What is coastal blue carbon?
Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas created by burning fossil fuels like gasoline and coal, as well as solid waste and wood. “Coastal blue carbon” is the term used when carbon dioxide is absorbed and stored in coastal habitats like salt marshes, mangroves, and seagrass beds.
These habitats can absorb large quantities of carbon, thus decreasing the effects of global warming. They are sometimes referred to as “carbon sinks,” as they may contain carbon accumulated over hundreds to thousands of years. (“Coastal green carbon” refers to this phenomenon farther inland, such in tropical forests.)
Why is coastal blue carbon important?
Research shows that mangroves and coastal wetlands sequester carbon at a rate 10 times greater than tropical forests. They also store three to five times more carbon per acre than tropical forests. This is because most coastal blue carbon is stored in the soil, not in above-ground plants like tropical forests.
When these habitats are damaged or destroyed, their capacity for carbon sequestration is lost. In addition, the carbon stored in the habitats is also released, which then increases the levels of carbon in the atmosphere. Coastal habitats around the world are being lost at a rapid rate, largely due to coastal development.
What is NOAA Fisheries doing to protect blue carbon?
We are working to advance awareness of coastal blue carbon by:
- Exploring how to incorporate carbon services into existing domestic and international policies, programs, and activities. Considering carbon along with other ecosystem services could provide additional incentives for conservation. NOAA collaborated with other agencies to support the inclusion of coastal wetlands into the U.S. National Greenhouse Gas Inventory for the first time in 2017.
- Helping to develop and use protocols for including coastal carbon services in carbon markets. This could encourage increased private investment in coastal habitat conservation.
- Working with partners--including Restore America’s Estuaries, the Blue Carbon Initiative, the Global Environmental Fund, and the Commission for Environmental Cooperation--to advance blue carbon studies and projects around the world.
- Supporting projects that protect and restore coastal habitats acting as carbon sinks.