We (both humans and animals) produce carbon dioxide everyday - from the way we build and grow, to the way we travel, to the way we work and use energy. Carbon dioxide is naturally present in the atmosphere as part of the Earth's carbon cycle (the natural circulation of carbon among the atmosphere, oceans, soil, plants, and animals). Carbon dioxide is really essential for life!
But as the world continues to build and grow, and human activities increase, we are altering the natural cycle of carbon dioxide and producing too much; so much that it is offsetting the balance of how much the Earth can take in.
The natural carbon cycle works like this:
And this how much carbon we are using:
(Following Infographics credited to Australia's World Wildlife Fund)
tonnes = ton
If we continue to tip the scales between carbon dioxide production and intake, potential dangers may occur, a quintessential example being climate change.
I won’t go into climate change and global warming, as it would take another blog post to talk about. Instead I’d like to talk about a unique preventive measure to combat this.
An interesting way to reduce our carbon footprint
We’ve all heard the term before: carbon footprint. In a nutshell, a carbon footprint is the amount of greenhouse gas emitted by a person or population over a certain period of time.
And we’ve heard ways to reduce our carbon footprint, whether it’s on the road and using alternatives such as public transportation, or at home by recycling and using energy efficient utilities. Check out these resources to find out more. The lists are literally endless.
We’ve all heard of going “green,” and these are all things we should consider.
But what about going “blue”?
Coastal blue carbons
Take a look at our coasts. You’ll see beaches, salt marshes, rocky intertidal, mangroves. Now think about this: These coastal ecosystems may be a solution to reduce carbon emissions. Think about going blue - blue carbon.
Blue carbon is carbon captured by the world’s oceans and coastal ecosystems. Generally the carbon is usually taken in by ocean plant life habitats such as mangrove forests, seagrass meadows, or intertidal salt marshes. Plants need carbon dioxide (as well as light, water, and soil) in order to produce energy and “food” - a process called photosynthesis. And in marine and coastal systems, these processes also apply for marine plants.
According to bluecarbonportal.org, these valuable marine ecosystems hold vast carbon reservoirs, and the rates of taking in carbon are comparable, if not better, than terrestrial ecosystems, like the tropical rainforest.
And according to National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA),
“Current studies suggest that mangroves and coastal wetlands annually sequester carbon at a rate two to four times greater than mature tropical forests and store three to five times more carbon per equivalent area than tropical forests. “
The carbon that is taken in by these coastal marine ecosystems is not only used in their plant processes but also is stored deep in the soils. According to thebluecarboninitiative.org, these marine systems sequester a significantly higher proportion of carbon in the soils below ground, where it can remain for very long periods of time periods, up to millennia.
Many people don’t realize the importance of these habitats: usually the reactions I get when I meet someone who encounters these habitats run along the lines of “too many bugs, it’s smelly, it’s muddy” (Heck, I understand- I’m quite familiar with these habitats, working in an estuary and all). However, these new studies state that these habitats may provide a way to resolve the problem of our increasing carbon footprint and, like many other habitats, are vital to the environment and earth.
Threats to coastal systems
Now that we know a possible solution to reduce increased carbons in the atmosphere on Earth, coastal ecosystems, let's take a look at the threats following it.
Their destruction poses great risks. As more and more people develop buildings and homes along the coasts, this is reducing the quality of these habitats, which are home to many important estuarine and marine plants, as well as nursery habitats for many recreational and commercial fishery species. Additionally, when these habitats are damaged or destroyed, not only is their carbon sequestration capacity lost, but all the stored carbon (which again, is much greater than terrestrial systems) is released and may greatly contribute to increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. As a result, damaged or destroyed coastal habitats change from being net carbon sinks to net carbon emitters. Unfortunately, coastal habitats around the world are being lost at a rapid rate, largely due to coastal development for housing, ports, and commercial facilities.
What can I do?
There are many ways to save these habitats AND reduce our carbon footprint. These are just a few ideas:
Plant a tree, plant a sea grass - Restore and protect coastal vegetation
Talk to your political leaders
To learn more about blue carbons, check out this YouTube video