Blue Carbon and the 30×30 Initiative

Blue Carbon | Climate Change | Mangroves | ocean | Seagrass | Wetlands

Blue carbon sequestration and coastal habitat preservation go hand in hand, offering important potential for future climate mitigation methods. Blue carbon is the natural carbon stored in ocean ecosystems, including that along coastal tidelands and wetlands like mangrove forests, salt marshes, and seagrass beds. If disturbed by activity, such as human construction or fishing, that carbon is released into the atmosphere and contributes greatly to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. Thus, protecting areas with high amounts of sequestered blue carbon is vital for combating climate change and further warming. Global, national, and state leaders need to align efforts to undertake research and prioritize areas most at risk for protection plans in order to fully realize the potential of blue carbon ecosystems. 

In January 2021 the Biden Administration announced the ambitious 30×30 initiative to conserve at least 30% of all waters and land by the year 2030. This proposal is part of a larger international movement that already has the support of over 50 countries, providing a great opportunity for collaboration. In California, Governor Newsom also announced an executive order calling for 30% of the state’s lands and waters to be protected by 2030 in an effort to tackle the climate crisis and future ramifications from climate change. 

Currently, less than 3% of global ocean waters hold a level of high protection against destructive human uses such as oil and gas drilling and bottom trawling. It’s also important to note that a 30% threshold is the bare minimum needed to protect and conserve lands and waters around the world, and thus ensure they remain as habitat for diverse organisms in the future. Without success in the 30×30 initiative, there will be little foundation on which to build necessary future environmental protection initiatives and policies.

A successful 30×30 initiative would enable stronger and longer-lasting protections for ocean ecosystems, ensuring healthy spaces for organisms with limited disruptions to natural cycles like food webs and carbon cycling. This in turn would build resiliency in these ecosystems, thus providing them the foundation to survive future impacts from climate change. For humans, preserving coastal ecosystems is important because of their role in reducing exposure to bacterial pathogens and thus preventing disease, and their ability to buffer inland areas from storms.  

“[The importance of] blue carbon cannot be looked over in this initiative,” says Dr. Mark Gold, the Executive Director of the Ocean Protection Council (OPC) and the Deputy Secretary for Ocean and Coastal Policy at the California Natural Resources Agency. He describes how blue carbon is an intersection between land and ocean ecosystems, thus making it all the more important to consider for the 30×30 initiative. This also means blue carbon research can help establish what areas yield the most value (more carbon sequestration makes an area more valuable), thus creating conclusive climate mitigation plans for protecting ecosystems around the world. 

In California, Governor Newsom introduced the California Biodiversity Collaborative to bring together diverse organizations – ranging from state, government, non-profit, academic, and business levels – to help ensure the 30×30 initiative is a success. The collaborative drafts multi-beneficial criteria and research practices that align with blue carbon research and sequestration efforts to integrate 30×30 into a larger initiative surrounding climate smart strategies in natural working lands and waters. The upcoming Expanding Nature-Based Solutions and 30 by 30 Virtual Regional Workshops meeting, hosted by the collaborative, is an opportunity to learn more about these efforts and get involved in the future of global biodiversity and ecosystem health. 

For the past decade, the WILDCOAST team has worked on protecting and restoring mangrove and wetland ecosystems with high capacities for storing and sequestering blue carbon along the coasts of California and Mexico. Additionally, WILDCOAST’s recent initiative to expand research on blue carbon produced the Blue Carbon Collaborative, a group of like-minded organizations and policy makers working together on blue carbon ventures.

-Cece Malone, WILDCOAST Blue Carbon Intern