Our Blue Carbon Program

How we conserve coasts for climate


Coastal ecosystems — including mangroves, seagrasses and tidal marshes — are some of the most valuable ecosystems on Earth, offering innumerable benefits to the climate, people and nature.



Coastal wetlands sequester and store vast amounts of what is known as “blue carbon.” In fact, in a single square mile, mangroves hold as much carbon as the annual emissions of 90,000 cars. However, when these ecosystems are degraded or destroyed large amounts of blue carbon are released into the atmosphere, accelerating climate change.



Mangrove forests and other blue carbon ecosystems protect hundreds of millions of people worldwide by providing natural buffers against sea-level rise, storm surges and erosion. They play a critical role in improving and maintaining water quality and provide habitats for fish, which are essential to the food security and incomes of millions.



Blue carbon ecosystems, encompassing mangroves, seagrass beds, and salt marshes, are indispensable in preserving biodiversity, offering vital habitats for a myriad of species, including fish such as snook and red drum, crustaceans like blue crabs, nesting grounds for sea turtles, and migratory stopovers for waterfowl like herons and egrets.



But blue carbon ecosystems are at risk:



How we protect blue carbon

For over 15 years, Conservation International has been at the forefront of researching, protecting and conserving blue carbon ecosystems. Together with our partners, we are developing the strategies and tools needed to protect and fully-value coastal ecosystems — and equipping governments to develop policies that protect blue carbon ecosystems and promote their potential for supporting climate change adaptation and resilience.






We believe partnerships — big and small, public and private — are essential to the growth and success of blue carbon as a climate mitigation and adaptation tool. Conservation International leads and engages with a robust, multi-disciplinary network of partners through the following initiatives:

The Blue Carbon Initiative — This initiative brings together governments, research institutions and non-governmental organizations from around the world to advance the management approaches, financial incentives and policy mechanisms needed to ensure the conservation, restoration and sustainable use of blue carbon ecosystems as tools for climate change mitigation and adaptation. Learn more.


The Global Mangrove Alliance — An initiative to halt loss, restore half of recent loss and double protection of mangroves globally by 2030. Since its launch in 2018, the Global Mangrove Alliance has worked to implement a comprehensive and coordinated approach to mangrove conservation and restoration at an unparalleled scale. Learn more.


The International Partnership for Blue Carbon — A 54-member strong network supporting countries in protecting their blue carbon ecosystems through learning and knowledge-sharing. The partnership provides a forum for governments, non-governmental organizations, intergovernmental organizations and research institutions to connect, share and collaborate to build solutions, take actions, and benefit from the experience and expertise of the global blue carbon community. Learn more.


The Blue Carbon Buyers Alliance and Blue Carbon Suppliers Alliance — These groups coordinate buyers and suppliers committed to funding or purchasing credits from high-quality blue carbon projects, and assist capital providers in understanding where their support would be most impactful. Learn more.


Knowledge and tool building

Conservation International and our partners are building a robust, scientific basis for effective blue carbon policy, financing and management. We work with global experts to develop and synthesize knowledge for standards and tools needed to realize on-the-ground impact.

  • In partnership with the government of Singapore and others, Conservation International launched the International Blue Carbon Institute, which focuses on developing global blue carbon knowledge and building the capacity to scale blue carbon projects. The institute plays a vital role in effectively translating cutting-edge science into practical tools and methodologies that are harnessing the potential of blue carbon for climate action.
  • Conservation International coordinates the International Blue Carbon Scientific Working Group, an expert group that is advancing essential science for blue carbon. In 2014, the working group developed the Blue Carbon Field Manual, which provides standardized recommendations for carbon measurements and analysis and is translated into Spanish and Mandarin. The working group also co-founded the Coastal Carbon Research Coordination Network to share knowledge on ecosystem processes and carbon cycling in coastal wetlands globally.


Creating innovative funding mechanisms

In close partnership with local communities and governments, Conservation International implements blue carbon projects and financing approaches that are tailored to achieve long-lasting benefits for climate, people and nature.

  • At the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference, Conservation International and a global coalition of ocean leaders launched the High-Quality Blue Carbon Principles and Guidance. Informed by our experience in pioneering global high-quality blue carbon credits, this first-of-its-kind resource is designed to guide the development and purchasing of high-quality blue carbon projects and credits.
  • In 2018, Conservation International and partners launched a blue carbon crediting project on Colombia’s Caribbean coast that fully measures and monetizes the carbon stored by a 11,000-hectare (27,000-acre) mangrove forest. The carbon stores were fully certified in 2021 using the Climate, Community & Biodiversity Standards developed by Verra. The vast majority of revenues — 92 percent — generated from the sale of blue carbon credits is invested in Cispatá Bay’s conservation management plan to protect the mangroves and support the sustainable livelihoods of the 12,000 people who live near the project site. Critically, Vida Manglar provided proof of concept to bring blue carbon markets to scale, with Colombia’s government seeking to replicate this project elsewhere and six other countries exploring similar projects.


Accelerating global policy action for blue carbon

Conservation International works at all levels of government to help create and strengthen policies needed for the effective, long-term conservation and restoration of coastal blue carbon ecosystems.

  • Countries all around the world are committed to combating climate change and its impacts. Increasingly, the conservation and restoration of coastal blue carbon ecosystems is being recognized as a high-impact mechanism for countries to reach their individual and collective climate mitigation and adaptation goals.

