at VIMS. Saba, now a post-doctoral researcher in Rutgers' Institute of Marine and Coastal Research, earned her Ph.D. from the College of William and Mary's School of Marine Science at VIMS in 2009. The expedition, aboard the research vessel Point Sur, was funded by the National Science Foundation.

The study's focus on fish is a departure for Steinberg and colleagues in her Zooplankton Ecology Lab, who typically study tiny crustaceans called copepods. Research by Steinberg's team during the last two decades has revealed that copepods and other small, drifting marine animals play a key role in the biological pump by grazing on photosynthetic algae near the sea surface, then releasing the carbon they've ingested as "fecal pellets" that can rapidly sink to the deep ocean. The algal cells are themselves generally too small and light to sink.

"'Fecal pellet' is the scientific term for "poop," laughs Steinberg. "Previous studies in our lab and by other researchers show that zooplankton fecal pellets can sink at rates of hundreds to thousands of feet per day, providing an efficient means of moving carbon to depth. But there have been few studies of fecal pellets from fish, thus the impetus for our project."

Prey Composition - Copepod body parts are visible within the fish fecal pellet: 1, swimming leg; 2, antenna; 3, furcal rami. Image courtesy Dr. Grace Saba, Rutgers IMCS.

Saba says, "We collected fecal pellets produced by northern anchovies, a forage fish, in the Santa Barbara Channel off the coast of southern California." She determined that sinking rates for the anchovies' fecal pellets average around 2,500 feet per day, extrapolating from the time required for pellets to descend through a cylinder of water during experiments in the shipboard lab.

At that rate, says Saba, "pellets produced at the surface would travel the 1,600 feet to the seafloor at our study site in less than a day."

Saba and Steinberg also counted the pellets' abundance—up to 6 per cubic meter of seawater, measured their carbon content—an average of 22 micrograms per pellet, and painstakingly identified their partly digested contents—mostly single-celled algae like dinoflagellates and diatoms.

"Twenty micrograms of carbon might not seem like much," says Steinberg, "but when you multiply that by the high numbers of forage fish and fecal pellets that can occur within nutrient-rich coastal zones, the numbers can really add up."

Saba and Steinberg calculate that the total "downward flux" of carbon within fish fecal pellets at their study site reached a maximum of 251 milligrams per square meter per day—equal to or greater than previously measured values of sinking organic matter collected by suspended "sediment traps."

"Our findings show that—given the right conditions—fish fecal pellets can transport significant amounts of repackaged surface material to depth, and do so relatively quickly," says Saba.

Those conditions are likely to occur in places like the western coasts of North and South America, where ocean currents impinge on continental shelves, bringing cold, nutrient-rich waters from depth into the sunlit surface zone.

Original story:

Related articles:

Fish Poop May Play Critical Role In Oceans’ Carbon Cycle (

Pelagic fish can help mitigate global warming: study (

Anchovy Poop Does Its Part to Keep Climate Change At Bay (

Study: Anchovies can help eliminate CO2 (

From Plankton to Planet - Steinberg's research helps reveal ocean’s role in global warming (

Reference: Saba, G.K. & D.K. Steinberg. Abundance, Composition, and Sinking Rates of Fish Fecal Pellets in the Santa Barbara Channel. Scientific Reports 2, Article number: 716. doi:10.1038/srep00716

Link to journal article: