Marine plant life holds the secret to preventing global warming

Frank Pope, Times Online 14 Oct 09;

Life in the ocean has the potential to help to prevent global warming, according to a report published today.

Marine plant life sucks 2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere every year, but most of the plankton responsible never reaches the seabed to become a permanent carbon store.

Mangrove forests, salt marshes and seagrass beds are a different matter. Although together they cover less than 1 per cent of the world’s seabed, they lock away well over half of all carbon to be buried in the ocean floor. They are estimated to store 1,650 million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year — nearly half of global transport emissions — making them one of the most intense carbon sinks on Earth.

Their capacity to absorb the emissions is under threat, however: the habitats are being lost at a rate of up to 7 per cent a year, up to 15 times faster than the tropical rainforests. A third have already been lost.

Halting their destruction could be one of the easiest ways of reducing future emissions, says report, Blue Carbon, a UN collaboration.

With 50 per cent of the world’s population living within 65 miles of the sea, human pressures on nearshore waters are powerful. Since the 1940s, parts of Asia have lost up to 90 per cent of their mangrove forests, robbing both spawning fish and local people of sanctuary from storms.

The salt marshes near estuaries and deltas have suffered a similar fate as they are drained to make room for development. Rich in animal life, they harbour a huge biomass of carbon-fixing vegetation. Seagrass beds often raise the level of the seabed by up to three metres as they bury mats of dead grass but turbid water is threatening their access to sunlight.

“We already know that marine ecosystems are multi-trillion-dollar assets linked to sectors such as tourism, coastal defence, fisheries and water purification services. Now it is emerging that they are natural allies against climate change,” said Achin Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General.

The potential contribution of blue carbon sinks has been ignored up to now, says the report, which was a collaboration between the United Nations Environment Programme, the Food and Agriculture Organisation and Unesco. Accurate figures for the extent of these habitats are hard to obtain, and may be more than twice the lower estimates used in the report.

“The carbon burial capacity of marine vegetated habitats is phenomenal, 180 times greater than the average burial rate in the open ocean,” say the authors. As a result they lock away between 50 and 70 per cent of the organic carbon in the ocean.

To protect them the authors suggest that a Blue Carbon Fund be launched to help developing nations to protect the habitats. Oceanic carbon sinks should also be traded in the same fashion as terrestrial forests, they say. Together with the UN’s scheme to reduce deforestation, they could deliver up to 25 per cent of emission reductions needed to keep global warming below 2C (36F).

Christian Nellemann, the editor of the report said:“On current trends they [ecosystems] may be all largely lost within a couple of decades.”

Healthy Oceans New Key to Combating Climate Change
UNEP 14 Oct 09;

Seagrasses to Salt Marshes Among the Most Cost Effective Carbon Capture and Storage Systems on the Planet

But Urgent Action Needed to Maintain and Restore 'Blue Carbon' Sinks Warns Three UN Agencies

Cape Town, Nairobi, Rome, Paris, 14 October 2009 - A 'Blue Carbon' fund able to invest in the maintenance and rehabilitation of key marine ecosystems should be considered by governments keen to combat climate change.

A new Rapid Response Report released today estimates that carbon emissions-equal to half the annual emissions of the global transport sector-are being captured and stored by marine ecosystems such as mangroves, salt marshes and seagrasses.

A combination of reducing deforestation on land, allied to restoring the coverage and health of these marine ecosystems could deliver up to 25% of the emissions reductions needed to avoid 'dangerous' climate change.

But the report, produced by three United Nations agencies and leading scientists and launched during National Marine Month in South Africa, warns that far from maintaining and enhancing these natural carbon sinks humanity is damaging and degrading them at an accelerating rate.

It estimates that up to seven percent of these 'blue carbon sinks' are being lost annually, or seven times the rate of loss of 50 years ago.

"If more action is not taken to sustain these vital ecosystems, most may be lost within two decades," says the report Blue Carbon: the Role of Healthy Oceans in Binding Carbon launched by the United Nations Environment Programe (UNEP), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, said: "We already know that marine ecosystems are multi-trillion dollar assets linked to sectors such as tourism, coastal defense, fisheries and water purification services-now it is emerging that they are natural allies against climate change."

"Indeed this report estimates that halting losses and catalyzing the recovery of marine ecosystems might contribute to offsetting up to seven percent of current fossil fuel emissions and at a fraction of the costs of technologies to capture and store carbon at power stations," he added.

The new report comes less than 60 days before the crucial UN climate change convention meeting in Copenhagen where governments need to Seal the Deal on a comprehensive new agreement.

It is likely that nations will agree to pay developing economies to maintain the 'green carbon' in forests under a partnership-Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD).

Mr Steiner added: "The links between deforestation and climate change are firmly on the political radar and there is optimism that REDD will form part of a new global climate partnership, but the role and the opportunity presented by other ecosystems are still overlooked."

"If the world is to decisively deal with climate change, every source of emissions and every option for reducing these should be scientifically evaluated and brought to the international community's attention-that should include all the colours of carbon including now blue carbon linked with the seas and oceans."

Dr. Carlos Duarte, one of the chief scientists of the report based at the Mediterranean Institute of Advanced Studies in Spain, said: "We know that land use change is part of the climate change challenge. Perhaps less well known is that the global loss of what we could call our "blue carbon sinks', such as mangroves and seagrasses, are actually among the key components of the increase in greenhouse concentrations from all land use changes."

Christian Nellemann, Editor of the Rapid Response report, said: "There is an urgency to act now to maintain and enhance these carbon sinks - since the 1940s, over 30% of mangroves; close to 25% of salt marshes and over 30% of seagrass meadows have been lost. We are losing these crucial ecosystems much faster than rainforests and at the very time we need them - on current trends they may be all largely lost within a couple of decades."

"Fishing and aquaculture communities will be heavily impacted by climate change and have a key role to play in maintaining healthy ocean ecosystems in the face of change," said Ichiro Nomura, Assistant Director-General for Fisheries and Aquaculture at FAO.

"An ecosystem approach to the management of ocean and coastal areas cannot only enhance their natural carbon sink capacity, but also offers a way to safeguard and strengthen food and livelihood security for fisheries-dependent communities," he added.

Officials with UNESCO also underlined the important role the oceans are already playing in offsetting climate change and its impacts on humanity, but warn that this is having consequences too.

"Because the ocean has already absorbed 82% of the total additional energy accumulated in the planet due to global warming, it is fair to say that the ocean has already spared us from dangerous climate change," says Patricio Bernal, Assistant Director-General of UNESCO, IOC Executive Secretary. "But each day we are essentially dumping 25 million tons of carbon into the ocean. As a consequence, the ocean is turning more acidic, posing a huge threat to organisms with calcareous structures."

Luciano Fonseca of UNESCO-IOC explains that the ocean's absorption of the planet's excess heat "is like a glass of whisky with ice. As long as the ice is there the whisky stays cool. The energy that is going into the glass, from your hand and room temperature, is working to convert the ice to liquid. As soon as the ice melts the whisky turns warm."

Key Findings from the Rapid Assessment Report

* Of all the biological carbon, or green carbon captured in the world, over half (55%) is captured by marine-living organisms - not on land - hence the new term blue carbon.

* Marine-living organisms range from plankton and bacteria to seagrasses, saltmarsh plants and mangrove forests.

* The ocean's vegetative habitats, in particular, mangroves, salt marshes and seagrasses, cover less than 1% of the seabed.

* These form the planet's blue carbon sinks and account for over half of all carbon storage in ocean sediment and perhaps as much as over 70%.

* They comprise only 0.05% of the plant biomass on land, but store a comparable amount of carbon per year, and thus rank among the most intense carbon sinks on the planet.

* Blue carbon sinks and estuaries capture and store between 235-450 Teragrams (Tg C) or 870 to 1,650 million tons of CO2 every year - or the equivalent of up to near half of the emissions from the entire global transport sector which is estimated annually at around 1,000 Tg C, or around 3,700 million tons of CO2, and rising.

* Preventing the further loss and degradation of these ecosystems and catalyzing their recovery can contribute to offsetting 3-7% of current fossil fuel emissions (totaling 7,200 Tg C a year or around 27,000 million tons) of CO2 in two decades - over half of that projected for reducing rainforest deforestation.

* The effect would be equivalent to at least 10% of the reductions needed to keep concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere below 450 ppm needed to keep global warming below two degrees Celsius.

* Combined with action under REDD, halting the degradation and restoring lost marine ecosystems might deliver up to 25% of emission reductions needed to keep global warming below two degrees Celsius.

* Unlike carbon capture and storage on land, where the carbon may be locked away for decades or centuries, that stored in the oceans remains for millennia.

