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 & Sequestration
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.
Coastal wetlands are sites of rapid carbon (C) sequestration and contain large soil C stocks. Thus, there is increasing interest in those ecosystems as sites for anthropogenic greenhouse gas emission offset projects (sometimes referred to as “Blue Carbon”), through preservation of existing C stocks or creation of new wetlands to increase future sequestration. Here we show that in the globally-widespread occurrence of diked, impounded, drained and tidally-restricted salt marshes, substantial methane (CH4) and CO2 emission reductions can be achieved through restoration of disconnected saline tidal flows. Modeled climatic forcing indicates that tidal restoration to reduce emissions has a much greater impact per unit area than wetland creation or conservation to enhance sequestration. Given that GHG emissions in tidally-restricted, degraded wetlands are caused by human activity, they are anthropogenic emissions, and reducing them will have an effect on climate that is equivalent to reduced emission of an equal quantity of fossil fuel GHG. Thus, as a landuse-based climate change intervention, reducing CH4 emissions is an entirely distinct concept from biological C sequestration projects to enhance C storage in forest or wetland biomass or soil, and will not suffer from the non-permanence risk that stored C will be returned to the atmosphere.
- Oceans and coasts provide a wide array of services to humans, including climate regulation, food security, and livelihoods. Managing them well is vital to human well-being as well as the maintenance of marine biodiversity and ocean-dependent economies.
- Carbon sequestration and storage is increasingly recognized as a valuable service provided by coastal vegetation. Carbon sequestered and stored by mangrove forests, tidal marshes, and seagrass meadows is known as ‘blue’ carbon. These habitats capture and store carbon within the plants themselves and in the sediment below them. When the habitats are destroyed, much of their carbon is released back to the atmosphere and ocean contributing to global climate change.
- Therefore, blue carbon ecosystem protection is becoming a greater priority in marine management and is an area of interest to scientists, policy makers, coastal communities, and the private sector including those that contribute to ecosystem degradation but also those that are looking to reduce their carbon footprint. A range of policy and management responses aim to reduce coastal ecosystem loss, including the establishment of marine protected areas (MPAs).
- This paper explores how MPA design, location, and management could be used to protect and increase carbon sequestration and ensure integrity of carbon storage through conservation and restoration activities. While additional research is necessary to validate the proposed recommendations, this paper describes much needed first steps and highlights the potential for blue carbon finance mechanisms to provide sustainable funding for MPAs.
- Coastal blue carbon activities are being implemented by a variety of countries, using different approaches. Existing regulatory regimes, including on coastal protection, are still very useful tools to protect and conserve mangroves, seagrasses and saltmarshes, and preserve their carbon value and role. These approaches suffer, however, from ‘traditional’ issues such as lack of enforcement, human and financial constraints as well as unclear or misguiding government mandates.
- Successes are witnessed using a community-based carbon project approach, ensuring high stakeholder participation via direct or indirect incentive programmes. Comprehensive coastal zone management approaches seem very promising, but success overall, and regarding carbon specifically, are yet to be reported.
- The Paris Agreement has introduced new tools which could serve as means to trigger more and better coastal adaptation and mitigation efforts. Their implementation details are, however, still under negotiation and their impacts can only be expected in a few years.