To protect mangroves, the secret is in the soil: 3 stories you may have missed

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Editor's note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In a recurring feature, Conservation News shares three stories from the past week that you should know about.

Carbon offsets are helping protect mangroves and support local communities in Colombia.

The story: In a single square mile, mangroves can stash away as much climate-warming carbon as the annual emissions of 90,000 cars. The carbon-absorbing abilities of these coastal forests were finally valued in Cispatá, Colombia in May 2021, reports Genevieve Glatsky for Fortune. Developed by Conservation International and Apple, a blue carbon finance project for the first time takes into account not only the carbon that mangrove trees store in their trunks and leaves, but also the carbon they sequester in their soils, often for millennia. 

This project has already sold 20,000 carbon offsets for an average of US$ 15 each, with the majority of the revenue going back into the hands of the communities that help protect the mangrove forests. 

The big picture: “What we are doing in Colombia is ensuring that mangrove forests are maintained there to guarantee that the carbon those ecosystems sequester is conserved in that region,” María Claudia Díazgranados Cadelo, who runs this program at Conservation International, told Fortune. 

“By valuing that carbon, you can make sure you will receive financial revenue to maintain the activities needed to conserve the forest in the long term.”

In addition to providing huge climate benefits, mangroves are habitats for many marine creatures and act as natural buffers against storms and sea-level rise, providing an estimated US$ 82 billion in flood risk prevention across the globe annually. Recognizing mangroves’ importance, a growing number of policymakers are supporting initiatives such as blue carbon finance projects to help protect these climate superstars. 

Read more here. Watch the video here

A vacuum could help pull genetic information for wildlife from the sky. 

The story: A new method could help researchers suck DNA samples from the atmosphere using a high-tech vacuum, reports Robin McKie for The Guardian. Typically, scientists test wildlife DNA using fur, feathers or fecal samples they find in the field. With this new technique, DNA samples can instead be pulled from the air, allowing scientists to capture data from smaller and more elusive animals such as shrews and foxes. 

The big picture: So far, this method has only been tested at two zoos in Copenhagen and the United Kingdom, but scientists believe it could eventually help catalogue endangered species in the wild, especially in hard-to-reach places such as burrows or caves. 

“This could transform the way we study biodiversity,” said Elizabeth Clare, a professor at York University in the UK who helped pioneer this method. “Every other technique we have for tracing animals — camera traps, say, or acoustic monitoring — relies on the animals being physically present near or in front of you.”

“Trapping their DNA from the air is much less invasive, and much more flexible,” she added. “You could detect the presence of creatures in caves without disturbing them, for example.”

Read more here.

Destroying forests can change local weather and ramp up rainfall, a new study found.

The story: In 2017, intense storms triggered massive mudslides that ravaged Freetown, Sierra Leone, killing at least 1,100 people. New research shows deforestation could cause more of these cataclysmic rainstorms in West Africa, reports Chelsea Harvey for Scientific American. Forests help regulate the climate, and heavily deforested areas typically have warmer temperatures. 

In coastal West Africa, this warmer weather brings stronger winds from the Atlantic Ocean. The result: Severe rainstorms that can lead to catastrophic flooding. 

The big picture: According to Christopher Taylor, the lead author of the paper, deforestation and climate change are a one-two punch for West Africa: “The whole region has seen an increase in the frequency of convective storms," he said. “But areas which were deforested have seen a much stronger increase than areas where we haven’t seen deforestation in the last 30 years."

Along with changing the local climate, deforestation can loosen an area’s soil, increasing the odds of landslides. To prevent future disasters, experts say governments in this region must slow the destruction of forests and build more resilient infrastructure, such as walls and roads that can withstand heavier storms.

Read more here

Kiley Price is the staff writer and news editor at Conservation International. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates here. Donate to Conservation International here.

Cover image: Conservation International’s María Claudia Díazgranados Cadelo, Invemar’s Selene Rojas Aguirre and a team of field assistants take a soil sample in one of their 25 soil sites to test for carbon. (© Apple)