Marine Ecosystems Must Be Recognized as Carbon Sinks

Marine ecosystems, such as seagrass meadows, mangroves and salt
marshes, have a much greater capacity to progressively remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere than land carbon sinks, such as forests, according to a new study.

The report, "The Management of Natural Coastal Carbon Sinks," published by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (UICN) urges world leaders to recognize the immense potential of the ocean to reduce global warming by capturing carbon.

“The current loss of two-thirds of seagrass meadows and 50% of mangrove forests due to human activities, has severely threatened their carbon storage capacity and is comparable to that of the annual decline in the Amazon forests,” says Dan Laffoley, Marine Vice-Chair of IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas and lead author of the report. “Urgent international action is needed to ensure that coastal marine ecosystems are fully recognized as critical carbon sinks and properly managed and protected.”

The IUCN report, supported by Natural England, The Lighthouse Foundation and UNEP, and compiled by leading scientists in this field, provides the latest evidence of the ocean’s ability to store carbon and the role each of these marine ecosystems play in reducing the negative effects of climate change. It offers specific policy guidelines about how to include management of marine carbon sinks in international and national reduction strategies.

“While there have been a lot of discussions about major carbon sinks on land such as forests, we have not heard much about the missing sinks of carbon in the oceans. The marine world not only regulates our climate, supplies essential goods and services, but also helps us tackle climate change,” says Carl Gustaf Lundin, Head of IUCN Global Marine Programme. “Decision-makers at national and international level will have to look at policies and financing mechanisms for protection and management of our oceans, and this report is the best starting point.”

The potential of mangroves, salt marshes and sea grass meadows to store carbon can be ensured through a number of management approaches such as Marine Protected Areas, Marine Spatial Planning, area-based fisheries management techniques, regulated coastal development and ecosystem restoration, according to the report.

The full report, published Tuesday at the climate change and protected area summit in Granada, Spain, is available at the link below.

The importance of coastal ecosystems was also highlighted in a report this week on the value of ecosystem services.

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