Highly productive coastal wetlands play an essential role in storing blue carbon as one of their ecosystem services, but they are increasingly jeopardized by intensive reclamation activities to facilitate rapid population growth and urbanization. Coastal reclamation causes the destruction and severe degradation of wetland ecosystems, which may affect their abilities to store blue carbon. To assist with international accords on blue carbon, we evaluated the dynamics of blue carbon storage in coastal wetlands under coastal reclamation in China. By integrating carbon density data collected from field measurement experiments and from the literature, an InVEST model, Carbon Storage and Sequestration was used to estimate carbon storage across the reclamation area between 1990 and 2015. The result is the first map capable of informing about blue carbon storage in coastal reclamation areas on a national scale. We found that more than 380,000 hectares of coastal wetlands were affected by reclamation, which resulted in the release of ca. 20.7 Tg of blue carbon. The carbon loss from natural wetlands to artificial wetlands accounted for 72.5% of total carbon loss, which highlights the major task in managing coastal sustainability. In addition, the top 20% of coastal wetlands in carbon storage loss covered 4.2% of the total reclamation area, which can be applied as critical information for coastal redline planning. We conclude that the release of blue carbon due to the conversion of natural wetlands exceeded the total carbon emission from energy consumption within the reclamation area. Implementing the Redline policy could guide the management of coastal areas resulting in greater resiliency regarding carbon emission and sustained ecosystem services.
Blue Carbon & Sequestration
Macroalgae form the most extensive and productive benthic marine vegetated habitats globally but their inclusion in Blue Carbon (BC) strategies remains controversial. We review the arguments offered to reject or include macroalgae in the BC framework, and identify the challenges that have precluded macroalgae from being incorporated so far. Evidence that macroalgae support significant carbon burial is compelling. The carbon they supply to sediment stocks in angiosperm BC habitats is already included in current assessments, so that macroalgae are de facto recognized as important donors of BC. The key challenges are (i) documenting macroalgal carbon sequestered beyond BC habitat, (ii) tracing it back to source habitats, and (iii) showing that management actions at the habitat lead to increased sequestration at the sink site. These challenges apply equally to carbon exported from BC coastal habitats. Because of the large carbon sink they support, incorporation of macroalgae into BC accounting and actions is an imperative. This requires a paradigm shift in accounting procedures as well as developing methods to enable the capacity to trace carbon from donor to sink habitats in the ocean.
Seagrass ecosystems contain globally significant organic carbon (C) stocks. However, climate change and increasing frequency of extreme events threaten their preservation. Shark Bay, Western Australia, has the largest C stock reported for a seagrass ecosystem, containing up to 1.3% of the total C stored within the top metre of seagrass sediments worldwide. On the basis of field studies and satellite imagery, we estimate that 36% of Shark Bay’s seagrass meadows were damaged following a marine heatwave in 2010/2011. Assuming that 10 to 50% of the seagrass sediment C stock was exposed to oxic conditions after disturbance, between 2 and 9 Tg CO2 could have been released to the atmosphere during the following three years, increasing emissions from land-use change in Australia by 4–21% per annum. With heatwaves predicted to increase with further climate warming, conservation of seagrass ecosystems is essential to avoid adverse feedbacks on the climate system.
Coastal vegetated habitats can be important sinks of organic carbon (Corg) and mitigate global warming by sequestering significant quantities of atmospheric CO2 and storing sedimentary Corg for long periods, although their Corg burial and storage capacity may be affected by on-going sea level rise and human intervention. Geochemical data from published 210Pb-dated sediment cores, collected from low-energy microtidal coastal wetlands in El Salvador (Jiquilisco Bay) and in Mexico (Salada Lagoon; Estero de Urias Lagoon; Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve) were revisited to assess temporal changes (within the last 100 years) of Corg concentrations, storage and burial rates in tropical salt marshes under the influence of sea level rise and contrasting anthropization degree. Grain size distribution was used to identify hydrodynamic changes, and δ13C to distinguish terrigenous sediments from those accumulated under the influence of marine transgression. Although the accretion rate ranges in all sediment records were comparable, Corg concentrations (0.2–30%), stocks (30–465 Mg ha−1, by extrapolation to 1 m depth), and burial rates (3–378 g m−2 year−1) varied widely within and among the study areas. However, in most sites sea level rise decreased Corg concentrations and stocks in sediments, but increased Corgburial rates. Lower Corg concentrations were attributed to the input of reworked marine particles, which contribute with a lower amount of Corg than terrigenous sediments; whereas higher Corg burial rates were driven by higher mass accumulation rates, influenced by increased flooding and human interventions in the surroundings. Corg accumulation and long-term preservation in tropical salt marshes can be as high as in mangrove or temperate salt marsh areas and, besides the reduction of Corg stocks by ongoing sea level rise, the disturbance of the long-term buried Corg inventories might cause high CO2 releases, for which they must be protected as a part of climate change mitigation efforts.
Blue carbon initiatives require accurate monitoring of carbon stocks. We examined sources of variability in seagrass organic carbon (Corg) stocks, contrasting spatial with short temporal scales. Seagrass morphology and sediment Corg stocks were measured from biomass and shallow sediment cores collected in Moreton Bay, Australia. Samples were collected between 2012 and 2013, from a total of 77 sites that spanned a gradient of water turbidity. Environmental measures of water quality between 2000 and 2013 revealed strong seasonal fluctuations from summer to winter, yet seagrass biomass exhibited no temporal variation. There was no temporal variability in Corg stocks, other than below ground biomass stocks were slightly higher in June 2013. Seagrass locations were grouped into riverine, coastal, and seagrass loss locations and short temporal variability of Corg stocks was analysed within these categories to provide clearer insights into temporal patterns. Above ground Corg stocks were similar between coastal and riverine meadows. Below ground Corg stocks were highest in coastal meadows, followed by riverine meadows. Sediment Corg stocks within riverine meadows were much higher than at coastal meadows and areas of seagrass loss, with no difference in sediment Corg stocks between these last two categories. Riverine seagrass meadows, of higher turbidity, had greater total Corg stocks than meadows in offshore areas irrespective of time. We suggest that Corg stock assessment should prioritise sampling over spatial gradients, but repeated monitoring over short time scales is less likely to be warranted if environmental conditions remain stable.
The ratio of stable isotopes of carbon (δ13C) is commonly used to track the flow of energy among individuals and ecosystems, including in mangrove forests. Effective use of this technique requires understanding of the spatial variability in δ13C among primary producer(s) as well as quantification of the isotopic fractionations that occur as C moves within and among ecosystem components. In this experiment, we assessed δ13C variation in the cosmopolitan mangrove Avicennia marina across four sites of varying physico-chemical conditions across two estuaries. We also compared the isotopic values of five distinct tissue types (leaves, woody stems, cable roots, pneumatophores and fine roots) in individual plants.
We found a significant site effect (F3, 36 = 15.78; P < 0.001) with mean leaf δ13C values 2.0‰ more depleted at the lowest salinity site compared to the other locations. There was a larger within-plant fractionation effect, however, with leaf samples (mean ± SE = −29.1 ± 0.2) more depleted in 13C than stem samples (−27.1 ± 0.1), while cable root (−25. 8 ± 0.1), pneumatophores (−25.7 ± 0.1) and fine roots (−26.0 ± 0.2) were more enriched in 13C relative to both aboveground tissue types (F4, 36 = 223.45; P < 0.001).
The within-plant δ13C fractionation we report for A. marina is greater than that reported in most other ecosystems. This has implications for studies of estuarine carbon cycling. The consistent and large size of the fractionation from leaf to woody stem (∼2.0‰) and mostly consistent fractionation from leaf to root tissues (>3.0‰) means that it may now be possible to partition the individual contributions of various mangrove tissues to estuarine food webs. Similarly, the contributions of mangrove leaves, woody debris and belowground sources to blue carbon stocks might also be quantified. Above all, however, our results emphasize the importance of considering appropriate mangrove tissue types when using δ13C to trace carbon cycling in estuarine systems.
The canopies and roots of seagrass, mangrove, and saltmarsh protect a legacy of buried sedimentary organic carbon from resuspension and remineralisation. This legacy’s value, in terms of mitigating anthropogenic emissions of CO2, is based on total organic carbon (TOC) inventories to a depth likely to be disturbed. However, failure to subtract allochthonous recalcitrant carbon overvalues the storage service. Simply put, burial of oxidation-resistant organics formed outside of the ecosystem provides no additional protection from remineralisation. Here, we assess whether black carbon (BC), an allochthonous and recalcitrant form of organic carbon, is contributing to a significant overestimation of blue carbon stocks. To test this supposition, BC and TOC contents were measured in different types of seagrass and mangrove sediment cores across tropical and temperate regimes, with different histories of air pollution and fire together with a reanalysis of published data from a subtropical system. The results suggest current carbon stock estimates are positively biased, particularly for low-organic-content sandy seagrass environs, by 18 ± 3% (±95% confidence interval) and 43 ± 21% (±95% CI) for the temperate and tropical regions respectively. The higher BC fractions appear to originate from atmospheric deposition and substantially enrich the relatively low TOC fraction within these environs.
Coastal ecosystems provide a number of life-sustaining services, from which benefits to humans can be derived. They are often inhabited by aquatic vegetation, such as mangroves, sea grasses and salt marshes. Given their wide geographic distribution and coverage, there is need to prioritize conservation efforts. An understanding of the human importance of these ecosystems can help with that prioritization. Here, we summarize a literature review of ecosystem service valuation studies. We discuss (1) the degree to which current valuation information is sufficient to prioritize blue carbon habitat conservation and restoration, (2) the relevancy of available studies, and (3) what is missing from the literature that would be needed to effectively prioritize conservation. Given the recent focus on blue carbon ecosystems in the international conservation, there are a number of areas where research on blue forest ecosystem assessment and valuation could be improved, from enhancing available methodologies to increasing valuation of rarely studied ecosystem services and wider geographic coverage of valuation studies. This review highlights these gaps and calls for a focus on broadening the ecosystem services that are valued, the methods used, and increasing valuation in underrepresented regions.
With rapid urbanization in the coastal zone and increasing habitat losses, it is imperative to understand how urban development affects coastal biodiversity and ecosystem service provision. Furthermore, it is important to understand how habitat fragments can best be incorporated into broader land use planning and coastal management, in order to maximize the environmental benefits they provide. In this study, we characterized the trade-offs between (a) urban development and individual mangrove environmental indicators (habitat quality and ecosystem services), and (b) between different environmental indicators in the tropical nation of Singapore. A range of biological, biophysical, and cultural indicators, including carbon, charcoal production, support for offshore fisheries, recreation, and habitat quality for a threatened species were quantified using field-based, remote sensing, and expert survey methods. The shape of the trade-off Pareto frontiers was analyzed to assess the sensitivity of environmental indicators for development. When traded off individually with urban development, four out of five environmental indicators were insensitive to development, meaning that relatively minor degradation of the indicator occurred while development was below a certain threshold, although indicator loss accelerated once this threshold was reached. Most of the pairwise relationships between the five environmental indicators were synergistic; only carbon storage and charcoal production, and charcoal production and recreational accessibility showed trade-offs. Trade-off analysis and land use optimization using Pareto frontiers could be a useful decision-support tool for understanding how changes in land use and coastal management will impact the ability of ecosystems to provide environmental benefits.
In sunlit waters, photochemical alteration of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) impacts the microbial respiration of DOC to CO2. This coupled photochemical and biological degradation of DOC is especially critical for carbon budgets in the Arctic, where thawing permafrost soils increase opportunities for DOC oxidation to CO2 in surface waters, thereby reinforcing global warming. Here we show how and why sunlight exposure impacts microbial respiration of DOC draining permafrost soils. Sunlight significantly increases or decreases microbial respiration of DOC depending on whether photo-alteration produces or removes molecules that native microbial communities used prior to light exposure. Using high-resolution chemical and microbial approaches, we show that rates of DOC processing by microbes are likely governed by a combination of the abundance and lability of DOC exported from land to water and produced by photochemical processes, and the capacity and timescale that microbial communities have to adapt to metabolize photo-altered DOC.