A new Lifeline for the World’s Mangrove Forests?

May 6, 2021

Cispatá, Colombia mangrove becomes first to enter carbon market at full value

Cispatá, Colombia (May 6, 2021) – A mangrove forest in Cispatá, along Colombia’s Caribbean coast, has become the first to have its carbon stores fully calculated, Conservation International, along with INVEMAR Research Institute, the Omacha Foundation, and Colombia’s environmental authorities CVS and CARSUCRE, announced today.

For the last two years, with funding from Apple, Conservation International and the above stakeholders, together with local communities, have been pioneering a new method for integrating the unique way mangrove forests store carbon - both above water and below it, in their soil — into the international carbon market.

It is an achievement that will have local and global impacts: Locally, the community that calls this mangrove home will soon benefit from new financing through the issuing and sale of Verified Carbon Units. Globally, it could help change the fate of mangroves everywhere, something we must do to address climate change: In a single square mile, mangroves hold as much carbon as the annual emissions of 90,000 cars. If they are destroyed, all that carbon will be released, contributing to climate change.

As much as 1 billion tons of CO2 is released each year from degraded coastal ecosystems — that is nearly equivalent to the total annual CO2 emissions from all of South America in 2019.

Further complicating their fate, mangrove carbon stores have been calculated as if they were terrestrial forests, with only the carbon stored above water in roots, trunks, and foliage accounted for, leaving the carbon stored below water — up to 60% of a wetland’s total store, known as “blue carbon” — unmeasured.

The Cispatá mangrove project has changed that: scientists extracted soil one to three meters deep and analyzed its carbon content in a lab. The process sounds simple, but its impacts for climate and for communities are profound.

“The process is messy for sure but also quite fun,” said Jen Howard, Senior Director of Conservation International’s Blue Carbon Program. “The muck we pulled up hasn’t seen the light of day for 100-plus years It’s not pretty, but this ‘blue carbon’ is vitally important in the effort to address global climate change and help end mangrove destruction.”

Accurately measuring and including these carbon stores in carbon finance streams is a turning point for threatened mangroves, other blue carbon ecosystems and the global fight to address climate change.

“This new methodology means mangroves can now be a financially viable carbon investment, which will drive the funding communities need to keep them standing. On the flip side, it also means we will have a better understanding of the environmental cost of their destruction,” said Paula Sierra, Head of Marine and Coastal Research and information at INVEMAR.

For all the promise it holds globally in the fight to address climate change, the Cispatá project was designed first and foremost to benefit the local community: It has also been awarded the Community and Biodiversity Gold Level certification, meaning it provides exceptional community engagement, and social and environmental benefits beyond carbon.

“The best climate solutions take their lead from local communities and the ecosystems — like mangrove forests — that are crucial to the health of our planet,” said Lisa Jackson, Apple’s Vice President of Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives. “In partnership with Conservation International and indigenous communities in Colombia, we’re excited to carry forward our fight against climate change, find innovative ways to measure the ‘blue carbon’ we remove from our atmosphere, and create pathways for other businesses to join Apple in our work to become 100% carbon neutral.”

As with mangroves worldwide, the Cispatá mangroves are rich in biodiversity, and serve as a lifeline for the community, providing food and livelihoods, and protection from storm surges.

“Mangrove ecosystems are the Protective Mother for communities: they provide food, protection and economic opportunities. As long as mangroves are intact, we will continue with our happy life,” said Doña Ignacia, San Antero community leader from the Cispatá region.

The project is anticipated to remove about 1 million metric tons of emissions over 30 years and also drive needed financing that will help the community and local authorities protect and restore the mangrove. The revenues will also help provide improved education, employment and sustainable livelihood opportunities.

Key species that will benefit from the project include manatees, needle crocodiles and otters.

In the next two years, Conservation International, together with INVEMAR, Omacha Foundation, CVS and CARSUCRE will be expanding the project to include all the mangroves in the entire Gulf of Morrosquillo, where Cispatá is located. Discussions are also underway to replicate the project in at least three new locations in Colombia.


About Conservation International
Conservation International works to protect the critical benefits that nature provides to people. Through science, partnerships and fieldwork, Conservation International is driving innovation and investments in nature-based solutions to the climate crisis, supporting protections for critical habitats, and fostering economic development that is grounded in the conservation of nature.  We work in 30 countries around the world, empowering societies at all levels to create a cleaner, healthier and more sustainable planet. Follow Conservation International's work on Conservation News, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.