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The calm, clear water in Bird's Head allows corals to grow very near the surface in this unique environment.

Blue carbon

Mitigating climate change along our coasts

© Burt Jones and Maurine Shimlock
   

Coastal ecosystems including mangroves, seagrasses and tidal marshes are critical to mitigating climate impacts and improving human well-being.

These ecosystems remove carbon from the atmosphere and oceans, storing it in plants and sediment, where it is known as “blue carbon.” In fact, coastal ecosystems are some of the most carbon-rich ecosystems on Earth. But they are also the most threatened. And once they are degraded or destroyed, their blue carbon stores ​​are released as carbon dioxide and contribute to global climate change.

Our role

Together with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO, Conservation International is​ leading the International Blue Carbon Initiative, which focuses on mitigating climate change by conserving and restoring coastal marine ecosystems globally. Through the Initiative, we are working with partners from national governments, research institutions, nongovernmental organizations and coastal communities around the world.

Our plan

Enact policy change

We work with local and national governments to promote coastal and marine policy and management practices that ensure the long-term conservation of coastal blue carbon ecosystems. Additionally, we’re working to ensure that coastal ecosystems are integrated into climate change mitigation policy at the international, national and local levels.

Conserve coastal carbon

Increasingly, the value of carbon in coastal ecosystems is being integrated into conservation and restoration programs. Conservation International is working to accelerate these actions by developing and demonstrating best practices through field projects and by working with global experts to develop the standards and tools needed on the ground.

Build capacity

Strengthening the capacity of communities and governments to value and conserve their coastal ecosystems is essential to maintaining the long-term mitigation of coastal ecosystems. Conservation International and partners are building a global science network to support blue carbon globally and to prepare the next generation of scientists and policymakers.

A young lemon shark hunts in a mangrove forest 
© Matthew D Potenski 2011/Marine Photobank

Our results

We have supported national governments globally — including Costa Rica, Ecuador, Indonesia and the Philippines — in implementing policies and projects for conservation of blue carbon ecosystems.

 With their value for both mitigation and adaptation, blue carbon ecosystems are a vital part to any climate change solution.

Dr. Emily Pidgeon, senior director for strategic marine initiatives, Conservation International

Gulf of Nicoya, Costa Rica
© CI/photo by Ashton Jones

Blue Carbon in the Gulf of Nicoya, Costa Rica

Conservation International is working in the Gulf of Nicoya, Costa Rica, to protect the diverse mangrove ecosystem of that country’s most productive estuary. The Gulf’s mangrove forests provide vital habitat for fisheries, income for more than 6,000 fishermen, and the main source of food for nearby communities for more than a century. Moreover, the mangrove forests are critical to maintaining water quality, controlling coastal erosion and limiting sediment input.

Unfortunately, these coastal forests are suffering from degradation and loss that negatively affect the local economy and result in greenhouse gas emissions. Conservation efforts are currently focused on restoring the ecosystem through mangrove restoration and conservation. This process includes education for the community, including through the local schools, about the importance of healthy mangroves for climate adaptation and reducing carbon emissions.

Dr. Oscar Serrano demonstrates sediment coring in Botany Bay.
© Burt Jones and Maurine Shimlock

The International Blue Carbon Initiative

The International Blue Carbon Initiative — a partnership among Conservation International, IUCN and IOC-UNESCO — is an integrated program focused on mitigating climate change by conserving and restoring coastal marine ecosystems globally.

Formed in 2011, the Blue Carbon Initiative works with scientists, private organizations and government agencies to achieve its goal through:

  • coordinating the International Blue Carbon Scientific and Policy Working Groups
  • supporting the integration of blue carbon into international policy
  • working with national governments to develop national approaches to blue carbon including in Indonesia, the Philippines, Ecuador, and Costa Rica
  • identifying and promoting priority scientific research needed to describe and monitor carbon in coastal ecosystems
  • developing conservation and management tools to protect coastal systems for their carbon sequestration and storage capacity
  • supporting capacity building and the development of in-situ blue carbon demonstration projects

Magnificent mangroves