Some of the most brilliant minds on Earth are putting their heads together to build modern, high-tech carbon capture systems. In doing so, they hope to reduce the amount of carbon emissions in the atmosphere. Ultimately, this should help us tackle climate change – and it will! However, the focus on technology sometimes mean we overlook all of the natural carbon capture systems we have on Earth. Blue carbon is one example of such biological system.
What is Blue Carbon?
Blue carbon is carbon stored in our world’s oceanic, coastal, and marine ecosystems. These include algae, seagrasses, macroalgae, mangroves, salt marshes and other plants in coastal wetlands.
These natural ecosystems not only sequester but also store vast amounts of blue carbon. Storage takes place in the plants themselves as well as the soil or sediments below. Seagrass meadows are one of the most impressive examples, as they store about 95% of all carbon in the ground.
We all know that oceans cover the most of our planet. What everyone might not be aware of is that this also means that we have enormous potential for blue carbon development. The best thing about this? It is fairly easy to achieve, as well.
Instead of destroying blue carbon ecosystems every year and releasing the equivalent of annual fossil fuel CO2 emissions of the United Kingdom (9th biggest carbon-emitting country), we need to protect and preserve these systems. A further aim would be to actually further develop and expand blue carbon ecosystems. Doing so will reduce the carbon in the atmosphere, and provide fish with nursery grounds where they are protected from storms.
The carbon cycle
The carbon cycle describes how carbon atoms continually travel from the atmosphere to the Earth and then back into the atmosphere.
As planet Earth and its atmosphere form a closed environment; the amount of carbon does not change. The only thing that changes is the location of the carbon.
Astonishingly, 83% of the global carbon cycle circulates through our oceans.
Most of the carbon on Earth is stored in rocks and sediments. The ocean, the atmosphere, and living organisms contain the remainder. Dying organisms, volcano eruptions, fires, or burning of fossil fuels releases that stored carbon back into the air.
Current developments in humankind increase the levels of carbon in the atmosphere rapidly! This is where the concern lies.
We need to reduce the amounts of carbon set free from its storage locations and increase the storage possibilities again. Otherwise, global warming will be unstoppable.
Where can we find Blue Carbon Ecosystems?
A mere 2% of the world’s oceans are coastal habitats. Nevertheless, these 2% account for about half of the total carbon sequestered into oceans.
Currently 7.91% of the oceans are protected. However, a goal of 30% by 2030 is required to enable the ocean to recover and be resilient to man-made pollution again.
Imagine the amounts of carbon stored in our oceans if we managed to increase the share of coastal habitats to 3%, 4%, or even 5%!
In the picture below, you can see the location and distribution of blue carbon ecosystems worldwide.
Blue carbon ecosystems exist everywhere but the Antarctica and have historically been responsible for storing carbon for millions of years. Regrettably, the loss of blue carbon ecosystems is happening at a faster rate than any other existing ecosystem; even faster than rainforests. Estimates vary between 2 and 7% yearly.
Figure 2: https://www.thebluecarboninitiative.org/
So instead of further developing coastal habitats, we destroy them. By doing so, we emit carbon into the atmosphere and lose habitat that is important for managing climate, coastal protection, and health.
There are many ways in which we can support blue carbon protection and development. The common denominator is action to prevent further destruction of essential habitats.
Blue carbon is one of the most extensive natural carbon capture and storage systems that exist. Let’s make sure that it stays this way by protecting it and encouraging its growth.