Postcards from the Coast: A North American Blue Carbon Photo Essay

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The Commission for Environmental Cooperation celebrates its 20th anniversary from coast to coast with a photo essay on the role of coastal habitats in the continent’s carbon budget. Visit http://www.cec.org/BCphotos.

11 July 2014

A trinational photo essay depicting the irreplaceable value of coasts in mitigating climate change effects in North America is being launched today as part of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC)’s 20th anniversary celebrations.

Coastal vegetated habitats, such as salt marshes, tidal wetlands, seagrasses and mangroves, play an important role in trapping and storing carbon from the atmosphere, thereby helping to mitigate the effects of climate change. This “blue carbon” is the carbon captured by living coastal and marine organisms and stored in marine and coastal ecosystems. Blue carbon is being stored at a rate three to five times greater than the “green carbon” of tropical forests and, unlike forests, most blue carbon is stored in belowground sediments, not in aboveground plant material. In some places, blue carbon has been accumulating in sediments for up to 8,000 years, creating some of the greatest carbon stocks on Earth.

These habitats, when adequately protected, provide one of the few natural mechanisms for counteracting ocean acidification and shoreline erosion, and yield key benefits such as food security and protection from storm surges and flooding. However, ecosystem stressors such as nutrient runoff, habitat conversion, and sea-level rise are damaging, degrading and eliminating blue carbon habitats around North America. When this happens, these habitats lose their capacity to trap and store carbon and they start to release the carbon that has been stored for up to thousands of years back into the atmosphere.

To address these issues, the CEC ‘s 2013–2014 project, North America’s Blue Carbon: Assessing the Role of Coastal Habitats in the Continent’s Carbon Budget, is supporting the development of North American methodologies to measure carbon, compile maps, and conduct scientific studies to improve our understanding of the current and future role of coastal systems in the North American carbon cycle. Results will also help improve management of these systems, including conservation and restoration to achieve climate change mitigation in all three countries.

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