Currently, on average, between 2-7% of our blue carbon sinks are lost annually, a seven-fold increase compared to only half a century ago.

* In parts of southeast Asia losses of mangroves since the 1940s are as high as 90%.

* Large-scale restoration of mangroves has been successfully achieved in Vietnam's Mekong Delta and salt-marsh restoration in Europe and the United States.

Countries with extensive, shallow coastal areas that could consider enhancing marine carbon sinks include India; many countries in southeast Asia; those on the Black Sea; in West Africa, the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, eastern United States and Russia.

Maintaining and Recovering Marine Ecosystems-the Wider Benefits

Coastal waters account for just seven percent of the total area of the ocean. However, the productivity of ecosystems such as coral reefs, and these blue carbon sinks mean that this small area forms the basis of the world's primary fishing grounds, supplying an estimated 50% of the world's fisheries.

They provide vital nutrition for close to three billion people, as well as 50% of animal protein and minerals to 400 million people of the least developed countries in the world.

The coastal zones, of which these blue carbon sinks are central for productivity, deliver a wide range of benefits to human society. These include filtering water, reducing effects of coastal pollution, nutrient loading, sedimentation, protecting the coast from erosion and buffering the effects of extreme weather events.

* Coastal ecosystem services have been estimated to be worth over US$25,000 billion annually, ranking among the most economically valuable of all ecosystems.

* Much of the degradation of these ecosystems not only comes from unsustainable natural resource use practices, but also from poor watershed management, poor coastal development practices and poor waste management.

* The protection and restoration of coastal zones, through coordinated integrated management would also have significant and multiple benefits for health, labour productivity and food security of communities in these areas.

Notes to Editors:

The report "Blue Carbon - The Role of Healthy Oceans in Binding Carbon" can be accessed at www.unep.org or at www.grida.no, including high and low resolution graphics for free use in publications.

The Blue Carbon report compliments a report launched by UNEP on the occasion of World Environment Day 2009 called The Natural Fix?-The Role of Ecosystems in Climate Mitigation http://www.unep.org/pdf/BioseqRRA_scr.pdf

Oceans seen as new front to fight climate change
Wendell Roelf, Reuters 14 Oct 09;

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - Preventing the destruction of marine life, from plankton to seagrasses and mangrove forests, could help offset between 3 to 7 percent of current fossil fuel emissions, a U.N. environment report said on Wednesday.

The "Blue Carbon" report found that of all the biological carbon captured in the world, slightly more than half is captured by marine-living organisms.

"Healthy oceans (are a) new key to combating climate change," said the report, which highlighted how marine organisms such as seagrasses naturally absorb greenhouse gases.

Life in seas and estuaries captured and stored up to 1,650 million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year, the equivalent of almost half of the emissions from the entire global transport system, it said.

"We already know that marine ecosystems are multi-trillion dollar assets linked to sectors such as tourism, coastal defense, fisheries and water purification services," said Achim Steiner, head of the U.N. Environment Programme.

"Now it is emerging that they are natural allies against climate change," he said, launching the report in Cape Town.

The report proposed that governments consider a "blue carbon" fund to help protect marine life.

It estimated that between 2 and 7 percent of the "blue carbon" stores were being lost every year due to factors such as pollution and clearance of mangroves for coastal development.

The proposed fund, which would be used to protect and manage coastal and marine ecosystems, could eventually allow the future use of carbon credits similar to that proposed for tropical forests in U.N. climate negotiations.

Steiner did not provide a target figure for the fund, which he said was unlikely to be adopted at a December 7-18 U.N. meeting in Copenhagen to agree a pact to fight global warming.

(Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Seagrass Recovery Joins the United Nations in Calling Attention to the Need to Restore Critical Seagrass Habitats in the Coastal Zone of the World's Oceans
Reuters 15 Oct 09;

While Creating Jobs, Reversing the Decline of the Fisheries and Combating
Climate Change

TAMPA, Fla.--(Business Wire)--

A report released October 14, 2009 by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) stresses the importance of urgent action to maintain and restore marine ecosystems such as seagrass, mangroves and salt marshes (blue carbon sinks) as the key to combating climate change. With the announcement, a call to action is being made for the restoration of the world's blue forests and blue carbon sinks to combat climate change and sea level rise. Florida based Seagrass Recovery has been successfully restoring seagrass meadows since 1996 and stands ready to meet this expected increase in the need for restoration of this important resource.

