Ariana Sutton-Grier, an ecosystem ecologist at the University of Maryland, helps lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Coastal Blue Carbon Team. She shares this Frontiers Focus on the long-term carbon storage capacity of coastal wetlands.
Recent scientific advances have demonstrated that coastal wetlands — mangrove forests, tidal marshes, and seagrass meadows — pull carbon out of our atmosphere and store it for hundreds to thousands of years in the plants, but more importantly in the soils below. Policy- and decision-makers are investing in this “coastal blue carbon” by utilizing wetland conservation and restoration as a natural climate solution.
The newly-recognized carbon sequestration value of coastal wetlands has sparked interest in the capacity of other coastal and marine ecosystems to provide climate mitigation benefits. In the February issue of Frontiers, my colleagues and I explore the question of whether or not coral reefs, kelp forests, marine animals, and tiny, but extremely numerous, single-celled phytoplankton store carbon for the long-term. We evaluate their potential for broader climate mitigation strategies.
We conclude that while reefs, kelp forests, phytoplankton, and marine wildlife are all vital to the health and stability of our oceans and human communities, current scientific research suggests that they are not viable climate mitigation opportunities under existing policies and mechanisms.
We recommend that national efforts to implement climate mitigation strategies and reduce emissions focus on coastal wetlands, the best option for natural climate mitigation.
Clarifying the role of coastal and marine systems in climate mitigation. (2016) Jennifer Howard, Ariana Sutton-Grier, Dorothée Herr, Joan Kleypas, Emily Landis, Elizabeth Mcleod, Emily Pidgeon1, and Stefanie Simpson. Front Ecol Environ 2017; 1–9, doi:10.1002/fee.1451