An edition of: WaterAtlas.orgPresented By: USF Water Institute

Water-Related News

Blue carbon research shows value of coastal habitats

In addition to filtering pollutants, preventing erosion, buffering storm surge and serving as fertile nurseries for seafood, new research is showing that coastal wetlands are highly effective at trapping and removing carbon from the atmosphere -- helping to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

The study, involving multiple federal, state and local agencies and organizations, including TBEP, assessed the climate mitigation potential of "blue carbon" habitats and how sea-level rise will impact these habitats. The report also provides management recommendations for habitat adaptation.

Marshes, mangroves and seagrasses in Tampa Bay can remove more than 73 million tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere over the next 100 years, according to a study involving multiple federal and state environmental agencies and organizations, including TBEP. This equates to taking 160,000 passenger cars off the road every year until 2100, and saving 4.25 million gallons of gas every year from 2007 until 2100.

Blue carbon refers to the ability of tidal wetlands and seagrass habitats to sequester, store or release carbon and other greenhouse gases. Blue carbon ecosystems capture atmospheric carbon and store it in the ground at rates 10 times greater than forests on a per acre basis. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), mangrove forests and coastal wetlands may be able to store up to five times more carbon than a tropical forest of equal size. Damaging these ecosystems can harm their ability to continue trapping carbon, as well as release carbon that's already sequestered.

Unlike forests, coastal wetlands store carbon mainly in soils (rather than in foliage or limbs). It can remain locked in soils for centuries or more. When these ecosystems are drained or degraded, the stored carbon can be rapidly released back into the atmosphere - sometimes releasing centuries worth of stored carbon in only a few decades. Protecting our critical coastal habitats not only protects the ecosystem services they provide (such as improved water quality, storm protection, and wildlife habitat), it can also mitigate climate change.