The report, "Blue Carbon: The Role of Healthy Oceans in Binding Carbon" was produced by three United Nations agencies and leading scientists. It found the ocean`s vegetative habitats (seagrass, mangroves and salt marshes) cover less than 1% of the seabed and equal less than .05% of the biomass on land but store a comparable amount of carbon per year, ranking them among the most efficient carbon sinks on the planet, and unlike carbon that may be locked away for decades or centuries on land, blue carbon stored in the oceans remain for millennia.

Unfortunately, over 30% of seagrass meadows have been lost since the 1940s and the rate is accelerating according to the report, sponsored by UNEP, the Food and Agricultural Organization and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO. Seven percent of these "blue carbon sinks" are being lost annually - seven times the rate of loss of 50 years ago.

According to the report, "If more action is not taken to sustain these vital ecosystems, most may be lost within two decades," thus the loss of all of the benefits these habitats provide, not just in battling climate change.

The report`s findings detail that the key element to combating climate change is the restoration of degraded seagrass meadows. Seagrass Recovery has spent the last 14 years developing innovative techniques and patented technologies to replant and restore damaged seagrass areas. The success of these methods have been scientifically evaluated and documented by National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Jeff Beggins, President and CEO of Seagrass Recovery stated that, "We applaud this exciting realization that restoration projects focused on Seagrass habitats in our coastal zone no longer should happen, but must happen. Seagrass Recovery recognizes that through creating jobs in our coastal communities and restoring these valuable blue carbon sinks, we look forward to playing a significant role in the reversal of the issues facing our planet as we combat climate change and sea level rise while making our coastline more resilient."

It is understood that Seagrasses provide countless benefits to our planet such as being the nursery of the ocean, providing habitat and sustenance for 70% of marine life, its direct correlation to water quality and providing protection for inshore coral reef ecosystems as well as the protection of our coastlines from coastal erosion. With the additional value add of these ecosystems being presented by this research in the fight against climate change and sea level rise, Seagrass and other coastal habitats will certainly benefit from the increased attention and awareness of the newly published finding with regards to the ocean's role in permanently sequestering carbon. This opportunity may create the ability to fund large scale restoration projects in the coastal zone focused on seagrasses, salt marshes and mangroves for the value these ecosystems present in worldwide carbon trading markets.

In Florida alone, according to information published by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) in 1995, over 175,000 acres of prop scarring exist in the seagrass meadows found in the coastal waters of Florida. Information such as this provides a real world example of the degradation mentioned by the UN and the opportunities it presents to the Global economy. For example, a simple restoration of 100 acres will put over 1,000 coastal residents to work. Through the implementation of successful restoration techniques, such as Seagrass Recovery`s sediment tubes, to restore seagrass injuries sites, we can respond to this call to immediate action presented by this UN report to focus restoration opportunities on reversing the losses of these critical habitats through the restoration of the degraded habitats as well as the creation of new ecosystems.

"In these challenging economic times, we have the ability to place literally thousands of job seekers to work in long term sustainable careers while ensuring the future health of coastal habitats for a multitude of reasons, this report is very exciting," says Beggins.

The full report, "Blue Carbon: the Role of Healthy Oceans in Binding Carbon" can be accessed at www.grida.no/publications/rr/blue-carbon/

About Seagrass Recovery

Since 1996, Seagrass Recovery has successfully transplanted, repaired and grown several species of seagrass. The company, located in Indian Rocks Beach, Florida, has completed more than 150 restoration projects around the world, many in Florida. Once Seagrass Recovery becomes involved in a project, measurable results are typically achieved within 12-18 months. This success represents a paradigm shift in how seagrass restoration is applied and achieved.

Seagrass Recovery`s innovative methods and technologies - the company holds seven industry-specific patents - are unique in the industry. These include techniques that have been scientifically peer-reviewed and approved by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association as well as by the Florida Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Seagrass Recovery is actively teaming with concerned citizens, organizations, educational institutions, and corporations across Florida and the nation to protect, restore and expand seagrass habitat. The company`s mission is to save oceans, estuaries and shorelines for generations to come. To learn more about Seagrass Recovery and its solutions, please visit www.seagrassrecovery.com.

Seagrass Recovery, Tampa
Kenny Wright, Executive Vice President, 727-596-8020

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