Blue Carbon

What is blue carbon? Oceans and coasts can help reduce the effects of greenhouse gases by capturing and storing the carbon - it's called blue carbon. Although these carbon sinks are smaller in size than land-based forests, coastal ecosystems take up, or sequester, carbon at a faster rate than land ecosystems - three to five times more than tropical forests. And unlike land-based forests in which most of the carbon stored exists above ground, most of the carbon stored in coastal systems is stored "below ground" and is thousands of years old. Blue carbon is also stored in plants, such as kelp forests.

Why is restoring and conserving coastal habitats important? When coastal habitats are destroyed, or degraded, they rapidly release stored carbon into the atmosphere, which contributes to climate change stressors. When coastal habitats are restored and conserved, these habitats store carbon, provide habitat for important commercial fisheries and wildlife, and provide places for people to play - and many other benefits.

What is blue carbon worth? There is a lot of work being done to assess the potential for and create carbon "markets." In Oregon, the South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve is participating in a Pacific Northwest Coastal Blue Carbon Working Group. The group is documenting carbon stored in tidal wetlands, and is working to estimate the carbon-market value of coastal restoration projects.

What happens when the carbon-market value of coastal restoration projects is estimated? Tidal wetland restoration projects could sell offsets to voluntary corporate buyers, which would increase coastal resilience to sea level rise and provide important habitats and nursery grounds for fish and birds. Companies that commit to becoming "carbon neutral" would be attracted to these types of market investments.