National Wetlands Update 2012
Issue No. 20, February 2012
Coastal wetlands and WetlandCare Australia's Blue Carbon Program
Simone Haigh, WetlandCare Australia
Unrestricted vehicle access has resulted in significant damage to this section of North Creek saltmarsh. This area is targeted for restoration work under WetlandCare Australia's Coastal 20 project (Simone Haigh)
The appeal of an area is often communicated by promoting its natural values. For example, the Ballina Tourism and Hospitality website invites visitors to “Get in touch with nature from littoral rainforests with flowing waterfalls and swimming holes, stunning white surf beaches, calming bays, a natural tea tree lake, rolling country vistas and quaint villages”. As well as a high economic value from tourism, coastal wetlands provide vital food and habitat resources for numerous species of recreationally and commercially important fish species, as well as providing a significant protective buffer from extreme weather events. However, coastal wetlands, particularly mangrove forests, salt marshes and seagrass, have suffered massive losses globally. In Australia those that remain are protected under relevant state legislation. However, they are often threatened by factors such as the siltation of rivers and streams, physical damage, pollution and poor water quality.
As the leading Australian not-for-profit wetland conservation organisation, WetlandCare Australia has always used innovative methods to deliver on its commitment to protect, promote and restore wetlands. We have undertaken numerous projects over the years to protect and rehabilitate coastal wetland vegetation, in particular saltmarsh, mangroves and seagrass meadows. These include the rehabilitation of wheel ruts in saltmarsh beds and prevention of unauthorised access, as well as weed and erosion control. Our coverage extends well into upper catchment areas where rehabilitation actions such as erosion control are a vital component of helping to protect seagrass beds from being smothered with sediment from catchment runoff.
Now there is an exciting field of research emerging that has added new weight to the existing argument for the conservation of coastal wetlands. A seminal report published in 2009 called The management of natural coastal carbon sinks (Laffoley & Grimsditch) brought together the latest research into the carbon sequestration capacities of key coastal ecosystems. This was followed by the Rapid Response Assessment – Blue carbon (Nellemann et al., 2009) which highlights the critical role of the oceans and ocean ecosystems in maintaining our climate.
When it comes to carbon sinks, tropical rainforests like the Amazon are usually the first thing that springs to mind. This research has shown that the carbon sequestration rates of coastal wetlands are actually much higher than those of terrestrial systems. Conversely, the destruction of these wetlands is contributing a disproportionate amount of CO2 into the atmosphere, and these emissions continue for years after their destruction. So in addition to the many established ecosystem services these types of coastal wetlands provide, the role of significant carbon sinks can now be added.
As well as being great places to explore, mangroves are also extremely good at capturing and storing atmospheric carbon (Andrew Attewell)
WetlandCare Australia's Blue Carbon program was launched last year. The overarching goal of this program is to promote the Blue Carbon agenda in Australia and work towards the inclusion of coastal wetlands in Australia's climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies.
We are doing this by working in partnership with universities to facilitate and guide key research priorities in this emerging field, and by fostering the recognition of the role of coastal wetlands in the voluntary carbon market and their potential contribution towards Australia's Kyoto obligations. We also continue to work towards the ongoing rehabilitation of key coastal wetland environments - particularly through our $2.5 million Coastal 20 wetland restoration project funded under the Australian Government's Caring for our Country program. This will enhance their contribution to tourism habitat and productivity.
Who knows how much carbon is locked up in Australian coastal wetland plants and soils? Who knows how much we may be able to draw out of the atmosphere and store in the soils if large scale coastal wetland restoration projects were to replace some of the other, more marginal land uses in coastal regions? WetlandCare Australia will continue to pursue opportunities to answer these questions, as well as to work towards the development of a method that will allow an economic value to be placed on the important role that coastal wetlands play in removing greenhouse gas pollution.
“Targeted investments in the sustainable management of coastal and marine ecosystems – the natural infrastructure – alongside the rehabilitation and restoration of damaged and degraded ones, could prove a very wise transaction with inordinate returns” – Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Director, UNEP 2009
For further information contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit:
- Laffoley, D. d'A. & Grimmsditch, G. (eds). 2009. The management of natural coastal carbon sinks. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland. 53 pp.
The management of natural coastal carbon sinks (PDF - 1.8 MB)
- Nellemann, C., Corcoran, E., Duarte, C. M., Valdés, L., De Young, C., Fonseca, L., Grimsditch, G. (Eds). 2009. Rapid Response Assessment – Blue carbon United Nations Environment Programme, GRID-Arendal, Blue Carbon