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The consensus is in, and has been for years: Climate change is happening and, however large or small our individual carbon footprints may be, we must be held responsible.  To reduce your carbon footprint, you must first change your behavior, and then you must look to offset what you can’t change.

Blue carbon is the most effective yet overlooked method for long-term sequestration and storage of carbon from the atmosphere.  Of equal importance, investment in blue carbon provides invaluable ecosystem services that contribute to people’s ability to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Blue carbon is the carbon dioxide captured by the world’s ocean and coastal ecosystems.  This carbon is stored in the form of biomass and sediments from mangroves, tidal marshes and seagrass meadows.  Blue carbon programs, like The Ocean Foundation’s SeaGrass Grow project, are gaining attention as proactive, viable and innovative approaches that should be catalysts for the protection and restoration of our natural coastal and marine environments.

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The consensus is in, and has been for years: Climate change is happening and, however large or small our individual carbon footprints may be, we must be held responsible.  To reduce your carbon footprint, you must first change your behavior, and then you must look to offset what you can’t change.

Blue carbon is the most effective yet overlooked method for long-term sequestration and storage of carbon from the atmosphere.  Of equal importance, investment in blue carbon provides invaluable ecosystem services that contribute to people’s ability to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Blue carbon is the carbon dioxide captured by the world’s ocean and coastal ecosystems.  This carbon is stored in the form of biomass and sediments from mangroves, tidal marshes and seagrass meadows.  Blue carbon programs, like The Ocean Foundation’s SeaGrass Grow project, are gaining attention as proactive, viable and innovative approaches that should be catalysts for the protection and restoration of our natural coastal and marine environments.

Why Seagrass?

The ocean is by far the largest carbon sink in the world, removing 20-35% of atmospheric carbon emissions and storing 93% of the earth’s carbon dioxide.  While planting trees is currently the most popular form of voluntary carbon offsets, it is by no means the most effective approach. Coastal seagrass beds store up to 83,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per square kilometer, nearly three times the amount of terrestrial forests, which store only 30,000 metric tons per square kilometer. There is less oxygen in wet soil, therefore the decaying of organic plant material is slower and the carbon remains trapped and intact far longer, making seagrasses a more reliable carbon storage option.  As one of the most effective options, seagrass meadows occupy less than 0.2% of the world’s oceans, yet are responsible for more than 10% of all carbon buried annually in the ocean.

Healthy seagrass meadows also play a role in the everyday health of our coastal waters and are key in the development of sustainable human communities. Along with providing blue carbon storage capabilities, seagrass offers very important ecosystem services.  The underwater meadows provide critical buffers to storm surges, filters pollution from the water, stabilize the seafloor, provide protection from rising sea levels, support tourism and mitigate the effects of ocean acidification.  As nurseries of the sea, healthy seagrass meadows support food security, and both commercial and recreational fishing: one acre of seagrass may support up to 40,000 fish and 50 million small invertebrates.  And, in addition to providing nurseries for fish, seagrass meadows offer grazing opportunities for endangered sea turtles, manatees and dugongs. Seagrass meadows are essential to coastal resiliency.

All told, the economic value of seagrass meadows is ten times greater than that of tropical forests, and triple that of coral reefs.  Every $1 invested in coastal restoration projects creates $15 in net economic benefits for the surrounding region.

Offset Your Life the Blue Way - 2
© The Ocean Foundation

 

Carbon Storage Ecosystems in Danger

The time to restore blue carbon storage ecosystems is now. Coastal and marine ecosystems are under significant threat; 2-7% of the earth’s blue carbon sinks are lost annually, and unless we take more action immediately to resort these vital ecosystems, most may be lost within 20 years.  As these ecosystems are destroyed, they release massive amounts of stored carbon that further contributes to ocean acidification.

In 2008, The Ocean Foundation launched the SeaGrass Grow project, one of the first blue carbon offset programs in the world. Through this innovative program, individuals or businesses can calculate the carbon footprint of their home, workplace or travel and choose to offset it through the voluntary purchase of Blue Carbon credits to restore and protect seagrass.  We work with partners in coastal communities to restore seagrass meadows damaged by boat groundings and prop scars, dredging and coastal construction, nutrient pollution, and rapid environmental change. Restoring the meadows also restores their ability to take up carbon and store it for thousands of years. We created SeaGrass Grow to provide those who love the ocean a proactive and effective way to support its health, and to provide those looking to offset their carbon the best possible option. Those who choose to offset their carbon the blue way play a critical role in climate change mitigation now and in the future.

Mark J. Spalding is President of The Ocean Foundation, serves on the Sargasso Sea Commission, and is a Senior Fellow at the Center for Blue Economy at the Middlebury Institute for International Studies.

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