The Future of Blue Carbon Conservation: Introducing the Blue Carbon Collaborative

Blue Carbon | Climate Change | Mangroves | Seagrass

By Cece Malone, WILDCOAST Blue Carbon Intern

Coastal and marine ecosystems such as mangrove forests and seagrass areas have great potential for carbon sequestration, making them subject to increasing research and project development. The idea for identifying blue carbon at WILDCOAST “really emerged from San Diego County, and local polluters, who were looking for local carbon offset options and wondering why there weren’t any surrounding natural land” says WILDCOAST’s Associate Director, Zachary Plopper. Stemming from their work conserving Mexican mangrove forests, WILDCOAST began examining wetlands as a potential option for carbon offset programs. But the project’s scope broadened quickly, as WILDCOAST identified a larger need for collaboration around blue carbon research and policy. 

What emerged is the Blue Carbon Collaborative (BCC), which hosts organizations and individuals from around the world, each working towards a common goal of better representing and identifying gaps in blue carbon research, policy, and resources.

The collaborative’s second meeting took place virtually on Thursday the 25th of March, where a panel of six experts in the field of blue carbon resource management discussed their research, projects, and ideas. Not unlike the Pacific Northwest Blue Carbon Working Group, which panelist Christopher Janousek introduced as a collaboration of Pacific Northwest scientists and policy makers seeking to advance blue carbon research, the BCC finds itself at the crossroads of science, technology, and policy – aiming to identify gaps and standardize practices surrounding blue carbon.

Along with WILDCOAST’s report with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, detailing at risk San Diego County wetlands, organizations in the panel have analyzed needs and opportunities for further conversation and research pertaining to blue carbon around the world. Professor John Baxter, the Chair of the Scottish Blue Carbon Forum, and Lindsey Sheehan, the principal engineer of the Environmental Science Associates, identified the need for expanding research on blue carbon sources and creating more initiatives that not only identify and quantify blue carbon, but also implement it into global conversation about habitat restoration. 

Dr. Mark Gold, the executive director of the Ocean Protection Council (OPC) and the deputy secretary for oceans and coastal policy for the California Natural Resources Agency finds these initiatives vital for enacting tangible climate change mitigation strategies as well. Chair Nathan Fletcher of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, agreed, identifying that in order to best turn blue carbon data into tangible policy, government organizations must engage in broader conversations surrounding blue carbon. 

And with blue carbon conversations must come consistency in blue carbon models and research, something Micheal Beck, the AXA Chair in Coastal Resilience at UCSC highlighted through his encouragement of establishing clear quantitative values – that encompass blue carbon – of coastal and marine ecosystems in an effort to create more representative policy to protect them. 

Following the meeting, the collaborative’s message was clear: there is a real need for not only expanding and unifying global research efforts but also bridging the gap between that research and the policy it has the potential to create. Thus, integrating blue carbon into global policy conversations about climate action planning is vital, as it could evaluate which ecosystems are most at risk and where conservation is most valuable. This in turn, could help to generate more research, thus expanding the known data surrounding blue carbon, and eventually providing a broader foundation for future policy efforts.