Seagrass meadows, kelp forests, and even the seabed can all lock away carbon—but exactly how much is still up in the air for these and other ocean ecosystems. The Seascape Carbon Initiative, a partnership formed in late 2021 between four environmental problem-solving organizations and one independent carbon verifier, is pushing the science forward so protecting and restoring these valuable ecosystems can join mangrove forests and terrestrial forests as certifiable nature-based carbon capture projects.
 
“Conceptually, the science is pretty good,” says Steve Crooks, the lead wetlands and coastal management scientist for Silvestrum Climate Associates, which is one of the organizations working to accelerate the research. “But when you actually get down to the detail of trying to develop market mechanisms around this there’s a lot to be worked out.” The initiative’s website lists “kelp and seaweed farming, seabed management, sustainable fishing, and conserving and restoring seagrass meadows, salt marshes, and mangroves” as “blue carbon” areas of interest. For some ecosystems, like mangrove forests or seagrass beds, scientists already have specific data on where the carbon goes—and for how long. But calculating the carbon savings of kelp farming is fuzzier, and doing so for a well-managed marine protected area is a concept in its infancy. Once the carbon savings of either restoring or protecting these habitats can be calculated precisely enough, those activities can be more easily paid for through voluntary carbon markets.
 
“We’re seeing a rapid acceleration of the science on these ecosystems,” says Crooks. “But there’s still a lot of work to do.”

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Kelp Forest. Photo by Sierra Garcia
 

A new partnership is pushing to tally the “blue carbon” in marine and coastal ecosystems.

Seagrass meadows, kelp forests, and even the seabed can all lock away carbon—but exactly how much is still up in the air for these and other ocean ecosystems. The Seascape Carbon Initiative, a partnership formed in late 2021 between four environmental problem-solving organizations and one independent carbon verifier, is pushing the science forward so protecting and restoring these valuable ecosystems can join mangrove forests and terrestrial forests as certifiable nature-based carbon capture projects.
 
“Conceptually, the science is pretty good,” says Steve Crooks, the lead wetlands and coastal management scientist for Silvestrum Climate Associates, which is one of the organizations working to accelerate the research. “But when you actually get down to the detail of trying to develop market mechanisms around this there’s a lot to be worked out.” The initiative’s website lists “kelp and seaweed farming, seabed management, sustainable fishing, and conserving and restoring seagrass meadows, salt marshes, and mangroves” as “blue carbon” areas of interest. For some ecosystems, like mangrove forests or seagrass beds, scientists already have specific data on where the carbon goes—and for how long. But calculating the carbon savings of kelp farming is fuzzier, and doing so for a well-managed marine protected area is a concept in its infancy. Once the carbon savings of either restoring or protecting these habitats can be calculated precisely enough, those activities can be more easily paid for through voluntary carbon markets.
 
“We’re seeing a rapid acceleration of the science on these ecosystems,” says Crooks. “But there’s still a lot of work to do.”

About the author

Sierra Garcia is an interdisciplinary marine scientist and environmental writer with a focus on oceans, climate, and communities. She is Estuary's multiplatforms editor, and does outreach and planning as well as some reporting for the magazine. Her work has appeared in publications serving a wide range of audiences, including Grist, JSTOR Daily, and the Oxford Climate Review. She was proudly born and raised in Monterey County.

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