Exploration of Oceanic Blue Carbon

Date: 16th December 2015

Home to extraordinary biological diversity, the ocean is also the world’s largest active carbon sink. Blue carbon refers to carbon associated with the ocean. Blue carbon encompasses carbon capture by plankton, algae and bacteria; capture and long-term storage by complex plants and their ecosystems in coastal regions; and carbon pathways, pumps and trophic cascades associated with larger marine animals.

In the high seas, plankton and bacteria are key to capturing atmospheric carbon, but carbon capture and long-term storage in the ocean are greatly enhanced by larger organisms. This concept is termed Oceanic Blue Carbon, and includes carbon services associated with marine animals such as fish, whales, turtles and birds. Oceanic Blue Carbon includes highly mobile species that cross high seas and EEZ boundaries.  Valuation and protection of these carbon services can inform biodiversity conservation on the high seas.

The scientific evidence and knowledge gaps of Oceanic Blue Carbon were recently explored during a presentation at the Global Ocean Commission’s High Seas Symposium in November 2015.  The talk was part of discussions that are focused on the potential direction and coverage of the proposed UN treaty on the high seas.  The new agreement will include legally binding text on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction.  Preparations and negotiations are expected to begin in 2016. Protection for high seas biodiversity and oceanic carbon services would be aligned with the recent COP21 Paris Agreement, which calls for conservation and enhancement of all carbon sinks, including the ocean. In addition, conservation outcomes would contribute to achievement of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 14, which calls for sustainable management and protection of marine and coastal ecosystems. In addition to these mandates for conservation and climate regulation, verified carbon methodologies for Oceanic Blue Carbon values have the potential to develop into carbon finance mechanisms, which could provide crucial revenues for enforcement of marine biodiversity conservation.

Blue Climate Solutions is committed to working in partnership with other organizations and stakeholders to elevate blue carbon in the international climate discussion. The Blue Climate Coalition was established in 2009, on an ad-hoc basis, to support the inclusion of marine conservation in climate change policy.  The Coalition has helped to move the agenda through successful engagement with the White House and US government agencies, Congressional offices, the Global Environment Facility, and the UNFCCC process.

A BCS report entitled “Fish Carbon: Exploring Marine Vertebrate Carbon Services”, released in 2014, highlighted the potentially significant role of marine vertebrates in oceanic carbon cycling and storage, and therefore climate regulation and is available here: http://www.grida.no/publications/fish-carbon/

BCS is currently collaborating with scientists, local research and conservation organizations, stakeholders and policy-makers to identify science and policy gaps, such as the quantification of carbon cycling and storage rates for different species.  Projects for the coming year include evaluating whale carbon services in the Cook Islands; researching the contributions of whales to carbon cycling and storage in open ocean ecosystems; convening a multi-stakeholder meeting of scientists and representatives from small island and coastal states; and producing an educational video in collaboration with renowned cartoonist Jim Toomey.  Blue Climate Solutions works in partnership with The Ocean Foundation and GRID-Arendal and has been engaging with multiple audiences in an effort to increase awareness, identify new partners and expand support for Oceanic Blue Carbon initiatives.  For more information about Blue Carbon, see also this presentation:


Photo by Tholaal Mohamed on Unsplash

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