Emily Landis – Coastal wetlands are unique places where rivers meet the ocean. In these locations, the mixing of salt and fresh water gives rise to a rich hotspot of biodiversity, some of which are the most productive ecosystems in the world.
Salt marshes, seagrass meadows, and mangroves provide critical fisheries habitat and nursery grounds for many shellfish and finfish species that communities and economies rely on. They filter pollutants and improve water quality, reduce flooding and wave impacts for coastal towns and store a lot of carbon, a service we call blue carbon.
When most people think about carbon capturing plants, they think about big trees and tropical rain forests, which are also vitally important in the fight against climate change. What is lesser known is that coastal wetlands capture and store carbon at rates up to five times greater than terrestrial forests. These productive plants store most of the carbon in their wet soil, where it can remain locked up for centuries or more.
On the flip side, when these carbon capturing habitats are drained or degraded, that stored carbon can be released back into the atmosphere relatively quickly, turning these carbon sinks into sources of emissions. When these coastal wetland habitats are lost, it comes with the loss of ecosystem services, like storm and flood protection.
Research by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) shows that intact coastal wetlands can save communities hundreds of millions of dollars when severe weather strikes, and can reduce flood damage by up to 29 per cent. During Hurricane Sandy, for example, coastal wetlands prevented $625 million in property damage.
Despite the multitude of benefits coastal wetlands provide, they continue to be lost due to development, pollution, erosion and sea-level rise. At the current rate, we lose over half a million acres of coastal habitat a year, releasing an estimated half a billion tons of carbon dioxide annually – an amount equivalent to Japan’s emissions.
With over half the global population living along the coast, it’s imperative that these critical habitats are protected and restored for the communities that directly rely on these benefits. At TNC, we are working to increase the pace and scale of coastal habitat conservation and restoration by valuing the climate mitigation and adaptation benefits these habitats provide. Enter the Blue Carbon Resilience Credit.
Right now companies, governments and individuals the world over are looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprint, first through energy efficiencies and waste reduction, and secondly, through the purchase of offsets, for those carbon emissions that cannot be avoided.