Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Blue Carbon

Coastal marine habitats such as mangroves, salt marshes and sea grasses are best known for their natural aesthetics, filtering pollution, and housing many plants and marine life. Mangroves are especially important because they protect coastal lands from tsunamis and hurricanes. However, many people are not aware that these coastal habitats are one of the most important carbon sinks in the world. According to environmental writer Robynne Boyd, these carbon sinks absorb five times as much carbon as tropical rainforests, which absorb only 18% of carbon dioxide released by carbon fuels. This absorbed carbon is called blue carbon and represents the 55% of green carbon that is absorbed by marine life; the other 45% is stored in terrestrial ecosystems.

Just like any other natural habitat, coastal wetlands are subject to harmful manipulation by man. Over 100 years ago 1800 square kilometers of wetlands of the San Joaquin River Delta were drained causing two gigatons of CO2 to be released into the atmosphere. As a result, up to 15 million tons of carbon dioxide continues to be emitted yearly. Due to the large amounts of carbon held by these coastal habitats it is vital that they are kept protected from human encroachment in order to prevent further CO2 emissions and climate change. Since coastal ecosystems are the preferred foundations for rice paddies and shrimp farms, many farmers and land developers see mangroves as a great financial opportunity. However, with carbon credits costing between $15- $20 per ton of carbon dioxide emitted, an assessed tax might cause many farmers to opt for cheaper alternatives. These economic incentives can persuade communities to save their local marshes and mangroves in order to manage their countries’ greenhouse gas emissions. While blue carbon might decrease jobs in aquaculture in the future, it can create jobs in mitigating climate change and conservation of these coastal habitats.

--Skyla Steele

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