Why protect blue carbon ecosystems? The Ocean is one of the largest natural carbon sinks on Earth, making it a crucial component of the carbon cycle. This means that the Ocean captures carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This carbon is stored in surface waters, eventually making its way into the deep Ocean. But there are other ways in which carbon is stored… The role of blue carbon Along our coastlines, we have unique ecosystems that capture and lock carbon away, mostly in the soil, for sometimes thousands of years. These ecosystems are termed “blue carbon.” This includes: Mangroves Seagrass Meadows, and Salt Marshes They can be potent carbon sinks, storing more carbon than forests on land, on a per-area basis, in the case of mangroves. Some of the other benefits include: coastal protection (acting as a buffer between the Ocean and land) increased biodiversity reducing Ocean acidification soil stabilisation improved water flow and water quality storm and flooding surge prevention, and increased resilience to cyclones These ecosystems can be considered a nature-based solution in tackling the rise the carbon emissions. But they are under threat. In fact, globally, between 20-50% of blue carbon ecosystems have already been converted or degraded. Drivers blue carbon loss and degradation Our coastlines are often competed for - whether its daily Ocean activities or commercial purposes. This invariably devalues existing blue carbon ecosystems. The main drivers of loss and degradation are: salt ponds (for salt extraction) agriculture excessive use of fertilisers (pollution) intensive aquaculture coastal infrastructure development The case for protection and restoration of blue carbon ecosystems If degraded or lost, blue carbon ecosystems have the potential to release the carbon back into the atmosphere. This is not the best scenario, given carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are already reaching levels not experienced in at least 2 million years (!). Not only is protection and restoration good for the climate, but it also has the potential to create jobs and support economic growth. Coastal ecosystems have the ability to mitigate around 0.5-2% of current global emissions. However, there is high uncertainty around its potential in the face of future climate scenarios, as well as loss of coastal land due to sea level rise. Many restoration efforts have failed in the past, mainly due to not addressing the root causes of degradation. It is now understood that successful restoration efforts require local communities’ involvement at every stage, economic incentives, and robust frameworks for implementing and assessing these ecosystems. Most importantly, reducing human activities in these areas can aid the recovery of these precious ecosystems. We need existing solutions to work together to reduce the adverse effects of the climate crisis. We must protect what we have, restore what we have lost, and adapt to the circumstances we face. If the Ocean thrives, so do we. Underrated but highly efficient? Yes, we’re talking about mangroves.