Indonesia: Country to tap into rich blue carbon potential

Hans Nicholas Jong The Jakarta Post 27 Jul 16;

The nation is set to take advantage of its blue carbon potential, estimated to be huge, as the country’s seagrass and mangroves account for 17 percent of the world’s blue carbon reserves.

Blue carbon is the carbon captured by the world’s oceans and coastal ecosystems. Mangroves and seagrass bind carbon dioxide and water, and, with the assistance of sunlight, is converted into sugars and oxygen to support their growth. The excess production of the plant is buried in the sediment, where it can remain stored.

As an archipelagic country located along the equator at the heart of the Coral Triangle, Indonesia is blessed with rich coastal ecosystems. Its warm climate makes it a suitable habitat for mangroves and seagrass.

According to Conservation International (CI) Indonesia, these coastal ecosystems could capture much more carbon than terrestrial ecosystems, such as rainforests, making it more valuable in mitigating the impact of climate change. For instance, a hectare of mangrove in Papua has the ability to absorb 2,500 tons of CO2 per year, more than a virgin forest in Java can capture.

“That amount of carbon is the same amount of carbon emitted by 20 luxury cars in Jakarta for 25 years,” CI Indonesia marine program director Victor Nikijuluw said.

It is also an equivalent of 296,050 gallons of gasoline or 2.8 million pounds of coal.

CI Indonesia is developing the blue carbon potential of the Kaimana regency in West Papua, focusing on the conservation of 50,000 hectares of its mangrove ecosystem.

“If we protect the mangrove ecosystem there, we could absorb the emissions of 1 million cars [for the next 25 years]. So the emissions of 1 million cars can be neutralized by mangrove in one regency,” said Victor.

Seagrass meadows also have tremendous blue carbon potential. Although they only take up a small percentage of global coastal area (about less than 0.2 percent of the world’s oceans), they are responsible for more than 10 percent of all carbon buried annually in the sea.

This high carbon storage suggests mangroves and seagrass meadows could play an important role in climate change mitigation. They could also be monetized through the carbon trading market.

Under carbon trading, countries that have more carbon emissions are able to purchase the right to emit more carbon into the atmosphere from countries with less emissions.

While Indonesia is home to rich coastal ecosystems, its blue-carbon ecosystems are also among the world’s most threatened. In the past 30 years, Indonesia lost 40 percent of its mangrove coverage.

About 3 to 7 percent of ecosystems are disappearing every year, with the worst conditions found on the northern coast of Java. The main reasons are dredging, degradation of water quality, deforestation and aquaculture activities.

With such high potential despite the rapid degradation, the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry is looking to develop the country’s blue carbon.

“We are still in the early stages of research. But we are moving toward that and it’s a coincidence that CI Indonesia has initiated a blue carbon project [in Kaimana],” the ministry’s conservation area management director, Andi Rusandi, said.

“In the next few years, we could start tapping into the blue carbon potential of the country,” he added.

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