Destroyed and degraded coastal marine ecosystems increasing global carbon emissions

By Helen Roddis - 25 Mar 2011 8:55:0 GMT
Destroyed and degraded coastal marine ecosystems increasing global carbon emissions

Rapid and long-lasting emissions of CO2 are being released into the ocean and atmosphere due to the destruction of coastal carbon ecosystems, such as mangroves, seagrasses and tidal marshes.

That's the key conclusion from the new International Working Group on Coastal ''Blue'' Carbon which convened its first meeting in Paris last month.

When mangroves, seagrasses or tidal marshes are destroyed, they not only lose their capacity to absorb carbon from the atmosphere, but also emit carbon that is estimated to have accumulated over thousands of years.

Per square kilometre, total carbon deposits in coastal systems may be up to five times the carbon stored in tropical forests, due to their ability to sequester carbon at rates up to 50 times those of the same area of tropical forest.

However, seagrasses, tidal marshes, and mangroves are currently being lost at a rapid pace. Up to 2 percent of coastal systems are being destroyed or degraded each year - approximately four times the estimated tropical forest loss.

''Scientific studies have shown that although mangroves, seagrasses and salt marshes account for less than 1% of the total plant biomass on land and forests, they cycle almost the same amount of carbon as the remaining 99%. So the decline of these carbon-efficient ecosystems is a valid cause of concern.'' says IOC Assistant Director-General and Executive Secretary, Wendy Watson-Wright.

Halting the loss of such high carbon ecosystems is of paramount importance if we are to slow the progression of climate change.

The Working Group was created as an initial step in advancing the scientific, management and policy goals of the Blue Carbon Initiative. The founding members include Conservation International (CI), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO.

Several key priorities and recommendations were set out by scientists during the first meeting of the Working Group.

These included enhancing national and international research efforts, such as developing inventory and accounting methodologies for coastal carbon and conducting carbon inventories. Also included was the need to enhance local and regional management practices to identify and reduce the primary drivers of high-carbon coastal system degradation, as well as the requirement to enhance international recognition of coastal carbon ecosystems.

According to the Working Group, improved management of coastal marine ecosystems will mean a targeted strategy that prioritises conservation of specific, unique, high-carbon coastal zones, which act like global sponges for global CO2.

For more information read the recommendations from the Internal Working Group on Coastal 'Blue' Carbon.

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