    Approximately 151 countries contain at least one blue carbon ecosystem, and roughly one-third of all countries contain all three — mangroves, seagrasses and tidal marshes. However, less than half of these countries have integrated blue carbon ecosystems in their climate mitigation commitments under the Paris Climate Agreement, leaving significant untapped potential.
  • The 195 signatories of the Paris Agreement are required to submit plans for reducing emissions through a mechanism called Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). As each country’s NDCs are updated every five years, it is crucial that governments are equipped with all the newest, science-backed information necessary to increase the ambition of their plans. Conservation International and our partners published Guidelines for Blue Carbon and Nationally Determined Contributions to advise countries on the ways coastal blue carbon ecosystems can contribute to achieving their national climate adaptation and mitigation goals. We have worked with the governments of Colombia, Costa Rica, Kenya, Liberia and Madagascar to include blue carbon commitments in their NDCs — and many other countries are following their example.
  • Conservation International and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) developed an International Policy Framework for Blue Carbon Ecosystems, which details how blue carbon ecosystem conservation and restoration can be accelerated and strengthened by aligning international polices across the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Sustainable Development Goals and other UN-level goals. The framework seeks to raise countries’ ambitions for protecting their blue carbon ecosystems, accelerate project implementation and align on how collective impacts are measured. We also work with our partners to maintain a Blue Carbon Policy Hub that contains framework updates and a library of policy guidance documents.


On the ground

© Daniel Uribe
Our Vida Manglar project in Colombia’s Cispatá Bay was the first to fully measure and monetize the carbon stored in mangrove forests, using a recent methodology developed with the non-profit organization Verra, a global leader in creating standards for channeling carbon finance toward conservation. Learn more.
© Daniel Uribe
Restoration Insurance
Conservation International is creating a Restoration Insurance Service Company (RISCO) to capture the economic value of threatened mangroves and generate sustainable funding for conservation and restoration through two revenue streams: 1) insurance-related payments for the modelled flood risk reduction benefits of mangroves and 2) blue carbon credit payments for the validated climate mitigation value of mangroves. Learn more.
© Maria Doerr
Mexico is the fourth country in the world with the largest area of mangroves, after Indonesia, Brazil and Australia. Conservation International-México is working with the National Commission of Protected Areas to implement a community mangrove restoration project at Isla Arena in the Yucatán Peninsula.
© Monika Naranjo
Costa Rica
Conservation International is leading the largest ecological engineering project to date in Central America and the Caribbean to restore the hydrology of degraded and deforested mangroves in the Gulf of Nicoya, Costa Rica.

Blogs about 'blue carbon'

News spotlight: Could seaweed be our new big climate ally?

Jan 9, 2023, 17:45 PM by Mary McCoy
In case you missed it: A recent study reveals that underwater forests are much more prolific than previously thought — and may play a key role in stemming the climate crisis.

Kelp forests are one of the fastest growing ecosystems on Earth — yet because they thrive out of reach of mapping satellites, scientists’ understanding of them has been stymied, Lucy Sherriff reported for the Guardian.

“Most of the world’s seaweed forests are not even mapped, much less monitored,” marine ecologist Karen Filbee-Dexter told the Guardian. 

A recent study, led by an international group of scientists including Filbee-Dexter, reveals that underwater forests are much more prolific than previously thought, covering up to 7.2 million square kilometers (2.8 million square miles) — an area twice the size of India. 

The implications could be significant.

Namely, Sherriff writes, the research helps scientists better understand the role kelp and other seaweed forests could play in stemming the climate crisis by absorbing planet-warming carbon dioxide from seawater and the atmosphere. 

Kelp off the coast of Monterey, California. © Keith A. Ellenbogen

By at least one estimate, kelp forests may store as much carbon as the Amazon rainforest. But there’s been scientific debate on these forests’ long-term ability to sequester carbon because unlike other ecosystems that stash massive amounts of carbon — such as mangroves — kelp lacks root systems to lock carbon into the ground.

Filbee-Dexter told the Guardian that the research was a “major step forward” in understanding seaweed’s role in mitigating climate change, “because it calculates the productivity – growth and carbon uptake – of the largest marine vegetated ecosystem.” 

In addition to absorbing massive amounts of carbon, kelp forests play an important role in marine ecosystems. Scientists have found that as grey whales migrate from Mexico to Alaska they use massive curtains of kelp as a haven from killer whales. And, kelp could even be a boon to food security: The study finds that given its rapid growth, seaweed, if properly harvested, could become a “very sustainable and nutrient-dense food source.”

Kelp forest off the coast of California. © Keith A. Ellenbogen

Still, like many biodiverse ecosystems, underwater forests face unprecedented threats in the form of rising sea temperatures, pollution and invasive species. Climate change has created a dangerous domino effect, where one change in the ecosystem can set off a vicious cycle. Take Northern California’s coast where kelp has declined by 95 percent due to an explosion of sea urchins, which in turn was caused by the decline of their main predators, starfish, due to a disease tied to warming waters. 

Filbee-Dexter told the Guardian she hopes that “more awareness about these [underwater] forests will lead to more protection and restoration.”

With the world’s oceans becoming hotter and more acidic, the time to turn the tide is dwindling. Last month, the U.N. biodiversity summit, or COP15, reached a historic agreement to protect 30 percent of terrestrial, inland water, coastal and marine ecosystems by 2030. 

The Blue Nature Alliance, a coalition co-lead by Conservation International, is supporting the global goal.

Working alongside local communities, governments, Indigenous peoples and ocean experts, the alliance has engaged in advancing the conservation of more than 4.8 million square kilometers (1.9 million square miles) of ocean across Fiji, Antarctica’s Southern Ocean and Tristan da Cunha — the most remote inhabited archipelago in the world. In each of these places, the alliance collaborates with communities and governments to identify their conservation goals and help implement strategies to achieve them. 

Read the full story from the Guardian here.

Further reading: