Climate Change | Mangroves | Wetlands

This fall, the international WILDCOAST-COSTASALVAJE team was very active in sharing the importance of conserving blue carbon ecosystems, as a natural solution to climate change. We organized and participated in forums and discussion panels in Mexico City, San Diego, California, and Ensenada, Baja California, and conducted scientific sampling in mangroves and marshes in Bahía Kino, Sonora, and San Quintín, Baja California.

Marshes in San Quintin, Baja California

In simple terms, blue carbon is the atmospheric carbon (CO2) absorbed and stored by marine plants that form coastal ecosystems such as mangrove forests, salt marshes and seagrass beds. CO2 exists naturally in the atmosphere and plants use it during photosynthesis to create its leaves, branches, stems and roots. But industrial and transportation activities (mainly), have emitted so much CO2 into the atmosphere, when burning fuels, that we are now experiencing the global warming that has triggered climate change – generating serious environmental, economic and social effects. Some visible effects on the coasts are: more intense and frequent storms and hurricanes, the increase in the mean sea level and the acidification of the ocean that destroys coral reefs.

Studies show that blue carbon ecosystems, such as mangroves, absorb and store up to five times more carbon than most terrestrial ecosystems, including rainforests. The secret is that the sediments (sludge) that are trapped between their roots contain large amounts of organic matter and therefore carbon (C), which is not in contact with the oxygen (O) in the air, decomposes and does not release CO2 into the atmosphere. It’s easy, C + O = CO2. So when we deforest or degrade a mangrove forest, we not only lose its ability to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere through photosynthesis and other biogeochemical processes, but we are also exposing the sediment (mud) trapped between its roots in the air therefore releasing all that CO2 into the atmosphere, which would otherwise be trapped in the ground for hundreds and even thousands of years. This is known as emissions caused by the change in land use.

In October and November, blue carbon was a central theme on the WILDLIFE agenda. In Mexico City, we were honored to participate in the 1st Mexican Forum of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), where our General Director in Mexico, Eduardo Nájera, had the opportunity to share the carbon project Blue that WILDCOAST is implementing in the Gulf of California, the project was recognized as an innovative project and was well received by the audience and key members of IUCN.

COSTASALVAJE participating in the Mexican Forum of the IUCN

In San Diego, California, we organized a panel discussion at Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO), as part of its graduate program in which students, government agencies and the community participated, to learn about the projects of carbon conservation. The panelists were Fernanda Adame, researcher at Griffith University in Australia; Eduardo Najera Hillman, General Director of COSTASALVAJE in Mexico; John-O Miles Director of the Carbon Institute; and Meghan Emidy, Intern at WILDCOAST and student of SIO.

In Ensenada, Baja California, we also organized the 1st Blue Carbon Forum in Mexico, together with CONANP, SEMARNAT, The Nature Conservancy and the Center for Scientific Research and Higher Education of Ensenada (CICESE). This forum brought together more than 80 people from 10 civil organizations, staff from six protected natural areas, climate change specialists from CONANP and SEMARNAT, academics, students and the general public. During the forum, there were expert talks and workshops, to find the best way to make blue carbon projects a priority in Mexico’s environmental agenda. The talks included the vision of scientists, the proposals of the federal government, the opportunities of financing through the market of carbon credits and the potential of Mexico to be a world leader in adaptation and mitigation to climate change, through the conservation of its mangroves. The atmosphere was one of camaraderie and optimism, something key to the success of nature conservation projects.

Blue Carbon Forum participants in Ensenada, Baja California

We also traveled to San Quentin, a temperate bay on the Pacific coast of Baja California. We entered the marshes to conduct scientific analysis of carbon absorption and storage in these important coastal wetlands, which are being threatened by the rapid agricultural expansion in the area. On this trip we had the invaluable support of Terra Peninsular, another civil society organization dedicated to the conservation of nature in northwestern Mexico. Then we traveled to Bahía Kino in Sonora and with the support of our friends from Prescott College; we sampled the mangroves of Estero Santa Cruz, threatened by the expansion of aquaculture farms. We are extremely grateful to all the people we have met on the blue carbon road, as the old saying goes: “If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together”.

San Quintin Marshes

Eduardo Nájera Hillman & Tannia Frausto. Translated by Patricia Fernandez Waid