What About… Blue Carbon?

Originally uploaded Mar 23, 2021

As a passionate marine biologist at heart, I watched Netflix’s Seaspiracy with anguish, much like the rest of us. However, I felt like there was a big forgotten piece of the puzzle that was left out, Blue Carbon.

Protecting and restoring the UK’s marine ecosystems have the obvious benefits of enhancing biodiversity, increasing fish stocks and improved coastal protection. However, there has not been enough attention given to the enormous role our marine ecosystems play as ‘carbon sinks’. In the UK alone, up to 450 million tonnes of carbon are stored as blue carbon every year – almost half of the emissions from the entire global transport sector!

What is Blue Carbon?

Just like trees and other plants photosynthesise and grow, taking in CO² from the atmosphere and store it, a process known as sequestration, marine ecosystems such as seagrass meadows, salt marshes and mangroves ‘draw down’ carbon from its surrounding water and atmosphere. The storage of this carbon is called blue carbon.

Why Should We Care?

Globally, nature based solutions could account for up ⅓ of all the carbon mitigations required to reduce the global temperature by 1.5C. Recently, there has been a huge push for companies to offset their carbon emissions by investing in tree planting schemes, since the UN established its REDD+ programme, designed to halt developing countries selling their forests for commercial logging and other destructive practices, instead incentivising them to retain and restore the trees as carbon offsetting. Unfortunately, no such mechanism exists to finance the conservation of marine ecosystems.

In the UK, 38% of our coastal waters are designated Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), where formal regulations are in place to protect the ecosystems from destructive practices such as dredging and overfishing. However these MPAs have been labelled as mere ‘paper parks’ after a recent study by the Global Fishing Watch found that 98% of them were still subject to bottom trawling and dredging.

What now?

Later this year, the UK will be hosting COP26 – the UN Climate Change Conference – in Glasgow. The ocean and its blue carbon stores are a crucial part of the many urgent and varied solutions required to address the climate crisis.

The Marine Conservation Society has released a new report in partnership with Rewilding Britain. Blue Carbon – Ocean-based solutions to fight the climate crisis outlines the importance of the UK’s seas in helping the UK to reach its goal of net zero by 2050, and 2045 for Scotland. Dr Chris Tuckett, Director of Programmes at the Marine Conservation Society:

“Carbon contained in marine and coastal ecosystems must be considered in the same way as our woodlands and peatbogs…critical to the UK’s carbon strategy. Our report outlines how vital blue carbon solutions are to an effective strategy which reaches net zero by 2050.“We’re calling on the UK Government and devolved administrations to act with urgency to invest in, co-develop and implement a four nation Blue Carbon Strategy.”

The Marine Conservation Society and Rewilding Britain recently proposed its 3 point Blue Carbon strategy to assist the UK in its pathway to Net Zero 2050:

  1. Increase the rate of rewilding in the UK, to stop bottom trawling and dredging and to supply the finances to govern the MPAs properly with enforced sanctions.
  2. Commit to Blue Carbon initiatives, currently the UK does not account for Blue Carbon in its decarbonisation strategy.
  3. Develop and support sustainable fishing practices and aquaculture (ecosystem – based approach), providing proper investment for innovative low emission techniques.

Marine Ecosystem Restoration Schemes

We talk to a lot of SMEs looking into their decarbonisation strategy, about tree planting schemes, mitigating what is possible and then offsetting what is left. In the future however, it would be great to offer a strategy that also enables our coastal waters to flourish and grow in the same way. Now is the time for us all to ride the wave of growing support and demand action from the UK government.

The report, Blue Carbon – Ocean-based solutions to fight the climate crisis, is available to read here.